• Arcangel

How you can reduce your risk of being kidnapped?

"Quickly kids, into the car or you'll be late for school", said a frustrated mother as her kids dragged their feet into the car. A loving mother waved goodbye as the family driver drove away into the morning traffic. She would never have believed that she would only see her kids 3 weeks later.

Her kids never arrived at school that day. They were kidnapped during their routine commute to school. This story may sound familiar however it’s a story too many people have had to deal with personally.

This family was one of the fortunate families that received their children unharmed. Unfortunately, this is never guaranteed even if a ransom is paid.

The reality of kidnappings is far from the glamour of Hollywood and often results in trauma, both physical and emotional that takes years to overcome if at all.

So how do we reduce the risk of being kidnapped? First, we must understand what kidnapping is.

What is kidnapping?

In South African law, kidnapping is regarded as the unlawful and intentional deprivation of a person’s freedom of movement or, if such a person is a child, the unlawful intentional deprivation of a parent of control over the child.

This should not be confused with abduction. In South Africa, abduction is the unlawful and intentional removal of an unmarried minor from the control of his or her parents or guardian in order to enable someone to marry him or her or to have sexual intercourse with him or her. This is a crime against the legal guardian and not the minor, irrespective of consent provided.

Types of kidnapping

We all know about the stereotypical child kidnappings by strangers and how parents can "steal" their children after losing legal custody rights. But there are many more different types of kidnapping.

1. Basic Kidnapping

By far the most common form of kidnapping, this can be accomplished in most parts of the world with minimal preparation, with a relatively low risk of failure. Kidnappers will generally target local businessmen or their families; those regarded as being “well-off”, without having sufficient resources to spend a great deal of money on security precautions. The kidnappers’ goal is a fast, easy payoff. Generally, the ransoms requested are relatively easy for the victim’s family or company to obtain.

2. High Net-Worth Individual Kidnapping

Generally, the intended target is studied for some time prior to the actual kidnapping, allowing the perpetrators to gather intelligence on security procedures and personal habits.

After the victim has been taken, his or her family or employer is contacted with the ransom demand.

Generally, a negotiation process occurs. As most of these incidents are perpetrated by experienced kidnapping gangs, the victim is generally released if ransom is paid.

As high-net-worth individuals become increasingly security-conscious, this type of kidnapping has been on the decline in recent years, in favour of less involved kidnappings with smaller, but easier to obtain payoffs.

3. Tiger kidnapping

A crime involving a hostage taking in order to force the victim to commit or assist in a theft.

The hostage or hostages is/are held as until the victim has met the demands of the criminals. All of the victims work in a location where cash is being handled, such as bank, post office, currency exchange firms etc.

4. Express kidnapping

The victim is abducted, then forced to withdraw their own ransom from a bank or ATM.

If all goes well, the victim is released afterwards, generally after having been relieved of all valuables on their person (and occasionally in their residence).

This type of kidnapping is popular in urban areas, due to the prolific ATMs. In some cases, this will develop into a standard kidnapping, with further ransom demanded of the family or employer.

In other cases, the victim is held overnight, to get around a one-day withdrawal limit.

5. Virtual Kidnapping

A Virtual Kidnapping is more a scam than an actual kidnapping.

The perpetrators will wait until their target is unreachable (visiting an area with no cellular coverage, for example), then will contact the target’s family or company, claiming they have kidnapped the target and demanding an immediate ransom.

The target eventually returns, unaware that anything untoward has occurred. Due to the need for haste, the ransoms demanded are generally relatively modest.

Another common technique is to call the target pretending to be a cellular phone company representative and ask them to turn off their phone for a short while for a technical reason, during which the virtual kidnapping is conducted.

Thus far, virtual kidnappings are most common in Latin America, specifically Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, and Mexico.

6. Political kidnapping

A kidnapping conducted to extort political concessions from governments or security forces.

As monetary ransom is no longer enough, it is more difficult to negotiate kidnap victim's freedom as in many cases the political concessions or demands cannot be met by the involved governments, putting the victim’s life at greater risk.

7. Bride kidnapping

A form of forced marriage in which the groom to be kidnaps his bride. In many cases the would-be couple has never met until the day of the kidnapping. This way of marriage is practiced in the Caucasus region, Central Asia, and some nations in Africa.

In many cases the bride is raped to convince her to stay with her husband, as in many traditional cultures the loss of virginity is harshly judged. In some cultures, a bride price is customary, so the kidnapper may contact his victim's family to demand compensation.

Kidnapping in South Africa

Video clips of children and adults being forcibly taken have been flooding social media platforms striking fear into the hearts of many South Africans.

The statistics do little to reduce this fear. The South African Police Services reported a 133% increase in kidnappings between 2011 and 2020. Between March 2019 and April 2020 6632 kidnappings were reported. This means an average of 18 kidnappings per day.

When looking deeper into these statistics the picture looks quite different. The below graph shows the causal factors of kidnapping.

Source: SAPS

Who are targeted and why?

