The idea of packing our bags and escaping seems tempting at times, but for many running away feels like the last option. Whether it's yourself, a relative or friend that disappears without a trace, there are steps you can take and places to go for advice.
The majority of missing people return home safe and sound within 72 hours, however thousands don't. Finding out a friend or sibling has gone missing can be incredibly stressful and emotionally draining.
It may be hard to understand why someone decides to run away and often it comes as a big shock. For many, it's simply a feeling of being overwhelmed with a particular situation and feeling unable to talk about problems openly.
Young people choose to run away for a number of reasons. Perhaps there's been abuse or bullying, mental or physical illness or misuse of drugs and alcohol. In the many cases close relationships may have broken down or there could be family conflict. Rising debts are another reason why people find it hard to cope and see running away as the only way out.
When someone goes missing
To report a missing person to Missing People you have to be over the age of 18. If you're under this age and it's your sister, brother or a friend that goes missing and you're the one who's worried, you'll need to get an adult to make the call.
Ross Miller at Missing People says the service isn't just about finding people who've run away: "Often people lose contact with family through moving house or following a divorce where a parent moves away and even in adoption cases," he says. "The charity encompasses more than just emergency cases and is often more of a tracing service."
What can you do?
- Speak to friends, family and colleagues and find out if they are staying with someone or went away on a last-minute trip.
- If the person's under the age of 18 report it to your local police station. If they are over the age of 18 and the disappearance is out of character, you can also call the police.
- If someone's over the age of 18 and you've no reason to believe they are in immediate danger, call Missing People's helpline on 0500 700 700.
- Check if credit cards, passports, clothes and cash have gone missing.
- Have clothes been packed or is their room left untouched?
If someone's been missing for a while:
- The Salvation Army Family Tracing Service aims to restore family relationships by tracing relatives with whom contact has been lost.
- National Missing Persons Helpline can sometimes help to trace a long-term missing person.
- You can try the internet to search for someone. Websites that may help include: Missing You. Look 4 them; 118500 and 192.com.
- Check electoral registers. The British Library has a full set of Electoral Registers for the UK since 1947, as well as an incomplete collection for earlier years.
- Use newspapers to advertise your search and look through older newspapers at the British Library Newspapers in Colindale, North London.
What happens next?
If the person is under the age of 18 they will be deemed as vulnerable. The police will then work closely alongside Missing People to offer advice and support as well as credit checks, posters and door-to-door searches.
Often people lose contact with family through moving house or following a divorce where a parent moves away and even in adoption cases.
If someone's over the age of 18, the police will not actively look for the missing person, except in cases of vulnerability or crime, in which case they will refer the case to Missing People.
Missing People carries out high-profile publicity to try and track down missing persons through mediums such as radio, television and Teletext, in newspapers, The Big Issue and on milk cartons.
Thinking of running away?
If you're thinking of running away, or have done so already, it's likely that there's a very good reason why you feel this is your only way out. You could try talking to someone who may be going through a similar situation or confide in a close friend or relative for some support and advice.
If you feel there's no one close at hand to help you, there are organisations that offer free confidential and impartial advice.
- Runaway Helpline is a national 24-hour confidential free phone number that will offer you help and advice if you've run away from home or been forced to do so. The number is 0808 800 70 70. The hipline can also help victims of trafficking.
- Message Home Helpline is a 24-hour, national freephone helpline for those who've left home to send a message to their family or carer. The service also offers callers confidential advice, and if necessary, a place to go if they are in a vulnerable position. The number is 0800 700 740.
When someone comes home it may not always be a happy situation straight away and the issue of why they went missing will have to be addressed.
If someone's been missing for a long time it's often as hard to cope with as bereavement. Families in this situation say they'd rather know someone's safe, even if it's just a letter, in order to have closure or try and resolve things.
Many young people are too frightened to get in touch because they fear that they'll be in trouble and things will be worse on their return. Still, in most situations, concern outweighs any anger and by making a move to receive help and support, it could be the best way to make a new start.
Written by Julia Pearlman.
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