Kidnapping Primer

One critical element when discussing personal security, especially in the developing world is to have an understanding of the various types of kidnapping that exist and the associated mitigation and prevention strategies that you can employ.

First off, it’s important to note that in the US in particular and most of Western Europe kidnapping for economic or political reasons is a relatively rare crime. One exception is “Tiger Kidnapping” which is prevalent in parts of Europe.

Furthermore an overwhelming number of kidnapping incidents are resolved and usually quickly. This is not true in developing countries so those who work or travel there need to be aware of the associated risks and the methodologies used.
First off let’s discuss the primary types of kidnappings in the US and then move on to the variations prevalent elsewhere in the world.

Parental/Custody Kidnapping: These incidents, which make up the majority of the kidnappings in the US arise from custody disputes where a parent or other relative abducts a child or children.

Predatory Kidnapping: An abduction where the victim is taken by a predator to commit a sexual or other violent crime where there is no economic motivation. These incidents are the reason why many crime prevention experts in the US warn about the risk of being taken to “crime scene 2”.

Other types of kidnapping which are more prevalent in developing nations:

Kidnap for Ransom: a traditional kidnapping where the victim is abducted and held while the victim’s family or employer is contacted and a ransom is demanded.

Express Kidnapping: Sometimes also called a lightning kidnapping. This is an increasingly prevalent crime where the victim is selected quickly and held for a short period of time usually from several hours to a day or two. Sometimes several days. The victim is typically taken to ATM machines and made to withdraw the daily maximum. In some cases the victim’s family may also be required to pay a small ransom.

Political Kidnapping: Kidnapping a victim or victims with the intent to exchange them for prisoners being held by the authorities or for some political concession from the government.

Virtual Kidnapping: Not really a kidnapping at all but more an extortion. The “kidnappers” identify when a potential victim is incommunicado for a particular period of time usually due to travel, being in a movie or similar event. They then contact the victim’s family and claim to be holding the victim and demand a small ransom to be paid immediately. The family typically panics and unable to reach the victim, pays the ransom.

Tiger Kidnapping: This is a bit of an exception to my comments above as this crime is somewhat prevalent in the Republic of Ireland and the UK. Typically the victim is a bank manager or other financial services manager with access to cash or other valuables. In these cases the victim’s residence is invaded and the family held hostage. While the family is being held by part of the kidnap gang the bank manager is taken to his place of business and forced to turn over cash or other valuables to secure the release of his family.

There are also some rarer types of kidnapping that most expatriates and travelers are unlikely to encounter:

Revenge kidnappings: these most often occur to persons involved in some type of criminal activity — often done by one criminal group against members of another in order to send a message. These incidents also occur occasionally in areas where there are family, tribal or clan rivalries but again are usually restricted to members of the rival clan.

Bridal kidnappings: In some parts of Central Asia this is still used as a mating ritual of sorts. A man kidnaps a woman as his prospective bride and holds her for several days. At this point her honor is called into question and her family agrees to her marrying the kidnapper.

This is by no means an exhaustive list but most other types of kidnap events could likely be classified as a subset of the above types or refers to a tactic for kidnapping such as miracle fishing kidnaps or mass kidnaps.

Considerations for Combatives

While we have focused continually on awareness and avoidance as a means to prevent becoming engaged in a physical conflict there may be times when its unavoidable – especially to protect oneself from violence.  While physical self defense measures our not our focus there is so much inaccurate, misleading or false information out there — often delivered by people with good intentions — that its important to at least discuss some general principles and concepts that will allow the reader to better distinguish useful and worthwhile training from training which is not so good or not so applicable

Some things to consider at the outset:

  • As we have discussed before, the criminal will attack at a time and place of his choosing where conditions favor him.


  • There will likely be weapons, multiple attackers or both involved.  Some statistics on violence contradict this but they normally include “social violence” such as fistfights in bars and domestic incidents which are not our focus here.


  • The criminal will likely have committed this type of attack before and will have a game plan that has worked in the past.


  • If we are forced to counter this physically we must utilize the element of surprise, as much violence as possible and seek to disable the attacker enough to provide an opportunity to escape.

This means we need to utilize:


  • The element of surprise and non-telegraphic movement to the extent possible.


  • Gross motor attacks.  Fine motor techniques and overly complex techniques will likely not be effective.


  • Repetitive attacks until the assailant is disabled or breaks contacts and retreats.


  • Attacks to vulnerable soft tissue areas such as the eyes and throat that will inflict the maximum damage.


  • Use of palm strikes, hammer fists, rakes, elbows, knees and other tools that allow us to inflict damage without inadvertently injuring ourselves in the process.


  • Improvised weapons when available and applicable.  A realistic consideration of how commonly carried items or accessible items can be effectively utilized as weapons and subsequent training in their use is necessary.


