Written by Kyt Lyn Walken
“[The kidnapping] happened 14 years ago, and I didn’t talk about it for ten years because I was too embarrassed. I was too scared. I thought People are gonna judge me, they’re gonna pity me, and I don’t want that. Because I’m not a victim – I’m a survivor.“
– Frida Farrell
Kidnappings and hostage-takings have a long history behind them. Their stories deal with several issues like psychological, economic, social, and even religious.
A kidnapping represents one of the most terrifying fears, especially for children and women.
In fact, according to statistics, an outrageous number of approximately 840,000 children are reported missing every single year. “[…] The F.B.I. estimates that between 85 and 90 percent of these cases are children […]” (SafeatLast.com and ChildSafety.com)
Relating to women, the website Statista.com declares that “[…] in 2021 the number of missing persons under the age of 21 was much higher than those 21 and over, with 194,673 females under 21 reported missing, and 62,552 females over the age of 21 reported missing […]”
No doubt, these numbers act as a red bell to investigate this phenomenon, offering some pitches to learn from based on historical cases. This helps to dig a bit more into the psychology of the kidnapped as well as reveal some potential strategies to evade a kidnapping.
I would like to stress that the whole article, even if developed from a female perspective and mainly focused on cases that involved women, can be applied either to a female or a male potential kidnapping.
Furthermore, it is the result of studies I carefully conducted through the past months, checking documentaries, reading biopics, and the interviews released by the survivors.
Psychology of the kidnapped – before and after
“[…] I said the kidnapping is a crime. I have the right to speak about the crime done against me. They didn’t like me to speak about this crime. So I decided to reveal it to the public.[…]”
– Mordechai Vanunu
Odd but true, “post-event” reactions happen to be the opposite of what those who have been kidnapped showed during their captivity.
In fact, no matter how much time they spent in such deplorable conditions and no matter their genre and age, they have demonstrated courage, inner and physical strength, persistence, endurance, and faith.
Above all, as very often stressed during interviews after their release, what stands out among the virtues they exhibited back in the day was just one thing: the will to live.
If we think about the Cleveland abduction and the declarations released by the victims, we have a clear picture in mind of their will to survive.
No matter the reasons for the kidnappers, it can be surely stated that the psychological impact of being taken hostage present some cognitive, social, and emotional disorders.
They are mainly connected to a lack of concentration, flashbacks, hyper-arousal and hyper-vigilance status, fears and anxiety, anhedonia (lack of sexual desire), sense of guilt. Sometimes the necessity of denial related to what happened brings them into a form of nihilism and even infantilism.
By that said, it may be difficult for us to feel total empathy with those survivors. Not because we aren’t able to feel sorry for what happened, but, as simple as it is, we are not survivors as they are.
How to evade a kidnapping
“Our society needs criminals like Wolfgang Priklopil in order to give a face to the evil that lives within and to split it off from … It needs the images of cellar dungeons so as not to have to see the many homes in which violence rears its conformist, bourgeois head. Society uses the victims of sensational cases such as mine in order to divest itself of the responsibility for the many nameless victims of daily crimes, victims nobody helps – even when they ask for help.”
― Natascha Kampusch
According to accounts of survivors like Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry e Georgina “Gina” DeJesus (U.S.A.), Natascha Kampusch (Austria), Elizabeth Smart (U.S.), Jaycee Dugard (U.S.), just to name a few and with full respect for the other victims, what led them to salvation was again, will to live.
But having a little faith wasn’t enough. In fact, they all learned how to cohabit with their forced new life.
Let’s reconstruct, step by step, the standard ordeal of the kidnapped.
By setting different phases, we can understand the main points on which we can actually make our evasion possible.
1. The victim has been carefully selected. An aggressor is usually a person who is somehow connected with her/his family. He knows habits, timetables, and so on.
2. After a certain amount of time (related to every single case), the victim is abducted and brought into a place that has been set up before. It could be a shank, a basement, a room, or even a bunker. The place is equipped with electricity, basic furniture, and a small bathroom. It has usually no windows or just a small skylight. It is totally soundproofed. This place will become the new home for the kidnapped.
3. The victim needs to learn how to cope with the new situation, especially when she/he is not on a forced drug status.
4. The victim is often forced to have sex with the kidnapper.
5. After a period of disorientation and desperation when suicide is often considered an extreme ratio to flee from the ordeal, the victim starts to know better the kidnapper.
