The Anatomy of a Kidnapping
The number of kidnappings have increased year over year for the past decade. Terrorists, cartels and both organized and common criminals are adding kidnapping to their repertoire as it is lucrative addition to their revenue streams.
Some of this increase in volume represents an increase in traditional kidnappings. Some of it is due to the fact that muggers and robbers are getting smarter and using leverage as a tool, vice exclusively relying on fear and/or brute force. This has resulted in the adoption of the relatively new class of robbery/extortion/theft, which has been termed “express kidnapping”. This is a short term, comparatively low demand ransom that is executed generally in 12 – 36 hours. Ransoms are usually what a person has in a checking or savings account that can be withdrawn via ATM or from a local bank.
Regardless of the type of kidnapping, kidnappers must follow a process ignored to be successful. The good news is you can influence each of these five steps in the process to some extent. The first is the tactical phase during which the goal of the attackers is exert physical control over the victim. The transport phase is simply moving the victim to a location of advantage to the attackers. The intake phase is typically associated with physical abuse, with the goal being emotional control of the victim. The detention phase creates the possibility to reduce the number of resources required to physically control a victim. Finally, the exploitation phase consists of photos or videos with the goal of increasing a ransom incentive / and or threats to increase the victims cooperation in raising the total ransom figure.
The tactical phase of a kidnapping:
The first phase of a kidnapping is the tactical phase. This is when the weapons are out, and you are being placed into a position the attacker controls. This is by far the most dangerous portion of the attack – but it is also your most likely chance of escape. Balancing the risk of injury with the risk of escape is a significantly challenging thing to do and it is critical that you are not coming up with a half-baked plan on the fly. Your priority is to survive, and your secondary goal is to escape. Don’t lose track of the priority based on a sense of bravado, entitlement or arrogance.
The confusion involved in tactical operations is difficult to manage for experienced military professionals. They have the luxury of conducting extensive rehearsals and training for a wide variety of contingencies prior to conducting attacks. The criminals attacking you do not have that freedom of movement to develop that level of fluidity or comfort. They are likely nervous as they are committing a major crime in a somewhat public location. You have to assume the attackers will resist arrest or capture at all costs. The goal of a kidnapping is to capture you alive, but never assume they value your life as much as they value their freedom. Remember – the goal of the tactical phase is to survive first, escape if possible.
You may be able to leverage the confusion, and competing interests vying for your attackers attention. If you blend into a crowd, disappear around a corner or slip away in the confusion, you have ended your role in the attack. While that would be an ideal outcome, you cannot ignore the real risk you are taking when deliberately not complying with your attackers instructions. If you get shot or stabbed in the process, you have significantly increased your risk of permanent injury or death. Only you can accurately balance your chances of success with the risk of injury based on your physical abilities and the available opportunities.
The transportation phase of a kidnapping:
The next phase of a kidnapping is the transportation phase. While your chances of injury are lower, this is still a very risky time for you and your attackers. They have committed a crime, and do not yet have complete control over your person. You may find yourself in the trunk of a vehicle, in the back seat with a hood over your head, or driving the car with a weapon being used to secure your compliance. Your chances of inadvertent injury at the hands of your attackers is less then during the tactical phase, but they are not negligible.
Conversely, you now have some additional barriers between you and escape. You may be bound, unable to see or locked up in a container. While your chances of escape are less than during the tactical phase, you are far from helpless. If you can open the trunk or container and get out at low speeds, you may well end the situation. If you are driving, you still exert an enormous amount of control. Your attackers are also still managing a tactical scenario as well as trying to maintain control of you. This is likely to be the last good chance of escape you will have, but if you are injured in the process, you have made your situation worse.
The intake phase of a kidnapping:
The transportation phase ends at the arrival to what will be your detention location. We call this the intake phase. Depending on the number of links and the distance you will have to travel, you may alternate between transportation and intake at a number of short term holding facilities. The intake phase is likely to consist of your attackers demonstrating to you that you are under their control – or more accurately ensuring that you demonstrate to them that you understand you are under their control. The duration of this phase is largely in your control.
The sooner you can convince your captors that you are a compliant victim, the sooner you will stop being abused and be placed in a detention facility of some sort. There is no reason to go into detention more injured than necessary. The tough guy attitude will get you broken or killed and this is not the time for bravado. You are in a location they have selected, and most likely, even if you were to escape at this point, you will not have access to support from the local population. Unless you know where you are and have a good chance of attracting support, now is not the time for escape.
The detention phase of a kidnapping:
Long-term detention will take a psychological toll on any human being, and you should go into detention with the attitude that you are not playing at peak levels. There are some publications advocating not discussing sensitive topics with your captors. This is the worst advice I have seen. Your goal during detention is to get your captors to see you as a human being. We only engage in conversations with other human beings so sub-consciously if your captors are engaging in a conversation with you, they are treating you like a fellow human being.
Talk with your captors about anything they are willing to discuss with you. You should try to make reasonable requests of your captors. Reasonable under most circumstances will consist of water, shelter, food and potentially the use of a bathroom. Anything beyond that you should at least initially put on the unreasonable list. In doing so, make a sincere effort to understand your attackers plight. No one is born a terrorist or a violent criminal. They are made that way by the circumstances under which they were raised. They do not see their future they way you do, and if you make a sincere effort to empathize with them, they may well empathize with you to some degree.
Your goal is to learn as much about your captors as possible. Family, friends, pass times and thoughts on the universe. The more you know the better! First it will help to keep your mind active and engaged, and second it may help with prosecution later. Stockholm syndrome is a debatable condition under which prisoners empathize with their captors to the point of assisting them and supporting their cause. If you approach developing a relationship from the standpoint of trying to get Stockholm syndrome, you are on the right track. A psychiatrist can fix that problem when you get back alive and unharmed. Be a good student of your captor’s beliefs.
The exploitation phase of a kidnapping:
You will most likely be exploited during you captivity. This may consist of getting money from a bank or ATM, making videos or being photographed with magazines, or newspapers to establish proof of life. You may be forced to do interviews or write letters that may seem incongruent to your personal beliefs. While you do not want to be seen as weak or pathetic by giving in, ultimately anyone can be broken. Use this as an opportunity to cause your attackers to explain things to you by feigning confusion and ignorance – and remember, you are not at the top of your game, and confusion and ignorance is probably a reality.
While it may not seem like it at the time, exploitation is a positive sign. These items are likely to be seen by others or they would not be produced. While they are probably being used to negotiate a higher price for your release, your eventual release is the goal and this is part of the process of getting there.
Frequently, victims are simply dropped off in a semi-populated area. It is likely an area where the kidnappers have some freedom of movement. Do not assume that strangers will not take advantage of your weakened condition. Hospitals, medics, police or military personnel are your best bet. If none are nearby, larger crowds are more likely to result in someone doing the right thing and reporting you to one of the above. While unlikely, you do not want to put yourself at additional risk by surviving your ordeal, and being kidnapped or killed by a competing gang in the same town!
Kidnapping is a growing threat in many places around the world. Take an active interest in your own safety and security and check the facts before you travel. Don’t ignore the risks or assume “This will never happen to me”. If you take even minor precautionary steps, you massively lower your risk, because unfortunately, most people walk around oblivious to the threat. If you and a group of friends are chased by a bear in the woods, you don’t have to be the fastest person in the group, you just can’t be the slowest. The same applies to kidnapping. Of all the people in the area that meet a kidnappers profile, you just can’t be the easiest one to attack!
Have fun and come home safe!
~ Patrick Henry
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