To assume that you’ll never be taken hostage or kidnapped for ransom is to court disaster. There are plenty of reasons to be taken against your will, from a simple carjacking gone wrong to a psychopathic individual who just happens to choose you. In this article, we offer some advice to help you adapt and survive, should you ever find yourself in an abduction situation.
Avoid or Thwart Capture
As with all disasters, prevention is first and foremost the preferable option. The best way to avoid being kidnapped or taken hostage is to not be there.
If you hear gunfire, try to pinpoint the source and run in the opposite direction. Take the emergency exits and avoid the commonly-used areas when getting out of a building. If running is not an option or will expose you more to the threat, barricade yourself behind thick solid walls, a closet or any barrier you can find, and stay there until help arrives.
Once safely ensconced, put your mobile phone on silent, control your breathing, and take off items from your person that can cause noise, such as keys, jewelry or loose change. Try to minimize calls so as not to give away your location. Should a voice call be necessary, lower the earpiece volume and cover your mouth while whispering into the microphone, and stick to text messages or IMs once the call is done. Not only is it more silent, it allows you to conserve your battery and have greater awareness of your surroundings than during a call. If you’re trying to conceal yourself in darkness, set the screen illumination as low as you can.
If you’re suddenly confronted by anyone brandishing a weapon, let your first response be running and not standing your ground to fight.
Flight or Fight?
If you’re with other people and have a clear idea of what you’re up against, resisting may be an option.
You can consider fighting and subduing your attackers if:
- You know how many of them there are, and you outnumber them
- You’re sure you can disarm and subdue them
- You have agreed to work together as a team and have confidence in the rest of the team
- You have a coherent plan on how to take them out
Are you in a group, and think you have a good chance of fighting your way out of your situation? If so, arm yourselves.
Here are some ordinary items that can serve as makeshift weapons:
– A key can be “weaponized” by holding it as normal, but jabbing it into your attacker’s eyes, face, neck, gut and other soft spots.
– Hefty pieces of wood or pipe can be used as clubs.
– Your belt buckle can be used as a sap; wrap part of the belt around your hand, then hit your attacker’s arms, hands, face or neck.
– Chairs can be thrown at or smashed on attackers to distract or injure them.
– Fire extinguishers can be used as bludgeoning weapons, or turned on to attackers’ faces to disorient them long enough for you to escape.
The first few minutes are vital, and you should quickly assess if it’s a good idea to resist. There may be instances where escape is impossible, such as where there are multiple captors, they have succeeded in preventing you from leaving, you’re unable to call for help, and trying to escape could get you seriously injured or killed. When escape or resistance seems impossible and impractical, you’re better off cooperating and not trying to get away for now.
Individuals or groups who take hostages fit four profiles:
- The professional criminal
- The prison inmate
- The terrorist
- The emotionally or mentally-disturbed person (including sexual predators and serial killers)
The first two types are somewhat easier to deal with as they’re more predictable. Criminals and inmates take hostages to get the authorities to meet their demands, such as large sums of money along with a safe and sure way to flee and avoid recapture.
Terrorists and the emotionally/mentally-disturbed abductors are less predictable, more difficult to deal with and are rarely open to, or even bother to, negotiate. They have “bigger goals” and are bent on “sending a message” to the largest audience they can muster. Their intent is to kill to get their message across, severely limiting your chances of survival. In addition, they often don’t care about their safety or losing their life in the pursuit of their agenda.
The First Crucial Minutes
The first 10-30 minutes of being taken are crucial moments, as these are the times when you’re most likely to panic and your captors may respond to your “panic attack” with violence. It’s within this approximate timeframe that many hostages are killed.
If you’re captured, the best you can do for yourself is calm down. Keep a clear head, and if there are other hostages with you, advise them to stay calm as well. Bear in mind that, like panic, calmness can be contagious. Use this time to determine why you’re being held hostage. Bide your time if you’ve ascertained the nature of your captors’ motives.
If you’ve been taken for ransom, you’re worth more to them alive than dead, and you may have to wait quite a while before your release is negotiated or you’re rescued. If you’ve been taken by a sexual predator, serial killer or terrorist, you may have to act sooner. Before you decide your next move, use whatever knowledge you have of your captors and their motives.
