Space, Place & Mobility: Geographies of Missing Peoples Research Project

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    • 00:01


    • 00:11

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON: As an academic geographer,I have researched expertise in knowledge translationfor policy and practice, the geographies of suicide,and family geographies.And consequently, I became curiousabout the geographies of missing peopleand subsequently became involved in a research project.Working alongside the principal investigator, Professor Hester

    • 00:33

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: Parr, co-investigators Professor Nicholas Fyfe and Dr. PennyWoolnough, we were involved in an ESRC-funded projectduring 2011 to '14 called the Geographies of Missing People.In this case study, I'm going to be

    • 00:54

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: talking about the experiences of adultswho get reported as missing.In the UK, 100,000 adults get reported as missing every year.But little is known about where, what, and how and whythey go missing.This case study intends to elaborateon some of those points.

    • 01:18

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: Police data indicates that approximately 90%of adult missing persons cases areresolved within 48 hours and 70% within 16 hours.However, no matter how long a person is missing for,this experience can have a profound effect.Working in partnership with two Scottish universities, the UK

    • 01:41

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: Missing Persons Bureau, two police forces, Police ScotlandMetropolitan Police Force, and the UK Missing Persons Charity,the Geographies of Missing Peopleslooked to understand not only why a person goes missingbut where they go and what happensto them during their journey.

    • 02:02

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: In other words, their geographies.The project took a 360-degree viewof what it means to be reported as missing.Working with adults aged over 18 whowere reported missing during 2009 to '11, familiesof persons who reported as missing, and police officersto better understand the experiences of all of those

    • 02:24

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: involved.The project was unique in that no research to-date hadbeen conducted that took firsthand accounts from thosewho'd had an experience being reported as missing.The key aim of the project was to inform policing practiceand to actually "people" those whohave the experience of being reported as missing to actually

    • 02:46

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: understand them not just as taking up police resourcesand police time.But to actually understand their experiencesfrom the inside out.The project was qualitative and took a case study approach.Interviews lasted between 60 minutes to 210 minutes.

    • 03:07

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: We interviewed 104 people about their missing experiences.This included 45 returned missing adults, 21 familiesof those that have reported a missing person, some of whichwere still absent, and the rest included interviewswith charity workers, national search agents,

    • 03:31

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: and police officers.We developed a sampling frame in collaboration with two policeforces and accessed interviewees by a police force database.We proactively sampled for post-14 day missing casesas we wanted to understand what it was like to be missing

    • 03:53

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: for a longer period of time.But we purposely did not include in our samplethose who were reported missing due to dementia, those thatwere reported missing due to homelessness,and those that have absconded from mental health wards, wherethere wasn't a home address available.There are over 300,000 missing incidences each year in the UK.

    • 04:16

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: The majority of those are young peoplerunning away from care homes.But about 1/3 are missing adults.And there is very little known about their experiencesof being reported as missing.And this is what the Geographies of Missing People Projectwas most interested in.

    • 04:37

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: We found that there is a small planningwindow in terms of deciding whether to go missing or not.With women, planning more than men in advance.Planning related to taking money out of accountsin drips and drabs, booking into hotels under false names,or making contact with friends to provide shelter,

    • 05:02

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: or possibilities for going missing.Our research also found that peoplepreferred to stay local and in familiarareas when on missing journeys.As to be lost added another dimensionto their missing experience.So, therefore, they didn't want to be lost.They preferred to be absent.

    • 05:24

      KATIE: I'd had enough.I got no money.And the kids were arguing.It was just like I've got to get out.I needed to clear my head.So about 10 o'clock at night I decided to leave.It took two minutes.I left the house and, well, I didn'tknow where I was going to go.

    • 05:46

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON: We also found that missing people wereunsure of what it actually means to be missing,often not referring to themselves in those terms.This is often a term usually usedby those that report a person as missing.Rather they use the language of taking time out, going absent,needing to get away, just taking a break.However, they were aware that there was the possibility

    • 06:09

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: that people might be looking for them.And they employed concealment and disguise tactics,such as changing their clothing, taking clothingoff other people's washing lines,dumping familiar objects, not usingmobile phones when they were missing,and going under false names.People also tried to blend in, going

    • 06:31

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: to areas where there was high footfalls,such as airports, railway stations, and busy streets.Interestingly, airports provided a placeto rest and to use facilities as did railway stations.These places acted as symbolic spaces,providing missing people with the knowledge

    • 06:52

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: that they could travel further afield if they wished.But often they didn't.They chose to stay local.And moved on from these places once rested.

    • 07:02

      ANDREW: I was fairly clear-headed.I wasn't sort of wondering about aimlessly not knowingwhat I was doing.I was escaping I suppose.And what I ended up doing was staying away for a whole month.And I wasn't that far away from where I lived.I was only down the road staying in like cheap hotels.And then after the big money run out,

    • 07:25

      ANDREW [continued]: I was staying in a building site nearby.

    • 07:28

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON: We also learnedthat missing people predominantlytake missing journeys on foot rather thanother forms of transport.This helped them to deal with the emotional crisesand thoughts that they were having,finding walking therapeutic and allowing themto process their thoughts and feelings on their missingjourneys.

