Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Importance of Social Support in Missing Child Cases

“Social Support is the Interpersonal Factor most predictive of post-traumatic resiliency”.

-          Dr. Emery John’s Hopkins School of Public Health


The cases of missing/unidentified persons and their families are part of what has been called “The Silent Mass Disaster”. If a natural disaster or an act of terrorism affected as many people as missing and unidentified persons cases do every year, our country would respond with a massive effort on a scale that we have never seen before.

That would be awesome, since we know that support of community, friends and neighbors is the biggest indicator that someone will overcome trauma, recover, and go on to thrive.

And we need our searching families to stay strong through the trauma of missing a loved one, recover, and thrive, so that they can be that support for the missing person when he or she returns home.

In cases where the abductor feels that they have sufficient control over their victims, an abducted child may be allowed access to media. This social support can help them endure their ordeal until they have the opportunity to escape.

Missing/unidentified cases are very much a matter of public interest, public concern, and collective responsibility.

Unfortunately, missing/unidentified person cases are instead seen as individual and private tragedies, rather than a public safety or public health issue. This isolation is complicated by the drive many feel to distance themselves from those suffering misfortune.

It is almost a reflex for people to immediately blame the missing person and their family for what has happened to their loved-one. Because if that family did something to cause the misfortune, then observers can comfort themselves with the illusion that nothing of the sort will happen to them or their loved ones.

This urge takes on a whole different aspect when it is taken up by mob mentality on social media.

Social media is a powerful tool for communicating a case to the public. However, it can quickly turn on a family if they become the focus of people who are determined to blame, shame, and isolate the victims. It can lead to the strange situation of being completely isolated while at the same time, being considered public property for anyone to put their mark on.

In this day and age, when “True Crime” Drama is second only to “Reality T.V.”, and most people get their news from social media, we have a public that is engaged as never before with both entertainment and with following real-life dramas of private people.

Everyone wants to be a super-sleuth, and everyone wants to be the one who figured out “whodunnit”.

Sometimes, people get carried away and forget that there are real people and real families behind the headlines, and it is very easy for them to get into grinding their own ax at the expense of the people involved.

Every searching family has to decide (along with law-enforcement and their support team),  how much and what kind of information to put out about their child and the circumstances of their disappearance.

They have to ask themselves if this information will:

·        make my child more vulnerable?

·       signal the direction of the investigation to the people responsible?

·       give away information about what we know and how we know it?

·       reveal private things about our family that won’t help the investigation?

·       lead to retaliation against the child by the people responsible for his or her disappearance?

Many searching families are criticized for not putting out enough information, and accused of “hiding” information, “only telling part of the story”, and other accusations based on their choices to curate the information they share about their child’s case.

We have seen cases where children who have been abducted have been re-victimized in social media due to thoughtless and cruel comments.

In one national case, a teenaged girl whose mother and younger brother were murdered as part of the abduction was accused of being the mastermind of her own victimization. A self-proclaimed crime profiler and journalist wrote a number of columns accusing the child of being responsible for her own victimization. This, in spite of multiple unequivocal assertion of Law Enforcement Officers from multiple agencies that worked the case that the child was a victim.

In every case we have looked at, there are some people who find it easier to blame the missing and their families, rather than be supportive and helpful.

Our policy is to support the families and the missing through the crisis, and help connect them to resources as needed to empower them to overcome any conditions that may have contributed to the child being missing, and to help them recover from the trauma of the crisis.

Why do we do that, people wonder?

After all, common opinion says that most children are hurt by their parents, and that kids who run away are either bad kids, from bad homes or both.

Common opinion, as in many other cases, does not serve us in the case of missing children.

The best statistics that we have on missing children are very old. Newer statistics are piece-meal and incomplete.

Beyond those facts, we have the situation of effective innumeracy in our society, where people don’t understand how statistics work, and don’t pay attention to the narrow qualifiers that accompany each statistic. What those statistics tell us, is that regardless of who took the child, or if they left on their own power, it must be recognized that they must be assumed to be in danger for as long as they are missing. First and foremost, we must work to find them.


The fact of the matter is; no matter what the statistics say, each and every case must be evaluated individually to determine what actually happened THIS TIME.

Statistics indicate a line of inquiry or questioning and suggest possibilities that should not be overlooked. But what solves the case are the facts and evidence collected by the investigators, and an intelligent evaluation of that knowledge to create the theory of that crime.

Too often, arm-chair sleuths want to blurt out their initial gut reactions based on their experience in consuming “true crime” materials. They like to cast doubt on the case, and then come out with a safe-sounding opinion that they feel is backed up by statistics.

It is up to us in the majority of the responsible public to speak out when we see this and support the families and the missing, rather than let others treat them as objects for their own self-amusement.

When the case is communicated to the public, the public is given the information about that case which will best help them get involved constructively in the case – while protecting the victim as much as possible.

When you see comments along the line of “There is more to this case than meets the eye”, “There is a lot of missing information”, or “There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case”, “or, they are withholding information” this is the time to step up and say “We don’t need to know everything about this case to help this child and this family. Share the poster, and report anything you see or know to the authorities.”

If you see someone saying something horrible about the searching family, the child, or others who are involved that is the time to step up and say “Social media is not the place to report information about a crime, and gossiping about a family in crisis is disgusting. If you are gossiping, stop it. If you have information about the case, contact the authorities.”

My personal favorite is when someone refers to the victim as “not a perfect angel”, “Not completely innocent” or some other similar phrase.

Let’s just say it. Nobody is “completely innocent” Nobody is “a perfect angel”.

If that is our criteria for a victim to have recourse to the law and the support of the community, then we are all in big trouble. A plea to help find a missing child is an act of trust in a community to respond positively and humanely.

Let’s not only do that ourselves, but insist that others do the same. Our missing/unidentified persons and our searching/left behind families need our support.

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