EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW – Bernard Valézy: “There are 43 disappearances of minors in 202 alone throughout France”

February 21, 2024 / Interviews

Little Émile, young Lina, Delphine Jubillar… In recent years, disappearance cases have multiplied in France. Why this phenomenon? How are police departments and the state handling the problem? Bernard Valézy, president of the Assistance and Search for Missing Persons (ARPD) association, answers our questions…

Interview: We have le sentiment that business de disappearance are de more and more many. Looking confirm this?

Bernard Valézy: When we talk about disappearances, we must immediately distinguish those concerning minors from those of adults. For the first, we have reliable data, provided each year by the Ministry of the Interior, for the simple reason that the disappearance of minors is automatically considered by the police as a worrying disappearance, and therefore, recorded in the official figures from the ministry. Since the 2000s, we have noticed that the disappearances of minors have been constantly increasing. There are 43202 disappearances of minors in 2022 throughout France.

Concerning the disappearances of adults, whatever are the last numbers ?

The last figure known by the ARPD concerning worrying disappearances of adults dates from 2020, when it was 12. We estimate around 391 the number of disappearances which would not be counted each year, since they are not considered “worrying” by the public authorities.

What is a disappearance “disturbing”?

Disappearances deemed “disturbing” by the police depend entirely on the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. It's very random! The disappearance will be considered worrying by the police officer depending on how the family presents it and manages to convince him of the abnormal nature of the latter. In some cases, relatives are asked to wait, to come back to give a statement in several days, depending on how the situation evolves. If the worrying nature is not recognized, the disappearance is not recorded and no police investigation is then opened.

How to explain the increase in disappearances ?

What we know, concerning adults, is that there is an evolution of disappearances linked to Alzheimer's disease which can be explained by an increase in the number of patients, mainly linked to the aging of the population and to the increase in the number of people over 65. Concerning minors, it is obvious that the advent of social networks has a great influence on the behavior and daily lives of our young people. It is now urgent to put in place a real prevention policy around these two points.

Is there a typical profile of missing people?

No. Everyone, all social classes and all genders are affected equally. However, we can find similar causes, particularly among minors, where 95% of disappearances are a runaway.

What are the main causes identified ?

There are eight main categories explaining a disappearance: runaways, deliberate voluntary departures following a family problem or threats, flight, death (whether due to homicide, suicide or an undetected accident such as is the case during a hiking accident for example) diseases, such as Alzheimer's, loss, when an individual gets lost and finds himself wandering for an indefinite period, sectarian excesses, which can lead to an individual being diverted, as well as the criminal cause (homicide, kidnapping, kidnapping).

Si a loved one disappears, what should you do?

For minors, you have to act very quickly. The police will automatically treat this as a worrying disappearance and the investigation will be opened immediately. Time is then running out. The more time passes, the more the chances of finding the minor decrease. For adults, this will depend on your ability to get the police and gendarmes to admit that this is a worrying disappearance. At this time, you must highlight all the elements available to you which prove the urgent and abnormal nature of the matter.

And what to do if the police refuse to open an investigation?

If you find yourself faced with this situation, you can write directly to the public prosecutor explaining the situation and requesting the opening of an investigation into a worrying disappearance. The latter then has the power, even if the officers have previously refused to do so, to contact the official services and order the opening of an investigation. This is one of the possible remedies. But, when the situation appears hopeless for loved ones, that's when they turn to associations like ours...

It is when the official route is blocked that the ARPD take over ...

Indeed, some of the cases brought before us are of this nature, but we also work on cases in parallel with official investigations. We sometimes obtain information on certain cases and, in this case, we transmit our data to the investigation services.

Concretely, how do you help families?

The vast majority of business we handle comes from our website. These can be recent cases, but also disappearances dating back 30 years! We are more than 600 volunteers present throughout the territory. We work in all regions, DOMTOM included. Once a contact form is received, we appoint two or three investigators who then contact the family in order to gather different pieces of evidence, both for the progress of the investigation, but also to ensure the person's link. applicant with the missing person.

This step having been completed, we simply ask loved ones to join our association. The investigation then begins for our volunteers.

What means of action could be put in place by the State to facilitate investigations and prevent cases of disappearance?

One of the priorities for us is the construction of a real prevention program, particularly for young people. We need to go to middle and high schools, talk and explain to these ages the consequences that running away can have. They can quickly find themselves confronted with delinquency and participate in it too. We have certain cases where young adolescents, girls or boys, have found themselves involved in sex trafficking, drug cases or delinquency. There is a real urgency to alert and inform on these points. We are also asking for the creation of a website which would centralize all disappearance notices.

Today, with social networks, it is complicated to capture the right information, at the right time. We currently have more than forty proposals which you can find in detail on our website.

Comments collected by Solenn Mirarchi