'If I Go Missing Folders' Grant Some Control In A Violent World, But Critics Say They Miss The Bigger Picture

As of 2023, there are 22,980 open missing person cases in the United States — a fact some people may not think about on a daily basis, but a reality that some internet users are hoping to change. A recent trend taking off online has seen people creating "If I Go Missing" folders in an effort to help detectives and families solve their case if they were to ever be kidnapped. Among the items included in the folders are anything that could be used as evidence or identifying information, such as hair for a DNA sample, handwritten notes, lists of likely suspects, passwords, fingerprints, and daily schedules. One TikToker, @savor.it.all, shared a video detailing the contents of her "If I Go Missing folder" in December 2022 and received over 1.7 million likes and 5,000 comments. Even major outlets have caught on to the trend, promoting articles that detail exactly how to build your own folder. 

In a world with a horrific amount of gender-based violence, it's easy to see how the folders could help some feel a sense of security. One study conducted by the Violence Policy Center revealed that 2,000 women were murdered by men in 2020, and 89% of those victims knew their offender. TikTok user @youcancallmypatches explains, "It sometimes takes days for [the police] to access your bank information or social media," she explained. "Having a family member just hand over a binder of all of your information would be so vital to your case if god forbid you were to ever go missing." At the same time, the trend's massive popularity, combined with the fact that the true crime fans who promote them often speak apathetically about violence, has led some to question whether the folders are necessary or in some cases, even causing more harm than intended.

If I Go Missing folders could he helpful in some scenarios, but they may not be as useful as some people think

Although the folders seem like a genius idea in theory, it turns out they may not actually be useful in the real world. TikTok user @abdanielsannachi, who disclosed they were a victim of kidnapping, said that their own hair sample was unusable in solving their case because the police could not verify it belonged to her. They noted that those who are promoting the folders ignore the fact that detectives must abide by due process, steps taken when processing a crime that include ensuring evidence is obtained lawfully. "While your family might go through everything, detectives might not," they concluded.

Equally worth noting is that the trend doesn't consider the socioeconomic diversity of those who are victims of violent crime. Per one study conducted by the Bureau of Justice, individuals in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level were twice as likely to bae a victim of a violent crime as persons in high-income households. Other research has shown sex workers are another high risk group, with 45 to 75% reporting to be victims of violence in their lifetimes. For women living in poverty, finding items such as copies of a passport, driver's license, birth certificate, health insurance information, dental records, and bank account numbers, could be difficult, if not impossible.

Finally, there's the fact the folders could potentially backfire if they got into the wrong hands. Responding to @savor.it.all's TikTok, one user wrote, "Hopefully your stalker doesn't get a hold of this," while another added, "Imagine if somebody stole this...your entire identity is GONE."  

If I Go Missing folders miss the bigger picture with ending gender-based violence

While the folders could offer some a sense of protection, critics claim normalizing them as a viable solution for horrendous crimes ignores the larger picture of examining and preventing violence against women. This is primarily because encouraging people to solve their own kidnapping, homicide, or assault contributes to a culture that places the onus of violence prevention on the victim. It also doesn't help that some people have taken to capitalize on the trend, selling DIY "If I Go Missing" kits on Etsy.

Others have called out proponents of the folders for fantasizing about their own violent crime happening to them. Responding to a 'If I Go Missing' folder TikTok, @eva1981kay wrote, "Respectfully, this is an extremely paranoid behavior! Perpetuating victim mentality is harmful. More appropriate to learn self defense/prevention." This has also led some to accuse the trend of diminishing the horrific experiences of women who have been actual victims of kidnappings and attacks. Some creators have gone as far as to include their own pre-made missing person poster. As TikToker thetinagreerproject says in their critique video, "Can we stop glorifying the missing person? It is honestly the worst thing to happen to a person and a person's family." A better use of time may be putting more resources towards preventing gender-based violence, such as advocating for stronger laws that hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.