By AMY STOCKWELL
Last Saturday night, 11-year-old Michelle Levy went missing from her home in North Bondi. Family and friends searched local streets for her before her disappearance was reported to police and a land, air and sea search for her began.
On Sunday, the nation was alerted. News reports were filled with images of Michelle and calls for public assistance to find her. She was identified in security camera footage in a number of locations in Sydney and police, SES volunteers and 1000 members of the public followed those leads in helicopters and ground teams, all in an effort to find the girl who friends had described as “intelligent, shy and gentle as a butterfly”.
Thankfully, we heard on Monday morning that she has been found at a unit in Randwick, some 40 hours after she went missing. Her mother posted on Facebook, “She’s been found! Going to fetch her now. Thank you everyone one and all.”
It’s fair to say that the nation was gripped by the story of Michelle’s disappearance – voraciously consuming every element of her story, including details of her faith (Jewish), her relationship with her parents (“she storms off and sulks like a normal 11 year old”), her history of running away (“she normally doesn’t go very far, just around the corner to her grandparents’ house”) and any information about the man at whose home she stayed.
Michelle’s father appealing for her to come home.
The public thoughtfully did as instructed by family and police and shared her image widely, especially a sweet picture of strawberry blonde Michelle laughing beside the ocean in the floral dress she had been wearing when she disappeared. The entire online, tv and print media landscape was filled with images, information and speculation about Michelle and her family.
This drama has apparently had a happy ending. The full details of Michelle’s disappearance are yet to come, but the story of her disappearance remains at the forefront of people’s minds.
With the spectacle surrounding Michelle’s disappearance fresh in our minds, it is timely to remember that more than 20,000 children and young people are reported lost every year.
There isn’t too much reliable information about the characteristics of these children, but what data there is tells us this: 13 to 15 year olds are the highest risk of disappearing and girls are more likely to disappear than boys. Abuse, neglect, family dysfunction, problems at school, being in care, mental illness and a history of (often unreported) ‘running away’ are the biggest risk factors in disappearances.
But, of course, this isn’t the picture that our media gives us of children who have disappeared.
If you watch the tv or read the news, you’ll think you know exactly what a child who goes missing looks like: they are white, cute and from ‘good homes’ with two parents who speak confidently and articulately to the media.
The missing children that we hear about on tv deserve our attention, certainly. But so do the thousands of other children we don’t hear about.
The ones that aren’t newsworthy. The ones who don’t necessarily have a cherubic countenance, a sympathetic parent or spokesperson or a social-media-savvy community that can demand our attention.