9TH EXPERT CONFERENCE OF THE ITAKA FOUNDATION – Disappearances and findings. Problems and challenges.

Despite pandemic-related restrictions on movement, people still go missing. What are the psychological causes of disappearances? How do modern tools help agencies and experts conduct searches? What methods are used to identify corpses and how cases unresolved for years are solved today? These were the subjects discussed by search specialists during the 9th Expert Conference of the ITAKA Foundation – Disappearances and findings. Problems and challenges. The conference was held online on 18th March 2021.

The conference, organised by the ITAKA Foundation, gathered theoreticians and practitioners involved in search for missing people. Presentations were made by specialists from the ITAKA Foundation and distinguished experts in the field.

The event was opened by Alicja Tomaszewska, the President of the ITAKA Foundation. The first session consisted of presentations by Foundation psychologists. Filip Matuszewski spoke about psychological aspects of searching for missing persons. Aneta Bańkowska focused on experiences of families of missing persons whose bodies have never been found. Families of missing persons constantly worry about their own future. They expect the worst to happen. Their presence turns into perpetual waiting, said Bańkowska. The time according to which they live is totally absorbed by their missing beloved ones – she explained. Missing relatives are neither alive nor dead. For their families they are live still but in a parallel world.

Irena Dawid-Olczyk, the President of the La Strada Foundation, opened the session on human trafficking and homelessness. Human traffickers choose victims with no social background, the weakest individuals. Victims of human trafficking, homeless people are often not looked for, she explained. Katarzyna Nicewicz and Marta Mikołajczyk from the Give Tea Foundation shared their experience of working with people in the crisis of homelessness and talked about problems and difficult everyday life of homeless individuals. Conference attendees could learn how much the stereotypes concerning people in the crisis of homelessness differed from real stories of those whom the foundation had helped.

The third session concerned forensic science issues.

Expectations concerning our work are often shaped by images known from TV series. They are not entirely true. We are not able to answer all the questions. Despite limitations, we do not give up, explained Filip Bolechała, MD, forensic medicine specialist, head of the Thanatology Chair and Forensic Medicine Department at the Jagiellonian University – Collegium Medicum. During the next presentation, the role of age progression as a supporting tool in cases of missing persons and searches was discussed by superintendent Joanna Wilczewska, an anthroposcopic analysis expert at the Forensic Laboratory of the Olsztyn Regional Police Headquarters. The more photographic material and information police officers have, the more likely it is that the age progression coincides with the actual appearance of the missing person, explained Wilczewska. A part of the conference concerning ‘the dark number of crimes’ or the unexplained cases in police archives was supplemented by Joanna Stojer-Polańska, Ph.D., criminologist from the SWPS University. The conference was closed with a presentation by Bogdan Michalec, a retired officer of the Criminal Police Department of the Krakow Regional Police Headquarters, one of the creators of ‘the Polish X-Files’. From childhood we are taught to think according to patterns. In case of the dark number of murders things are different. We have to change our thinking and move away from the patterns we know, explained Michalec and suggested how effective ‘searchers’ should think.

The conference was addressed at a wide audience concerned with searching for missing people, e.g.: organisations and institutions cooperating with the ITAKA Foundation, representatives of Police, City Guard, Mountain Volunteer Search and Rescue, Tatra Volunteer Search and Rescue and Volunteer Water Rescue Service, search and rescue teams and media. 

The conference was financed by the National Centre for Research and Development within the framework of the Strategic Programme for Scientific Research and Development ‘Social and economic development of Poland in globalizing markets’ – GOSPOSTRATEG.

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