Surviving The Terror of Captivity

Back in the 90s, I took part in a case involving a kidnapping. A woman from Dallas, Texas, was abducted by two kidnappers. Afraid of sexual molestation, she did not even ask to go to the bathroom. Kept for nearly 48 hours, she nearly died of toxemia. She had retained too many poisons in her own body and began to re-assimilate her own body liquids.

The woman didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what not to do. Certainly, she was very frightened. Kidnap victims, skyjacked passengers or terrorist hostages have similar problems, whether they are here at home or abroad. Americans read news accounts about kidnappings all the time, but usually, these accounts are about expatriates living overseas.

But actually, more Americans are kidnapped here in the U.S. Kidnapping in the United States remains one of the most common crimes in our country. In certain cases, kidnapping involved a notable person.  According to NamUS, over 600,000 people go missing each year in the United States, ranging from young children to older individuals. Last year alone, more than 8,089 victims were abducted in just eight states (Alaska, California, Delaware, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania).

The Number Of Missing People In The Us

How can you survive the unknowns of terrorist or criminal captivity?

Being a kidnap victim is difficult. There is a terrible strain on the mind and on the emotions. Your captors may kill you — but you want to survive. Guidelines that have helped other hostages walk away from the events are reviewed in this article. Those persons cited as examples were survivors. They were successful victims.

All survivors obey a few rules. Some survivors do it instinctively. Others do it because they were trained to. The ideal way to comprehend the rules is by training or study before an abduction might occur. Then you can have the tools necessary for survival.

The biggest impediment to survival is you!

You can choose to run, or to fight, even in the face of overwhelming force. Or you can allow yourself to be totally incapacitated by your own fear. You can also “take charge” even when threatened. You should begin now to recognize your strengths. You can train yourself to overcome your weaknesses. You can take responsibility for your own safety.

SPECOPSThe thinking you put into a kidnap attempt avoidance plan may serve as a powerful weapon in the future. You can react from a position of strength rather than weakness. If the show of force is overwhelming, you can always change your mind. You can always attempt to escape, but the State Department reports indicate that only one percent of all American hostage victims are successful in completing an escape.

Complacency is the number one enemy in the battle against crime or terrorism. Complacency says, “it won’t happen to me,” Reality says, “it could happen to me — I had better be prepared.”

By taking a proactive approach to risk, you can avoid it entirely. You can circumvent terror and crime. You can avoid becoming a victim.

Whether you are traveling to a country that is dangerous or driving to your own grocery store through a “crime zone” patronized by drug pushers, pimps, and prostitutes, you must obey the rules. Simple responses to threats are appropriate. Lock your car doors. Be observant. Don’t let any event distract you from maintaining an avoidance profile. Above all, if you don’t have to travel through a high-risk area — don’t!

You can do many things to decrease your victimization probability. You can dress down. Avoid wearing expensive clothing, jewelry, or accessories. A $15,000 fully equipped truck is less conspicuous than a basic BMW or a Mercedes of greater value. Any convertible is vulnerable because it can be entered with a knife-slash.

You should leave any expensive luggage at home when traveling overseas or to high-crime areas. If you have a title like M.D., Ph.D., Chief Executive, or Chairman of the Board of Directors, you should leave it at home, as well. Who cares?

A high status can move you up to the top of a criminal gang’s priority list. Do not attract attention to yourself. Maintain a low profile. Decrease your risk by low-key behavior.

Four-Step Attack

It is relatively easy to recognize that you are about to be attacked. There is a four “act” performance in almost any criminal or terrorist event. These four acts include:

  • a surveillance stage,
  • an invitation stage,
  • a confrontation stage,
  • and the attack stage.

If you can sense a stationary surveillance or spot that someone is following you, now is the time to react. Run, hide, or obtain assistance immediately. This is the best time to avoid being attacked.

As each stage progresses, danger increases for the potential victim. The invitation stage is usually an apparently innocuous event. Someone approaches your car at an intersection. This person pretends to want directions. Perhaps a young and attractive lady is trying to fix a flat on a lonely road. You want to help, but to do so increases your risk.

Related article: Detailed Strategies For Surviving An Ambush

If you are distracted by giving directions or stopping to help the lady, you allow the trap to be set. You can then find yourself in the confrontation stage.

The confrontation stage is more difficult to evade. The potential abductors are getting into your personal space. You are accessible. It is more difficult to evade capture. When guns or knives are present, you may be seriously injured or killed if you attempt to resist.

Sometimes the observation or surveillance stage, as well as the invitation, confrontation, and assault, occur spontaneously. You may be attacked without warning, preamble, or verbal exchange.

The norm, however, is that there is a time separation between the four events. If you were alert, you avoided the incident entirely. If you evaded the surveillance or avoided the invitation, then there could not be a criminal or terroristic victimization.

The confrontation stage is more dangerous than in the first two stages. But if you can see it coming, you can still run out into traffic, jump on top of cars, get into a cab, or use some other evasive tactic. Once you have been con-fronted with weapons, however, the rules change.

