“KIDNAP is not like crime against property. It is devious, cruel and indifferent treatment of the most fundamental human group, the family,” says Mark Bles, in his book The Kidnap Business. A kidnapping causes emotional turmoil to family members. Minute by minute and hour by hour, they are tossed between hope and despair as they struggle with sentiments of guilt, hate, and helplessness. The nightmare may go on for days, weeks, months or, sometimes, even years.
In their relentless quest for money, kidnappers capitalize on family feelings. A kidnapping band forced their victim to write the following in an open letter to the press: “I ask the Press to publish this everywhere so that if I do not come back the fault will be with my kidnappers but also with my family who prove they prefer money to me.” Italian kidnappers have applied pressure for ransom money by cutting off body parts and sending them to relatives or TV stations. A Mexican kidnapper even tortured his victims while negotiating over the phone with their family.
Some kidnappers, on the other hand, attempt to curry favor with their victims. For example, in the Philippines a kidnapped businessman was kept in a luxurious hotel in Manila, where his captors gave him liquor and entertained him with prostitutes until the ransom was paid. Most victims, however, are locked up with little concern shown for their physical or hygienic needs. Many are brutally mistreated. In any case, the victim must always suffer the horror of wondering what is going to happen to him.
Coping With the Trauma
Even after victims are released, they may have lingering emotional scars. A Swedish nurse who was kidnapped in Somalia expressed this opinion: “One thing is more important than anything else. You have to talk to friends and relatives and get professional help if you need it.”
Therapists have developed a method to help such victims. In several short sessions, the victims analyze their experiences with professional assistance before meeting with their families and getting back to a normal life. “Therapy given shortly after the event reduces the risk of permanent damage,” says Rigmor Gillberg, a Red Cross crisis therapy expert.
Victims and their families are not the only ones touched by kidnappings. Fear of kidnapping can halt tourism and slow down investments; it also creates a sense of insecurity in society. In just a few months in 1997, six international companies moved out of the Philippines because of the kidnapping threat. A Filipino woman working for a group called Citizens Against Crime exclaimed: “We are living a nightmare.”
An article in The Arizona Republic says: “Among Mexican executives, the fear of kidnap is verging on hysteria, and justifiably so.” The Brazilian magazine Veja reports that kidnappers and robbers have replaced monsters in the nightmares of Brazilian children. In Taiwan, kidnap prevention is taught at school, and in the United States, security cameras have been installed in preschools to prevent kidnapping.
A Boom for Security Consultants
The increase in kidnappings and the delicate issues surrounding them have created a boom for private security firms. In the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, there are more than 500 such firms, accounting for $1.8 billion in revenue.
A growing number of international security firms teach kidnap prevention, publish reports on hazardous areas, and negotiate ransoms. They counsel families and companies, teaching them the strategies of kidnappers and helping them to cope psychologically. Some firms even try to catch kidnappers and get the ransom money back after the hostage is released. Their services are not free, though.
In spite of such efforts, kidnappings are on the rise in many lands. Commenting on the situation in Latin America, Richard Johnson, vice president of Seitlin & Company, says: “All expectations are that the level of kidnappings will increase.”
Reasons for the Surge
Experts suggest a host of reasons for the recent surge. The desperate economic situation in some areas is one. A relief worker in the town of Nal’chik, Russia, said: “The best way to get money is this famous tool, kidnapping.” In some former Soviet republics, kidnappings are said to be used to finance the private armies of local warlords.
More people are traveling for business or as tourists than ever before, thus opening up new fields for kidnappers in search of prey. The number of foreigners kidnapped has doubled in five years. Between 1991 and 1997, tourists were abducted in some 26 lands.
Where do all these kidnappers come from? Some military conflicts are cooling off, leaving former soldiers unemployed, with empty pockets. These people have all the necessary skills to take up this lucrative business.
