How to Survive a Kidnapping

By CTD Mike published on in Camping & Survival

Statistically, the chances of getting kidnapped are extremely small. However, there are certain factors that increase your risk of becoming a victim. Criminals who kidnap for ransom will focus on families with money or connections that can provide money. Many times they will kidnap employees if they know a company will pay to get their people back. In some cases, they will kidnap people to coerce their parents or spouses to do something specific in exchange for release. For example, the Irish Republican Army used to kidnap wives and require their husbands to leave a package in a certain place at a certain time. The package might contain arms and ammunition that another IRA operative would pick up. Or, it might contain a bomb to wreak destruction on a busy city street. If they caught bomb carrier, he would have no useful information about the IRA to share with police forces. If the explosion killed him, the IRA would not lose a valuable operative. Traveling abroad to Latin America or the Middle East brings an increased risk of kidnapping. Mexico City, with its population of 21 million people, is well-known as the world kidnapping capital. However, it may surprise you that Phoenix, Arizona takes the number two spot—right here in the USA. So what do you do if you find yourself being kidnapped?

IRA Fighters

If you see these guys, run. They are not here for the beer.

Frustrate the Abduction—or Not

If a lone attacker attempts to kidnap you, fight for your life immediately. Whatever possible advantage you have, you need to be resourceful and use it. If you never leave the house without a .45ACP model 1911, well now is the time to draw your hogleg and stop that guy in his tracks. If you’re a Mixed Martial Arts fighter, now is your chance to punch and kick your way to freedom. If you’re a good runner, try to run away and outpace them. If you’re in a public place and other people are nearby, shout and yell that you are being kidnapped. Describe your kidnappers while you yell, “I’m being kidnapped! He’s wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans, stop him!” If the kidnapper is just a lone crazy guy, there is a good chance you can fight him off, convincing him to choose an easier target next time. However, professional kidnappers don’t choose their victims at random. They carefully research their targets and choose the best possible moment to strike. Knowing this, the temptation is to reduce your exposure and limit their window of opportunity. This can only go so far. If you never sleep, keep an assault rifle within arm’s reach of the bathtub, never leave your concrete bunker, and never eat food that hasn’t been taste tested ahead of time, then your chances of being kidnapped are pretty slim. Congratulations; you have forced them to kidnap someone you care about in order to get to you. Seriously, if confronted by multiple professional kidnappers, your chances of dying during the initial abduction go way up if you decide to fight it out. If they are professionals, they want you alive for a reason, or they would have simply killed you where you stood. In this case, you need to comply with them, at least for now.

Observe and Note

You need to calm yourself, and gather as much information as possible about what is going on. How many kidnappers are there? How are they armed? What kind of vehicle are they taking you away in? Can you figure out what direction you are moving in or where they are taking you? Make note of turns, stops, changes in speed. If you later escape or they release you, this information could help the police track down the kidnappers. It is likely you’ll be blindfolded or hooded, but you may be able to see just a little bit. Use whatever senses you are left with. Can you hear the kidnappers talking? What language are they speaking? If you speak their language, what are they saying? What are their accents like? Do they seem calm and well-trained, or are they arguing amongst themselves? If you suspect they are incompetent at something, you may be able to use this to your advantage later.

Find out What They Want You For

Your chances of surviving this ordeal depend largely on why they are kidnapping you. If professional kidnappers want to demand a ransom for you, you are worth more to them alive than dead. You should cooperate with them to a reasonable extent, and begin planning a long-term strategy. If a lone kidnapper is a serial killer or sexual predator, he intends to kill you. You must go for broke with a serious escape attempt at the earliest realistic opportunity. Do not allow yourself to be handcuffed or tied up. Once your hands and feet are bound, your chances of escaping drop dramatically. If a lone kidnapper is trying to bind you, the time to fight for your life is right now.

Humanize Yourself

Douglas Wood

Iraqis kidnapped Douglas Wood in 2005. He played it safe and cooperated. Military forces rescued him six weeks later.

It is easier to kill, rape, or brutalize another person if they seem less than human to you. This is why war propaganda often depicts the enemy as a sub-human monster that must be eradicated. In small, subtle ways, you want to remind your captor or captors that you are a person too. Do not challenge them, rather try to show them that you are worthy of their respect. If you speak the same language, try to talk with them and exchange information. Learn about them and let them learn about you. Family is a safe topic, but of course stay away from politics! If they see you as a person, your quality of life as a captive and your probability of survival go way up. This can lead to Stockholm Syndrome, a situation in which a captive develops an adoration for their captors based on the fact that the captive is totally dependent on them. The phrase Stockholm Syndrome was coined after a 1973 bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden. A hostage situation developed and bank employees were held captive for six days. Even after the capture of the bank robbers and the employees set free, the former captives defended their captors. Although they had only been hostages for six days, the employees had formed a strong emotional attachment with the robbers who threatened to kill them. About one in four kidnapped people develops this form of traumatic bonding.  Whether you develop Stockholm Syndrome depends greatly on how your kidnappers behave, and what situation you find yourself in. Your own mental toughness and outlook has surprisingly little to do with it. Don’t worry about it—there will be plenty for the therapists to sort out later, whether you sympathize with your kidnappers or not.

Escape Quickly, or Not at All

As time goes by in captivity, you will become mentally and emotionally exhausted. Your health will deteriorate. You will lose brain power, strength and stamina compared to your captors. Therefore, if you are going to make an escape attempt do it quickly after your capture, before the downward spiral begins. Total commitment to a good plan is only part of the equation. You’ll also need a great deal of luck, and some place to escape to. If you are in a foreign country, especially one with anti-American attitudes among the general populace, your chances of reaching friendly help are poor. Aside from your physical and mental condition, who you are escaping from and where you are in the world will dictate your decision. An escape attempt from a lone rapist in Arkansas is a better idea than an escape attempt from a well-organized militia in Beruit. There were many brave escape attempts by American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. These were young men in peak physical condition, who had special training in how to escape and evade their captors. Although nearly 600 POWs eventually made it back to the USA, they were all returned voluntarily by the North Vietnamese due to diplomatic negotiating. Not a single escape attempt was succesful.

Release or Rescue

If you believe your captors are about to release you, cooperate with them fully. If the initial abduction is the most dangerous moment for you, the release comes in as a close second. Move slowly and predictably, showing respect for your captors at all times. You’ll be tempted to give them some choice parting words once you feel safe, but hold your tongue. Your revenge will be the information you can provide to the police, who will eagerly debrief you. Every detail you remember from captivity may help save other people’s lives and prevent further kidnappings. A police or military raid may also end your ordeal. If you sense a raid in progress, sit still and make no sudden moves. In the movies, the hostages get their revenge on the captors by snatching up a weapon and joining the fight. In real life this is an idiotic move when a SWAT team is bursting into rooms and immediately shooting anyone with a weapon in their hands. They are looking to kill bad guys and rescue hostages, so make sure you look like a hostage. If there is a lot of shooting going on, lay flat on the floor or behind good cover (like a brick wall) and sit still. The rescue team is likely to search you or even handcuff you at first. Don’t take this personally! Their information about potential hostages at the raid target is probably sketchy. Anyone taken alive needs to be controlled for the duration of the raid until they can sort out friend and foe later. Remember Stockholm Syndrome; the rescuers will be taking no chances that you may have been brainwashed by your captors.


A SWAT team raid! Now is not the time to grab an AK-47.

Congratulations, you survived one of the most rare and dangerous hardships that can happen to a person!

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