Perhaps the most important aspect is mindset and the willingness to use violence and inflict damage when necessary to protect yourself or others.  It is however important to get some level of training in effective methods.  The degree to which you train will largely be determined by your level of interest and ideally by your level of need.  It can be difficult to find quality training that focuses on realistically dealing with violence.  Its important to consider some of the points outlined above when selecting an instructor or school.  Even after selecting an instructor and beginning training its important to have a critical mind and not accept everything at face value, be able to distinguish what is likely to work best for you and concentrate on realistic application under pressure and stress.



Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Most of the material covered in Protective Concepts relates to soft skills such as awareness, avoidance, risk assessment and intelligence and there is little detailed discussion of hard skills such as shooting, evasive driving, close quarters combat and so forth. This is for a couple of reasons:

(1) The soft skills, when applied correctly will greatly reduce the likelihood of you needing to employ the hard skills.

(2) The soft skills can be applied by virtually anyone, regardless of age, sex, physical condition, etc. They are truly “life skills” where are proficiency at many of the hard skill types will be based on physical ability and may be perishable with age.

(3) There are frankly times where some of the hard skills, in particular shooting may not be applicable due to local restrictions on firearms, etc.

(4) Many of the hard skill subjects are well covered elsewhere by very knowledgeable people.

That said we will touch on some of the hard skills in the near future.


Medical Considerations of Travel Abroad

Ambulance in West Africa

While our focus has largely been on pure security issues and medical situations are arguably more safety than security focused its still worthy of some mention and its a critical component of personal safety.

It’s safe to say that most travelers and expatriates are far more likely to fall victim to an accident or illness when overseas rather than a violent criminal incident or terrorist attack. For this reason it’s important to be forwarned with knowledge about potential medical hazards at your destination and have some contingency plans.

With a few exceptions its safe to say that most medical care in the developing world does not come close to what most of us are accustomed to in the West. There are some notable exceptions and some places that are known for “medical tourism” where travelers specifically go to receive medical procedures that are more affordable and still considered to be good quality. There are also places where there are western-trained and educated physicians and medical staff although good equipment and facilities may be lacking.

Many places however are lacking in both trained staff and good facilities – particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. In many of these locations an injury or an infection that could be easily treated at home could be fatal. There may not be an effective emergency medical service and ambulance response may be slow or non-existent. Poor sanitary conditions may also make the local hospital a dangerous place where your condition may get worse, not better.

For these reasons it’s important to have a viable contingency plan for dealing with medical emergencies — from basic prevention potentially up to medical evacuation.

Basic Prevention:

Inoculations: find out what diseases are common at your destination and what inoculations are available for them. Also find out what shots are required and carry a shot card as proof you have received them. Yellow Fever vaccination as an example is required by a number of countries. If you are not vaccinated or cannot prove you are vaccinated by producing a valid shot card some African countries will administer the vaccine to you in the airport under questionable sanitary conditions.

Malaria Prophylaxis: If traveling to a malaria-prone area you should consider whether or not to take an anti-malarial drug such as Malarone or something similar. Regardless you should bring and use insect repellent as well as limiting your outdoor activity and night, wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, etc. These measures will also protect you against other mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue Fever.

Pack a first aid kit: bring a small first aid kit with bandaids, antiseptic, loperamide/immodium (given the high likelihood of gastrointestinal disorders). Ensure none of the components of your first aid kit are considered prohibited items or controlled drugs at your destination.

Don’t drink the water: or brush your teeth with it. Use bottled water from a trusted source.

Avoid green vegetables, peeled fruit, etc.: avoid salads and other greens unless you are sure of the sanitary conditions during preparation. Avoid fruits and vegetables unless you peel them yourself or wash them yourself with bottled water.

Eat moderate portions: don’t arrive in a new country and gorge yourself on the local chow.
Use hand sanitizer: self explanatory. Keep yourself and your hands in particular as clean as possible.

Wear your seatbelt: that sounds like a no-brainer but the implications of a motor vehicle accident overseas can be much more significant than at home.

Medical Care:

Medical Facilities: try to determine the level, capability and quality of local medical facilities prior to arrival or when you first get there. In many places the best choice is a private clinic. Determine what criteria there is to get treated at the clinic in advance of a problem occurring. In some places there are no acceptable facilities and you will need to be evacuated. Find all this out before a problem occurs.

Payment: many overseas medical facilities will require payment, sometimes in cash, before treatment is rendered. Again — develop a plan for this before the situation arises.

Evacuation: determine how you will get evacuated and to where if your medical condition warrants it.

There are a number of providers that provide emergency medical assistance abroad such as Global Rescue, International SOS, Frontier Medex, TravelMed and others. This is not an endorsement of any of them but they may be worth looking into to address some of these issues.