How to Manage the Stress of Investigating Disappeared Individuals

Investigating disappeared individuals can be extremely distressing and dangerous for journalists. It is important to find ways to manage the stress of working on these cases, such as by ensuring you have a strong support network.


Family members can be an invaluable source of information but it is also essential to fact-check what they are telling you. In addition, it is often necessary to use freedom of information requests and data analysis to uncover clues.

Gathering Information

While police and other investigative agencies are often in charge of a disappearance, there are things that everyone can do to contribute to the search. One of the most important is to raise awareness – this helps to ensure that the issue gets the attention and resources that it needs.

Another is to support organizations that work to find missing people. Financial contributions and volunteering time can help these groups continue their vital work.

If a person has gone missing, law enforcement should begin searching immediately. The longer that an individual is absent, the slimmer their chances of being found become.

In addition to contacting hospitals and jails in the missing individual’s area, investigators should check to see if they have been interviewed by police or have filed a missing person report. Additionally, it is a good idea to canvass homeless shelters and mental health facilities in the region, especially if the disappeared party has a history of psychological issues.

When conducting interviews, it is crucial to be transparent and honest with your sources. If a missing person is a family member, you should be prepared to describe the last time that you saw the person and answer questions about their lifestyle and relationships. You should also be ready to provide current photos, a physical description, and a list of any medications that the person might be taking.

Identifying Potential Witnesses

When people go missing, they often leave behind clues in the form of personal belongings, phone records, computer data and social media posts. Depending on the circumstances, their disappearance may be considered a crime and law enforcement agencies will usually investigate the case.

The first step in the investigation is usually to establish why the person went missing. This could be as simple as forgetting to attend an event or a misunderstanding between friends and family. Alternatively, the person may be running away from something like domestic violence or mental health issues.

Witnesses are crucial to the investigation as they can provide valuable information on the status of a missing person and their possible location. The simplest way to identify potential witnesses is by speaking to those who were with the person on their last known day. This can help detectives understand what events the missing person was involved in and who they were with at that time.

Interviewing can be a challenging task and police forces have a number of techniques available. The key to successful interviews is the ability to listen and to ask open-ended questions. Detectives should also be aware of the extensive literature on different interview methods and be trained in the use of these tools. This will help them get the most out of the information they receive from witnesses.

Identifying Dangerous Individuals

The first step in the investigation is to gather all available information relating to the person’s disappearance. This includes personal belongings, surveillance footage, phone records, bank transactions and interviews with family members and friends.

People go missing for a variety of reasons. Some do so intentionally, e.g. taking their own life, escaping from physical or sexual abuse, financial difficulties, mental health issues and other problems. These are known as push factors and people who disappear like this are often at high risk of harm.

Other reasons for people to go missing include natural disasters, accidents and criminal activity. Organised crime plays a major role in these types of disappearances and is driven by smuggling, drug trafficking, human trafficking, resource theft and many other illegal enterprises. People who disappear in the midst of these criminal activities are often at high risk of harm or death.

If a body is found and can’t be identified because of deterioration or a lack of distinguishing features, a DNA database may help police to identify the individual. Other methods for identifying the unidentified are fingerprinting, dental information (for those who have had dental work) and visual confirmation of tattoos or clothing. The media should only publish images or a description of the missing person after this verification has taken place and, even then, with great caution.

Developing a Theory

The disappearance of a loved one can cause immense distress for family members and friends. In addition to the mental anguish, they may suffer financial strain and have trouble settling estates or accessing bank accounts. They may even face physical danger themselves. Those closest to missing persons are often targeted for their involvement in the case, whether by perpetrators or people who want to silence them. Victimization studies reveal that racialized and marginalized populations are at higher risk of victimization in cases related to missing persons (Hill et al., 2016).

Despite the fact that missing persons incidents are not usually crime-related, some scholars have linked them to victimization. For example, Norwegian criminologist Nils Christie’s concept of the Ideal Victim, which identifies certain characteristics for a person who should be labeled as such by society, has been applied to missing persons cases.

The investigation of missing persons is a complex process that involves working with individuals who may be traumatized or even suffering from torture. This is why it’s important for investigative journalists to prepare for the emotional and logistical challenges of this kind of work before they start their assignments. This might include setting up a support network that includes colleagues, friends and a therapist. This will help them cope with the trauma of searching for disappeared individuals and the potential exposure to gruesome crimes like those committed in mass graves or by gangs that kidnap women or murder their families.