Now you’ll play “Russian roulette” with your life, as you accept new risks and prevalent incisive danger.

Russian Roulette

A high percentage of all victims are attacked while in their car. Once the attack is initiated, there may be incredible violence. Many bodyguards and chauffeurs are killed immediately during an assault. The principal is not killed because they want you to live. They are kidnapping you for a good reason. At least insofar as your own life is concerned, you share a co-equal desire for survival. Dead victims do not help the perpetrators get a ransom or any other benefit.

Those who are killed have acted precipitously, abruptly, or have provoked their captors. Any resistance occurring while staring down the barrel of a gun is considered to be provocative behavior. It is absolutely necessary to remain calm and quiet. Don’t try to be a here “Rambos” don’t really live long in the real world —only in fiction.

Resisting may be what you would prefer, but it is incredibly dangerous, especially during the first moments of the event. If you do or say the wrong thing, you’ll be dead. Most terrorists are pretty young. Their adrenaline flows ninety to nothing. They want to succeed. To live, you will probably have to help them a little.

Cooperation is the key to survival. No resistance, even of a passive nature, is appropriate during the attack stage. Unless you are incredibly well equipped to run away or flee in your car, you shouldn’t. Unless you worked out in a martial arts facility recently and have a great deal of skill, you should not fight. You must have the will to kill if you fight your aggressor.

Most of the kidnap victims who are murdered are killed during the first few seconds of a kidnap takedown. They are killed because they did not know how to act. Perhaps they ran. Maybe they resisted. Experience indicates that if the hostage does not resist at the point of assault, he or she will be more likely to survive.

The second most dangerous time is during a rescue attempt. Brian Jenkins, in “Numbered Lives,” established that 79 percent of all hostages killed, perished during rescue attempts. Hostages should get down on the ground or floor and remain there during any rescue attempt. They should stay still until instructed otherwise.

Your Attitude Counts

Psychologists tell us that there are two types of hostages. Successful hostages are called survivors. Less successful victims are called succumbers.

To simplify the description, one could say that the successful hostage maintains his or her dignity. The succumber grovels and patronizes. There is a big difference. There are two weapons the military psychologists taught Viet Nam pilots in their P.O.W. indoctrination training. They said every prisoner must have faith and hope. Faith in God, faith in the country, faith in the military, or in an executive’s case — faith in corporate or family aid. You must also have an encompassing hope to return to your way of life.

Faith and hope can give you direction. You must cope. You must survive. Your attitude cannot deteriorate into deep forms of depression. Depression can rob you of any interest in food, water, exercise (both mental and physical), or in returning to your family and friends.

Related article: Depression In Survival Scenarios – Emotional Conditioning To Overcome

Unless you suspect some hidden danger, eat the food you are given. Use the nourishment to maintain your strength in case you have the opportunity to escape. You must also drink a full daily water allotment for good health. Exercise your body and your mind.

One succumber was a hostage victim named Fausto Bucheli. Fausto had been reassigned from a California Plant to Latin America for a temporary assignment. He was kidnapped in El Salvador and was released in only 43 days. But in that time frame, his health deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t even walk. He had to be carried to freedom.

Chains Are Not Always What Keeps You Captive

Very few executives are mistreated in terrorist hostage-takings. The revolutionaries want you to live — for their purposes — so you are not likely to be abused. If you get sick, they will probably even provide a physician.

United Kingdom Ambassador Geoffrey Jackson served in Uruguay during the 1970s. He was held for nearly nine months. When he became ill, a physician was called, Dr. Claude Fly, an American Agronomist, was likewise treated and released when his health deteriorated.

General James Dozier was chained to a captor who was assigned to kill him if a rescue operation occurred. When the rescue occurred, however, he could not pull the trigger. He explained that when he first captured General Dozier, all he saw was an “American Imperialistic Pig.”

But as he got to know the general, he came to respect him. When the Red Brigade member heard the rescue party coming in, he pointed his gun at General Dozier, but could not kill him. He said, “I saw a sleeping man — I could not kill a sleeping man.” When you form relationships based on respect, you are also involved in a strong survivalist program.

If you think you’ll survive, you probably will. You can be the same way as a terrorist hostage. Decide that you are going to survive. Decide that you are returning to your family, your job, and your way of life. Then do what it takes to survive. Simply be polite and courteous. Don’t grovel or beg. That kind of attitude is never worthy of respect. Don’t show your fear or your depression. Use every method Dale Carnegie ever taught — and you will be successful in a prison camp as well as in a business setting.


Maximize your strengths. Control your weaknesses. You can be a “successful” victim. You can be a survivor. You can walk away from captivity as a better person than when you went in. Study the kidnap survival concepts carefully. You, too, can learn to avoid captivity.

Even if your terrorism or crime avoidance programs fail, you can still use the “successful victim” strategy. You can live through an abduction. You can survive an extended period of captivity.

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