Take it One Day at a Time
If you’re taken hostage for leverage, don’t fool yourself by making any unrealistic or baseless “timelines” as to when you’ll be released or rescued. Unless you take steps to escape, accept that your liberation is something beyond your control. It may be hours, days, weeks or even years before you are freed, but take comfort in the fact that it will happen since most hostages in this situation eventually go free. Assure yourself and other hostages, if you are in contact with them, that this is a survivable situation, however bleak it may appear.
After you’ve made a calm, rational assessment of the situation and have concluded that your captors are keeping you as leverage, this is when you should take on a passive stance to ensure your survival. This is not to mean that you should bow to your captor’s every whim, but that you should put on a façade of compliance while waiting for your release to be negotiated, you’re rescued or you get an opportunity to escape. It’s important that you never appear aggressive towards your captors – speak only when spoken to, answer only with a “yes” or “no”, and speak clearly and softly. Being aggressive outright is an open invitation for them to beat you up to “put you in your place”. Remember that you have no value to your captors apart from being a tool to have their demands met, which means you need only be kept alive, not comfortable, well-fed or free from harm.
Part of surviving your abduction is being observant. It’s important to keep your mind busy and focused on surviving.
Make a mental picture of all that surrounds you. Taking note of details can aid you in your escape, and may help in prosecuting your captors once you’re rescued and they’re caught. Some things to take note of are:
- Your captor’s names or monikers, if they use them
- Their appearance, any distinguishable features like scars or tattoos, rings or other kinds of jewelry
- The sort of weapons they carry
- Origin or background: if they have any accents, if they mention their hometown, etc.
Aside from observing your captors, pay attention to yourself and your surroundings.
- Are you bruised or injured in any way?
- How did they restrain and contain you?
Your holding area: do the doors of your cell or room open inward or outward? Do you hear anything that could hint at your location, like traffic, factory or airport sounds or even the ocean?
No doubt, the mental and psychological strain of being abducted will be immense, but do your best to not have a breakdown. Don’t cry, grovel, beg or challenge your captors; this will make you appear less “human” to them and less respectable. When you show your captors you’re “human” and worthy of their respect, you’ll be harder to kill or rape.
During your internment as a hostage, remember to apply the three C’s for surviving this situation:
- Stay Calm – No matter how much anger or fear you have towards both your captors and the situation, remain calm. Don’t antagonize your captors, you will only be met with violence and they could make your situation more difficult. If you act aggressively, they can make you more miserable by inflicting physical or psychological trauma, withholding food and water, restraining you further or simply making your “stay” an even worse experience.
- Be Compliant – Do as you’re told and comply with your captor’s wishes, but only if they’re reasonable. If possible, never allow any sort of physical or psychological duress to be inflicted upon you. Don’t sign any “confessions” or documents against your will if it can be helped. Don’t try to get out of your restraints unless you can escape. You must keep your captors thinking that you’ll comply with reasonable requests and won’t try to escape.
- Capitalize on Opportunities – Even if you’re biding your time and awaiting your release by negotiation, there’s no rule that says you shouldn’t attempt to escape. If the opportunity to escape presents itself, by all means do so. As much as possible, you must be sure you can get away and escape successfully. If you fail or are re-captured, your angry captors may move you to a less accessible location, torture you, or further restrict your movement.
The Likely Results
There are only three possible ways a hostile situation gets resolved:
- Release by Negotiation
This is the safest and often the outcome that takes the longest. Patience and calm is required by all parties involved.
A successful rescue is dependent on how well the rescuers identify the abductors from the hostage(s). As a hostage, it’s of vital importance that you stay flat on the floor while your rescuers work to sweep and clear the area, and NEVER reach for any weapon at any time; you could be mistaken for one of the hostage-takers and shot on sight. Keep your hands empty and stay down.
This is the riskiest outcome. Consider escaping only if you’re absolutely certain that you can get away if the opportunity presents itself. Also, consider this option if you’re reasonably sure that your captors intend to kill you – risk it even if your chances of success are low.
Getting kidnapped for ransom or to further a deranged person’s or group’s agenda is never pleasant. While it’s advised to thwart your would-be abductors and evade capture, there may be instances where your abduction can’t be avoided. In this case, remain calm and maintain a logical survival mindset to overcome and make the most out of a terrible situation.