    • 07:48

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: We also learned that they used the natural environmentfor shelter, such as beaches, woods, parks,often choosing to sleep in the day when it was warmerand walk throughout the night.There were multiple reasons for return and reconnection.And the difference between return

    • 08:09

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: is those that may return are put into contact with their familyand may go back into their family home,whereas reconnection is often where their families willknow that they've been found safe and well.But they won't necessarily go backinto the same circumstances.Reasons for both return and reconnectionwere varied from running out of steam

    • 08:32

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: to feeling ready to reconnect with their livesthat they had left behind to being located by the policeor friends and family.However, this is actually one of the most complex partsof a missing person's experiences.Because just because you are returned or reconnected

    • 08:53

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: doesn't mean that's the end of the journey or the missingexperience.This is usually because we found that thereis a culture of silence around what it actually meansto be reported as missing.Missing people often expressed a fearof stigma at what it would mean for people to knowthat had taken this time out, had experienced this crises.

    • 09:15

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: Families didn't know how to speak to their missingperson about the experience.And often felt fearful that if they brought it up,the person may go missing again.Being located by the police can alsobe a traumatic experience for returned missing people,often not knowing what the police may

    • 09:35

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: have done to look for them in their absenceand what it actually means in terms of the lawor in terms of the police to be searched for.Returned missing people can be further traumatizedby poor police handling.And, therefore, our project suggestedthat it's important for the policeto employ empathetic policing when dealing with

    • 09:56

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: returned missing people, especially if they are oftenthe first point of contact with a returned missing person.

    • 10:06

      SOPHIE: I haven't thought about beingreported missing that much.I never really considered myself a missing person,even speaking to the police.I never really thought of myself as a missing person.That's what they just classed me as at the time.And that just sort of enhanced the severity of itand the waste of resources.Because I'd done it myself, even though I was ill.

    • 10:28

      SOPHIE [continued]: I was a depressive who attempted suicide, a vulnerable adult.That was the label the police give me as well I think.I think I'm that more than a missing person.

    • 10:38

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON: From our interviewswith families about their missing loved ones,we found that they are often veryknowledgeable about their missing person's geographies,often being able to provide extensive spatial knowledgeabout where people like to go, their familiar places, placesof significance, and places where they might be.

    • 10:58

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: As well as maybe providing information about whothey could be with and reasons behind whythey might be missing.What we found, though, was most of this information, whichthey used to search for their missing loved one veryrarely made it into police search cases.Often, FamilySearch ran in parallel rather thanin relation to police search.

    • 11:20

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: And one of the key recommendationsfrom our research was that actually familieshad a great deal of knowledge that theycould impart into police searchesto help look for their missing loved one.Factors that could increase positive relationshipsbetween the police and families of missing peopleat these immense times of crises are clear lines

    • 11:43

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: of communication, providing a single point of contactbetween police officers and a family member,and also for the police to explain,where it's possible for them to do so,the reasons behind the searches that they've conductedand why they may not be able to follow-up on some of the familyinformation we suggested in our project.

    • 12:05

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: And actually has been taken up in policing recommendationsby Police Scotland and in England and Walesthat this would help to bring about positive effectfor all involved.So one of the most innovative outcomesof the Geographies of Missing People Projecthas been 10 stories of missing experiences.

    • 12:28

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: These are composite stories producedby myself and Professor Hester Parr,both at Glasgow University.These stories provide in-depth insightinto the experiences of what it means to be a missing person.They highlight across a range of experiencesfrom what it means to be missing for 24 hours to 3 to 4 days

    • 12:51

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: to longer-term missing experiences.These stories are read by actors and canbe downloaded from the Geographies of Missing Peoplewebsite and have been used extensively in police trainingto help police officers to understand from the inside whatit is to be missing.

    • 13:11

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: A key outcome of the Geographies of Missing People researchhas been that Police Scotland has improved its practice basedon the research and has included outcomes and analysiswithin their operating procedures.The research materials and project findingsnow reach one in four police officersand have done so since 2012.

    • 13:34

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: That's 30,000 officers in England and Wales.The translation of the research findingsinto practice via police training materialshas been a core component of this research.We were keen to change police attitudes.And we've had great success in enabling thisby developing training materials and having those implemented

    • 13:56

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: into both policy and practice.The study showed that by working togetherwith both in partnership with charities, policing agencies,government bodies, and academics,we were able to influence by policy and practice in relationto returned missing people, helpingto have our findings taken up and also to compliment

    • 14:20

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: prior quantitative existing knowledge,understanding more about the geographies of missing people,about where people go, how they become reported as missing,and what they do while they're missinghas provided important evidence thatcan help support better police understandingand help to support the recovery of those once they're returned.

    • 14:42

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: Our study has highlighted that a journey doesn't justend once the person's returned.And that, actually, there is a great needfor further understanding about what happens once someone'sreturned and the support services thatare required to help them to make sense of their missingexperience.For further reading and if you're

    • 15:03

      DR. OLIVIA STEVENSON [continued]: keen to know more about the Geographies of Missing PeopleProject, visit our website at

Space, Place & Mobility: Geographies of Missing Peoples Research Project

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Professor Olivia Stevenson outlines a research project on U.K. missing persons from 2009-2011. Project highlights include interviews with formerly missing persons to hear their perspectives on why they disappeared, where they went, and what happened to them while they were missing.

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Space, Place & Mobility: Geographies of Missing Peoples Research Project

Professor Olivia Stevenson outlines a research project on U.K. missing persons from 2009-2011. Project highlights include interviews with formerly missing persons to hear their perspectives on why they disappeared, where they went, and what happened to them while they were missing.

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