Watch: Running away is a form of defence against an abuser – psychiatrist

We need to look more into how victims use running away as a form of defence against their abuser, Consultant psychiatrist Dr Joe Cassar explains to

Cassar said we still lack a way to approach how and why people choose to run away, both in terms of understanding their motivations and how we announce their disappearance.

Most people running away know what they are doing and only in rare cases are they psychotic or lacking reality testing, Dr Cassar explains.

‘Sometimes when people run away, the last thing they want is for their face to appear on a newspaper article or on TV. That reality scares them even more. It means we have to be careful how we look into their disappearance and how we announce it. They don’t want to be found. We have to question why they go to the extreme of doing that.’

72 people still missing

Recently the Times of Malta quoted figures from the police, where almost 6,000 (5,892) reports were filed of missing persons between 2010 and this year. Over 5,000 (5,533) of those had been found while 290 foreign nationals and 69 Maltese people were still missing. Up until July 15th, 72 people were still reported missing.

Cast aside assumptions

The psychiatrist explained to that going further from our understanding of what motivates people to run away, we also need to cast aside our assumptions that those fleeing and changing their identities were the abusers.

‘It’s not true,’ Dr Cassar says adding that, ‘People who have been abused. They fear that the perpetrator will come after them. The fear takes over and it motivates them to leave the country, change jobs, even to get plastic surgery. At the end of the day, running away is a form of defence that we need to look into.’

At the same time, he also explained that the opposite does happen and victims will stay in their situation.

“We need to stress awareness of emotional abuse”

Dr Cassar explained that there is a general societal focus on discussing sexual abuse and domestic violence. While there is considerable talk about the severity of these forms of abuse, there needs to be more stress put on understanding emotional abuse. ‘It’s a present problem in our country,’ he explained.

The psychiatrist added that in the Maltese context, young people especially, were running away to a different reality as a way of coping with the abuse.

‘Any reality has its pros and cons but it’s better to deal with the abuse rather than run away.’

It only takes one day of road-works

Dr Cassar pointed out that during conversations with the families of patients with dementia, he would stress that it was vital to recognise the small things that can trigger instances of disappearance.

Using the analogy of road-works, he explained that there are families who believe that their loved one’s muscle memory will help them take the same route to the shops without hindrance. However, should there be an obstacle like road-works or a crane that closes the street, a person who suffers from dementia will struggle to cope with the difference. ‘It could happen any day.’

‘For someone who does not suffer from dementia, that won’t phase them. We just turn around and find another way. For someone who does, that could mean they could get lost.’