Missing persons: incidence, issues and impacts


Each year, around 30,000 people are reported missing in Australia—one person every 18 minutes. The 30,000 people exceed the total number of victims, reported to police for homicide, sexual assault, and unarmed robbery combined. Nationally, the rate of missing people reported to the police is 1.55 per thousand, and it varies considerably around Australia with South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have rates double the national average. Children and young people having rates three times those of adults.

Fortunately, nearly all are found, and 86 per cent are located within one week. The social and economic impacts on families, friends, and the community as a whole are profound.

It is estimated that each missing person costs the community about $2,360—in search costs, loss of earnings while family members look, and health and legal costs. For 30,000 people, this adds to over $70 million per year.

Relatively little is known about the reasons people go missing, the characteristics of missing persons, and the impact of their disappearance on the community. In 1998, the National Missing Persons Unit (NMPU) at the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence commissioned an independent study to address this information gap and to identify service delivery needs for those affected by the phenomenon of missing persons. This paper summarises that report.