The single biggest cause of kidnapping (46%) as seen above is related to armed robberies (including hijackings). Police analysis suggests that the likely victims are adults who are taken to ensure tracking devices aren’t activated or to access cash from the victim’s bank cards.

The available data indicates that young children are most likely to be kidnapped by a legal guardian during custody disputes. Cases also occur when one guardian fails to ask permission to take a child from the other guardian.

This does not mean that the concern over rising reports of kidnapping is false. They should be taken very seriously and whatever the cause of the kidnapping when you or a loved one is victim to this crime, the statistics mean very little to you at that time.

So, what is the solution?

Do we wait for the government and the global community to reduce global kidnappings and crime? As we have seen worldwide the answer to many critical issues have been solved by the involvement of local communities and private individuals. This is no different for preventing kidnapping.

Ensuring that you take steps to reduce the chances of being targeted will drastically improve your overall safety and therefore reduce the chances of being kidnapped.

Know thy enemy

Having worked in various high-risk environments globally, I have seen a common trend. The same fundamental process is used to carry out criminal and terror attacks.

Command Decision

This process starts with a conscious decision to carry out an attack.

Target selection

Next is the selecting of a viable target. This target is selected based on the objectives of the attacker. Simply put “Will I achieve my intended objective by carrying out this attack?”.

Intelligence gathering

Once a target is selected information or intelligence must be gathered to find out the best way to carry out a successful attack.

Planning and Dry run

The next stages involve planning and testing the security capabilities of the target. The basic equation is when there is more complexity the risk increases. This requires more planning and therefore more time and resources are required to successful carry out the attack.

Attack and Escape

The attack will either be an attack with no escape (in the case of a suicide attack) or attack and followed by escape. Kidnappings attacks rely on a successful escape in order to achieve their objectives.

What can you do?

Stop them at the target selection and intelligence gathering phase!

How do you do that?

So how do you stop an attack during these early stages?

If you are a Rambo, special forces Jedi Ninja then this is easy. But how does the average person like you and I do this while still living a productive "normal" life?

The simple answer is Situational Awareness. There have been many books written on the topic from many different perspectives and for many different applications. I'm going to try and provide an easy-to-use practical guide, keeping in mind that this is not the magic key to safety but rather a guide as to what you should be practicing every day.

What’s happening around you

The first step to ensuring your personal safety is actively engaging in the world around you. How often have you noticed how many people are hanging around at a traffic light? Or how often do you miss changes in your environment because you were busy on your phone or engaged in some other activity while “passively” doing another activity like walking from your car into the shops, without noticing the group of 6 guys watching and following you?

Stranger danger

This may sound cliché and something from a different era, but its relevant now more than ever. Whether it be in the physical world or online, this advice is applicable for adults as much as it is for children.

Never allow a stranger into your personal space. This includes blocking you from your intended destination. Once they are in your personal space or have blocked your escape it is now no longer preventative but active defence which a completely separate topic.

Trust your gut

Human beings have an incredible ability to process various types of information at speeds we are only now starting to understand. The non-verbal and environmental “information” or stimuli we process help us with basic survival decision making and are often done sub-consciously.

This is often referred to the “gut feeling” we have. The physical feeling in our stomachs is due to the body’s preparation for fight or flight. Blood rushes to the major muscle groups as well as the stomach, referred to as the “engine” of the body.

By “listening” to your body you will start to tap into this non-verbal communication and understanding changes in your environment which could pose a risk to you.

Have a plan

Military, law enforcement, security and intelligence personnel are trained to always have a contingency plan. This is a good practice for everyone no matter if you are Jason Bourne (The fictional character from the popular movie) or a stay-at-home parent. This does not mean living in a constant state of paranoia. It simply means thinking ahead.

An example could be ensuring that there is enough space to manoeuvre your vehicle and safely escape when stationary at a traffic light should you need to. Be careful not to overload yourself and spiral into paranoia.

To reduce potential overload, I would suggest limiting this to one scenario at a time until it becomes routine and then a second scenario and so on. This habit will improve your ability to react without freezing.

What next?

I believe in a simple recipe consisting of:

1. Knowledge is Power

Knowing your environment is the first step in ensuring your safety as well as the safety of your loved ones. If using a GPS to drive somewhere, check the overview map and ensure you are comfortable with the selected route and where you can get to safety if needed.

2. Quality Routine Training.

Find good quality and reputable training institutions. It really doesn’t matter if you want to start learning advanced martial arts in the hope of being a black belt ninja or just attending a few security awareness classes, the important thing is that they are practical and is something that you are willing to implement into your daily life. Keep in mind that you get out what you put in (Rubbish in, rubbish out).

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

All skills perish with time so if you want to be able to use the skills you have learnt it is vital that you keep practicing. Thinking of the different realistic scenarios that you could find yourself in and how you would deal with them, is an effective way at preparing yourself mentally which has proven to reduce the freeze response.


Data Sources

  • Carte Blanch

  • Institute for Security Studies

  • Crime Hub

  • ThreatRate

  • South African Police Services (SAPS)

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