Similarly, the use of more efficient measures against bank robbery and crackdowns on drug dealing have caused criminals to take up kidnapping as a substitute source of income. Mike Ackerman, an expert on kidnappings, explained: “As we make crimes against property more difficult in all societies, it forces crimes against people.” Publicizing high ransom payments could also induce potential kidnappers.
Motives Not Always the Same
Most kidnappers want money and nothing but money. Ransom demands vary from just a handful of dollars to the record $60 million ransom paid for a Hong Kong property tycoon who was never released in spite of the payment.
On the other hand, some kidnappers have used their victims to bargain for publicity, food, medicine, radios, and cars as well as new schools, roads, and hospitals. One executive kidnapped in Asia was released after the kidnappers were given basketball uniforms and basketballs. Certain groups also use kidnappings to scare and intimidate foreign investors and tourists, with the aim of halting the exploitation of land and natural resources.
So there is no shortage of motives, no shortage of means, no shortage of potential kidnappers or victims. Are solutions equally plentiful? What are some of them, and can they really solve the problem? Before answering such questions, let us examine some deeper, underlying causes of the boom in the kidnapping business.
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If You Are Kidnapped
Those who have studied the subject offer the following suggestions to people who may be kidnapped.
• Be cooperative; avoid obstinate behavior. Antagonistic hostages are more often subjected to harsh treatment, and they run a greater risk of being killed or singled out for punishment.
• Do not panic. Keep in mind that most victims survive the kidnapping.
• Devise a system to keep track of time.
• Try to establish some sort of daily routine.
• Exercise, even though your opportunities to move may be limited.
• Be observant; try to memorize details, sounds, and smells. Learn details about your kidnappers.
• Engage in small talk if possible and try to establish contact. If the kidnappers see you as an individual, they will be less likely to harm or kill you.
• Make them aware of your needs in a polite manner.
• Never try to negotiate your own ransom.
• If you find yourself in the middle of a rescue attempt, drop to the floor and wait passively as events unfold.
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Kidnap Insurance—A Controversial Issue
A boom industry connected with the increase in kidnappings is insurance. Lloyd’s of London has had a 50 percent yearly increase in kidnap insurance during the 1990’s. More and more companies are offering such insurance. The insurance covers the assistance of a kidnap negotiator, payment of a ransom, and sometimes professional efforts to get the ransom back. However, the insurance issue is very controversial.
Opposers to kidnap insurance claim that it commercializes the crime and that it is immoral to make money off kidnapping. They also say that an insured person might be careless about his own security and that the insurance will facilitate the kidnappers’ task of extorting money, thus encouraging this criminal activity. Some even fear that the availability of insurance will encourage people to arrange their own kidnapping to get the insurance money. Kidnap insurance is outlawed in Colombia and Italy.
Supporters of kidnap insurance point out that like any other insurance, it makes many pay for the losses of a few. They reason that insurance creates a measure of security, since it enables insured families and companies to afford the help of qualified professionals, who can ease tension, negotiate lower ransoms, and make it easier to catch the kidnappers.
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The Stockholm Syndrome
In 1974 the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, daughter of the newspaper billionaire Randolph A. Hearst, took a surprising turn when she sided with her kidnappers and took part in armed robbery with the group. In another case a kidnapped Spanish football player forgave his kidnappers and wished them well.
In the early 1970’s, this phenomenon was named the Stockholm Syndrome, after a 1973 hostage drama at a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. On that occasion some of the hostages developed a particular friendship with their captors. Such interaction has served as a protection to the kidnapped, as the book Criminal Behavior explains: “The more the victim and the captor get to know one another, the more they tend to like one another. This phenomenon indicates that after a period of time the offender is less likely to harm the hostage.”
An English victim in Chechnya who was raped said: “I believe that when the guard came to know us as individuals he realized it was wrong to rape me. The raping stopped and he apologized.”
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To family members a kidnapping is one of the most nerve-racking, emotional turmoils imaginable
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Victims need comfort
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Most victims are locked up with little concern shown for their physical or hygienic needs