More than 38,000 people are reported missing in Australia each year.
While most are found within a short period, the whereabouts of several thousand others remain a mystery in the longer term. But one Newcastle woman is helping create awareness for missing persons and providing support for those left behind.
Emma Beckett is a volunteer with the Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN), a not-for-profit organisation established in 2013 by Victorian woman Loren O’Keeffe as part of the search for her brother Dan, who went missing in July 2011.
While Emma said she has never experienced the pain of having someone she knows disappear, her involvement was inspired by another very personal loss.
“It’s a bit of a sad story really,” she told intouch Magazine.
“I’m a ‘fixer’ – if someone has a problem I want to fix it. In 2012 my brother passed away suddenly, and not being able to ‘do’ anything was very challenging for me. While I was struggling with my grief I read a magazine article about Loren O’Keeffe, who was searching for her missing brother Dan.
“She has started a campaign called ‘Dan Come Home’ that was getting a lot of interest on social media. So, I messaged her and asked if I could help.
“I started out printing and distributing posters for her, and then moved into helping out with social media and fundraising – it gave me something to do when I really needed a distraction, and it felt good to help.
“Then strangers started contacting Loren to help in their own searches for missing loved ones, and she realised there were no resources available and MPAN was born in 2013.
“I have been a volunteer ever since, and hope that I always will be!”
The Hamilton East woman was recently given the ideal opportunity to raise awareness of MPAN and its work after being named as one of the Newcastle Jets’ ‘Local Heroes’ for 2017-18. As part of the program, recipients star in a one minute video talking about who they are and what they do, which is shown during the half-time break at one of Newcastle’s home games.
For the self-confessed “massive Jets fan”, the acknowledgement was a real thrill, as well as a valuable chance to promote the issue of missing persons.
“I champion the cause wherever possible – if someone I know goes missing, I want MPAN to exist to help," Emma said.
“Around 38,000 people are reported missing in Australia each year, most are found in the short term, but several thousand remain missing long term. This includes people from the Hunter Region.
“There are also people in our region who are impacted by missing loved ones who have gone missing from other areas.
“MPAN humanises and creates awareness for missing people, as well as providing practical support to their families and friends.
“We have an online guide to what to do when someone disappears, and work to establish partnerships that increase visibility for the issue and lessen the financial impact on those left behind.
“MPAN is the only charity in Australia working in this space, so it is vital and absolutely invaluable.”
One of the main aims of MPAN is to help provide practical support for those close to a person who has gone missing, via the organisation’s world-first Missing Persons Guide. The charity also forges valuable partnerships within the community to help get the word out when a person is missing in the long term.
"When someone goes missing, time is of the essence. This is the motivation behind our foundation project – Missing Persons Guide – a world-first practical guide of what to do when someone goes missing," Emma said.
“The guide expedites critical processes, minimising time wastage when efficiency matters most.
“The guide gives advice about what to do in the short, medium and long terms. It has resources like poster templates, media release templates and advice, guides to setting up social media accounts etc., and advice for things like how to manage the affairs of a missing person (rent, mortgage, parking fines, club memberships etc. don’t stop because a person disappears).
“We also work on awareness raising – this is to raise awareness not just of the details of individual missing people, but missing people as an issue – it’s a taboo subject that people might not realise could impact their life, until it does.
“But every day in Australia 100 people are reported missing, and research shows that for each of those people at least 11 more are impacted by that in some way (practically, emotionally, financially).
“This is what our Unmissable campaign does, we partner with artists and writers and make artworks of the missing and little stories to either go up as murals on walls or in our book.
“We also forge partnerships with business that can help missing people, for example since 2015 the Mobile Billboard Company has very generously given MPAN an annual in-kind budget.
"We have designed and placed billboards in prominent public spaces like Circular Quay and Federation Square as well as small country towns across the country. Families with loved ones missing for more than six months can contact us to see if we can arrange a billboard in a location that suits them."
“We also worked with Vodafone to put a procedure in place to manage the accounts of missing people, which is an industry first.”
Raising awareness of missing persons is a world away from Emma’s day job, with the 34-year-old, who has a PhD in Food Science, working as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Newcastle.
Emma said while volunteering in the missing persons space can be “emotionally challenging”, she feels privileged to be able to offer some form of help and is inspired by the strength shown by those searching for a loved one.
“It means so much to me to be part of MPAN, that I was there when it was born as an organisation means a lot to me,” she said.
“It is also great to help out with a cause that has never touched my life, I feel like lots of people wait until an issue touches them to reach out to help, but I feel privileged to assist in a space that has never impacted me. The strength the families and friends of the missing show in the face of adversity is inspiring.
“Likewise, working with Loren O’Keeffe, the founder and CEO, is inspiring because she took the worst experience of her life and turned it into a way to help people.
“On a more selfish level, I love that helping MPAN gets me out of my comfort zone and reminds me how lucky I am in life. Missingness is a difficult and somewhat taboo subject; it’s not a cause that has ‘success stories’ so that can be emotionally challenging.
“But the best thing about working with MPAN is helping people. If you are looking for a missing loved one, little actions, like someone sharing their details on social media means a lot. I’m glad I can help facilitate some of those little moments that help.”
Visit www.mpan.com.au to find out more about the Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN), or make a donation to the organisation. You can also buy a copy of 'Two Short Stories', where families of nine long term missing Australians were paired with authors and artists, to tell their unfinished stories (100% of proceeds go to MPAN).