opinion

Schapelle Corby's new obsession with missing children is hurting those who suffer most.

Fluffy socks. A woman riding a bizarre mythical beast. And a handbag, with a clipped-on image of a cheeky little boy in a Spider-Man suit.

This is the mish-mash of posts on Schapelle Corby’s Instagram page.

And it’s difficult to stomach. Because this little boy isn’t just any wide-eyed toddler. This is William Tyrrell, wearing the very superhero costume he was went missing in on September 12, 2014. It’s a photograph that has been seared into our minds.

Since Corby’s return to Australia after spending a decade in prison in Bali, she has taken it upon herself to resurface the tragedies of lost children. It’s an obsession the convicted drug smuggler showed no apparent interest in previously.

It began with the words “Where’s William Tyrrell” glued to her handbag when she first landed in Australia.

Her decision swiftly drew criticism from the boy’s family, with the the official Where’s William Campaign explaining they were “not happy”.

“While the Where’s William Campaign aims to increase awareness where possible, this situation regarding Miss Corby has no association whatsoever to William, his loved ones or their campaign to find their little boy,” they wrote on Facebook.

Days later, these sentiments were ignored. Corby again shared William’s photo, this time dragging Daniel Morcombe into her new crusade by referencing “Daniel’s Law” in her Instagram hashtags.

Where's William Tyrrell? #DontBeDistractedByTrivia #Williamicare #PushForDaniel'sLaw #Daniel'sLaw

A post shared by Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

Daniel, the blue-eyed 13-year-old whose disappearance in 2003 went unsolved for years until convicted child sex offender Brett Peter Cowan was eventually charged with murder in August 2011.

Ever since, Daniel’s parents have worked tirelessly to protect children from similar predators by advocating for the introduction of Daniel’s Law; legislation for an online register pinpointing the details and locations of child sex offenders.

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Then on Tuesday night, Corby chose to highlight another missing child. Hayley Dodd, who was just 17 when she vanished in 1999.

A 61-year-old man will be on trial for her murder this year.

Again, Corby mentions Daniel’s Law.

It goes without saying that fighting to protect our children, and to find the babies who are so suddenly snatched from their parents’ lives, is an exceptionally worthy cause.

But there is a time and a place. When it makes its way to Corby’s Instagram page, out of nowhere, it not only feels jarring. It is trivialising the suffering of so many Australians.

The faces of these lost children have abruptly become tabloid fodder all over again. Their tragedies have been thrown back into the news cycle where Corby, a convicted drug smuggler, is front and centre. And at the moment, her new-found fascination shows no sign of waning.

This can do more harm than good for families, warns Dr Sarah Wayland.

The UTS researcher works closely with families of missing children as well as the Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN), a group created by the family of Daniel O’Keeffe, who spent five years searching for the 24-year-old until his body was found in 2016.

Daniel Morcombe

Dr Wayland stresses that while creating awareness is a welcome move, it is important to do so only after communicating with the affected families. And ask them, do you want our support? What can we do? How can we help? Should information be directed to Crime Stoppers?

"It's admirable that people want to get on board and share images of missing children - but it needs to be done in consultation with law enforcement and with the families left behind," she said.

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"If you just chuck the image out there again, it can retraumatise families."

Dr Wayland says people she is close with have voiced how confusing it's been for Corby to be publicising missing children's cases, particularly the use of the handbag featuring William Tyrrell.

She says families do want assistance from the public, but they also want ownership over how their loved ones are represented.  This precise feeling was expressed by William's family.

"Missing children get handed around like public property," Dr Wayland explains.

And the public persona of a missing child is so very different from all the ways in which they are loved and cherished.

It ignores the very core of that individual - their quirks, their dreams, their favourite ice cream flavour.

Families desperately need to be ready for that.

So while you might think you're doing good by sharing the agony of others, it should be done with the utmost care and respect for their trauma.

Particularly if you are an individual with a new-found Instagram fame with 182,000 followers, and counting.

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