Missing on purpose: what happens when a person does not want to be found?

We explore why a person may choose to go missing

Whether a person goes missing intentionally or unintentionally, there is almost always vulnerability involved. Usually it is impossible to know whether a person has left intentionally, hence the need for a sound search effort to find them. Those who “choose” to go missing, in contrast to unintentional absences (for example as a result of dementia), may do so to escape, to make a new start or to run away from abuse in the home, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other problems.

The Johatsu: The Evaporated People

The Evaporated People, known as the johatsu in Japan, are the tens of thousands that disappear without a trace every year. They are those that leave their jobs, studies or families often driven by shame, hopelessness or personal disappointment.

Many women do it to escape domestic violence, especially since laws protecting women from abusive espouses are weak and often not enforced. Others do it to leave gambling debts behind. But mostly they do it as an overriding feeling that the best for them is to leave their old lives behind and start anew.

While most of those who disappear yearly, are either found by the police; by detective agencies hired by their families; turn up dead; or return home on their own, it is estimated that some 20,000 people are never seen again by family, friends or employers. When considering that over a period of ten years, this figure can add up to 200,000 people who have disappeared, this phenomenon represents a substantial impact to society.

For those in developed countries, the idea of someone willfully disappearing is difficult to imagine. In the US, Social Security numbers make the search for missing persons an easier process. This, however, is not the case in Japan, where there are strict laws protecting privacy and it is against the law for police to access ATM transactions or financial records. Unlike in the developed countries where there is a database for missing people, none exists in Kenya. These cases are tough — there’s a lot of moving pieces, there’s a lot of dynamics that change over time of an investigation.

According to Owaah’s article in The Elephant, dependable data will also help researchers identify patterns, and give law enforcement agencies to investigate. As is, beyond their current training and help from telecom agencies and the public, there is little else to go on. No one knows for sure how many people are currently missing, and without that, it is impossible to actually to solve open cases, and even mitigate future ones. Such patterns can be age, gender, risk, and even location. Disappearances of young women in one specific location, or area, could point towards a serial killer, for example. A string of disappearances of kids could point to a human trafficking ring, or even something more sinister.

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