People can go missing for many reasons. They may be escaping from violence, abuse, financial issues or relationship difficulties. They may be experiencing mental health issues and feel unable to cope in their current situation. Individuals with dementia or similar neurological conditions may go missing due to confusion and forgetfulness.
Children and young people in care are more likely to go missing. Unhappiness with their placement, feeling unloved, being far from family and friends or a wish to escape from their current situation can lead them to go missing.
People may be encouraged to leave the safety and security of their home environment and social networks by those seeking to groom and exploit them. You can read more about exploitation and missing episodes below.
Upon their return people may not disclose where they have been or why. This could be because they do not trust anyone enough to tell or because they wish to escape their current situation. The fear, coercion and grooming which accompany exploitation can also prevent people from disclosing information about their missing episode.
Vulnerability to exploitation
People who have gone missing are placed in a highly vulnerable and dangerous position. Often without shelter and basic necessities, they can become targets for those seeking to exploit them in return for providing these needs.
If someone has left a violent, abusive or otherwise stressful situation they may be drawn more readily to offers of support, kindness and companionship. This vulnerability to grooming is increased by the fact that, if their whereabouts are unknown, it is difficult for family, friends and support services to intervene.
Being groomed or being in an exploitative situation can cause people to go missing. Groomers and exploiters may encourage or force people to stay at particular locations where exploitation can more easily take place and where there is less chance of being caught. They may use manipulation or coercion to convince someone to travel to these locations, and threats to ensure that they do not disclose this location to others.
If someone is being sexually exploited they may be forced to remain at a property to engage in sexual activity with those seeking to exploit them. There may be a pattern to their missing episodes, with disappearances taking place during particular times of the day or night when sexual exploitation is more likely to take place, or when the person’s absence is less likely to be noticed.
Someone who is being exploited by a county lines gang may be forced to traffick drugs to other towns or cities. Depending on the length of their journey they may go missing for days or even weeks. They may stay in a particular location for longer if they are forced to sell the drugs that they have trafficked.