What To Do If You’re Being Held Captive: 5 Fast Facts About Abductions

Feet in chains [Stock photo via Pixabay]

The new Netflix series Captive lifts the lid on the shady and dangerous world of kidnappings as victims, negotiators, and captors discuss their experiences dealing with abductions.

The episodes document incidents around the world, from a couple being kidnapped by Somali pirates to the infamous prison riot in Lucasville, Ohio.

The series also sheds light on the unusual relationships that develop between victims and their abductors. Following are a few facts that experts recommend keeping in mind during an abduction:

1. Minimize risk.

Andy Wilson, a British army veteran who runs a kidnap and ransom survival school, told Slate that many people end up kidnapped by putting themselves in vulnerable situations, such as getting into an unmarked cab at the airport in Caracas, Venezuela; visiting dangerous neighborhoods; or associating with criminals.

He also recommends varying your route, not wearing flashy clothing or jewelry in poverty-stricken areas, and making a habit of figuring out an escape route in every room.

Photo: ThinkStock

Photo: ThinkStock

2. Don’t go to the secondary location. 

Law-enforcement experts say that the basic rule when dealing with a psychopath is never, ever go to the secondary location if you can possibly help it. Once the perpetrator gets you back to his comfort zone and completely isolated, he’s in control, and you become the focus of the crime.

Gary Ridgway mug shot [King County Sheriff's Office]

Gary Ridgway mug shot [King County Sheriff’s Office]

Unfortunately, you can’t diagnose a psychopath on the street — so it’s best to fight back whenever possible before getting into the car. Many serial killers, including Green River killer Gary Ridgway and Ted Bundy, have discussed the importance of taking their victims to a remote location, where, in this situation, chances of survival can go down drastically.

3. Calm down, and observe yourself in the third person.  

It sounds counterintuitive, but after you have been abducted and restrained, trying to slow your breathing will help you calm down and rationally assess the situation. Assess your physical condition, and try to focus on whatever details could help you escape and/or help investigators identify your captors later. If you are blindfolded, focus on smells, background noises, accents — whatever details you can commit to memory could be the key to cracking the case later.

If you are in a car, attempt to visualize the route being taken and make a mental note of turns.

4.  Try to figure out your captor’s objective. 

Every situation is different. Is your abductor talking about money, threatening you with sexual violence, or talking about something else entirely?

Stranger kidnappings may make headlines, but family kidnappings are by far the most common type of abductions. If you are being held as a hostage, and your captor wants to exchange you in order to gain something for him/herself, your chances of survival tend to be higher, and passive resistance may make more sense.

One Captive episode follows the 1991 abduction of Rio de Janeiro Coca-Cola plant manager Corinne Coffin. When the victim suffered a stroke, the ringleader of her kidnapping, Ronaldo Monteiro, was moved by her calm demeanor and gave her a teddy bear to express his sympathy. “I very early on did not want to show them any weakness. I didn’t cry in front of them,” she said, later adding that although they had taken her hostage and were keeping her from her family, she would not let them take her dignity.

5. Attempt to establish common ground with your abductors when possible.  

Experts recommend attempting to find common ground with abductors so that they see you as a person, not a hostage or a commodity.

If you are kidnapped overseas by terrorists or others who don’t share your religion or worldview, for example, it may make sense to use your first name and discuss your family — or something else that your kidnapper could relate to — so that you become personalized.

Judith Tebbutt, who spent six months in captivity after being kidnapped by Somali pirates, said that she tried to build up a rapport with her captors, but made a decision early on not to be a pushover. She began by keeping her empty water bottles inside the room where she was being held so that her abductors were forced to come in and interact with her. At one point, she said that she was sharing a toilet with 20 men and she told her captors to clean up.

Ariel Castro mug shot [Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office]

Ariel Castro mug shot [Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office]

This logic can also apply to kidnap situations involving sex crimes. “Very quickly after the abduction the captor will do a variety of things physically, sexually to dehumanize the victim, and it’s the dehumanization that’s the beginning of the process where a person loses their identity,” forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner said on Good Morning America following the abduction of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight by Ariel Castro, who held the women captive in his Cleveland home for several years.

Shawn Hornbeck was abducted when he was 11 years old as he rode his bike in a St. Louis suburb in October 2002. When his abductor Michael Devlin tried to strangle him, Hornbeck promised to never escape or tell anyone the truth about his captor. Hornbeck remained with Devlin from that day until police found him in January 2007.

Hornbeck’s father said that his son felt guilt about going along with Devlin’s wishes for all that time, but he assured him that he had done whatever was necessary to survive.

Watch two seasons of Investigation Discovery’s House of Horrors: Kidnapped with ID Go.

Read more:


ABC News 


U.S. Department of Defense


Main photo: Feet in chains [Stock photo via Pixabay]

  • Adam Ritter

    What are the chances of an American who does not travel abroad getting kidnapped in their lifetime?

  • Gevat

    I’m a firm believer of being aware and alert of your surroundings. So many people are so transfixed on their smartphones, they’re not even aware, they’re making themselves more of a target.

  • Yuki Aya Masahiko

    I always keep my eyes and ears open, When outside… I was taught by my father, Martial Arts, And always look around for something that u can use as a weapon. While walking I never go down dark alleys and always look at everyone passing. So I can remember faces, It’s kept me safe for a very long time.

  • rosa

    I read somewhere that if you think you are about to be raped, go on and defecate on yourself. it will turn the rapist off. he will either be angry or make you clean yourself up. that time can be used to try to escape.