6. The victim starts to evaluate the weak points which are related to the kidnapper, as well as the structural features of the whole place.
7. The victim begins to please the kidnapper, trying to establish a relationship that can be turned to her/his own benefit. Between the two individuals, a mutual trust starts to develop and consolidate. The victim understands that the only way out is to make the aggressor believes she/he is resigned to the new condition of captivity.
8. The victim evaluates potential methods to evade, taking advantage of some benefits the kidnapper leaves to her/him. (In the case of Natascha Kampusch, the girl managed to escape when his torturer turned her into a maid. One day he left her cleaning his van in the garden and she took advantage of the noise of the cleaning machine to jump across the fence and start to run). Catching off-guard the aggressor requires a cold mind and blood, as well as the perfect risk analysis in terms of success. In some cases, an external aid (suspicious neighbors, odd sounds, and movements) can be identified and reported to local authorities, leading to the release of the victim.
Needless to say, every single case has its rules of engagement and between one phase and another can pass months or even years.
The major kidnapping cases teach us that, beyond any potential attempt to escape by attacking the offender (quite impossible in most of the cases which involved women, due to the fragile status in which they have been put), it’s the psychological aspect that really made them out.
In fact, by building the aggressor’s trust, the victims, sometimes, were actually able to develop a sort of “control” on him, despite the whole situation demonstrating the opposite.
A business went too far: an in-depth analysis of the Italian period of kidnappings
“[…] How a kidnapping ends depends to a large degree on who the kidnappers are […]”
– Giuliana Sgrena
As an Italian citizen, I would like to introduce you to an extremely dark chapter in the history of my current country.
This was, between the 70s and 80s, the period linked to kidnappings. It can be described as a phenomenon, even a trend, but also an effective way to collect money from criminal organizations like Mafia and ‘ndrangheta.
An infinite period, subordinated to economic interests intersected by political reasons, and, last but not least, social redemption.
From January, 1st 1969 to February, 18th 1998, 672 kidnappings were carried out in Italy, with 694 people involved. 471 of them occurred between 1975 and 1985.
Subsequently, the phenomenon has waned, citing the progressive development of the Police Force (the so-called “Nucleo Catturandi Eperti“) and of the judiciary committed to countering the phenomenon as major reasons.
In 1991, a special law was passed which provides for “the preventive seizure of assets belonging to the kidnapped, spouse and related and cohabiting relatives to prevent payment of the ransom. The freezing of assets can also be extended to other people if there is a well-founded reason to think that they can pay the ransom. ” (Italian Law Act).
Furthermore, criminal associations have gradually abandoned kidnappings in favor of safer and more profitable activities, such as drug trafficking, especially heroin and cocaine. Two groups used to stand above all: Anonima Sarda and Anonima calabrese.
The terms “Anonima Sarda “or”Anonima Sequestri Sarda” refer to a media expression that includes abductions, armed robberies, and assaults carried out over approximately thirty years (1960-1990).
The Anonima Sarda has been responsible for 177 kidnappings, mainly concentrated in the Gallura, Baronie, and Barbagia areas in Sardinia.
The Anonima Sarda was put up by groups capable of committing an impromptu crime. They often collaborated with other terroristic and criminal groups like Mala del Brenta and Red Brigades.
On the other hand, the Anonima calabrese was carried out by the ‘ndrine (gangsters belonging to the’ Ndrangheta) the kidnappings were carried out for approximately thirty years (1960-1990) but particularly operational between 1970 and 1980.
The money obtained was invested in construction sites or in cocaine from South America.
The Anonima calabrese has been responsible for more than 300 kidnappings, mainly concentrated in the Aspromonte area (Calabria region, south of Italy), defined as “The Prison Park” by Michele Guattari, head of the anti-seizure squad made up of a small number of men (7/8).
The Aspromonte area was considered “inviolable” by the ‘Ndrangheta, which mainly made use of natural caves for the custody of the kidnapped.
The matrix was completely traceable to the mafia, capable of operating both in the South and in Northern Italy.
The Anonima calabrese became famous for the often inhumane custody of the hostages, many of whom actually died during their imprisonment. In fact, they used to keep hostages inside holes excavated into the bare ground for days, chained and with only a thin slot to breathe, or inside natural caves in mountains, without giving them the possibility to change clothes or even wash.
In both Anonima Sarda and calabrese cases, the victims who were actually able to evade were very few. In all the interviews I managed to read, all the survivors claimed that only constructing a relationship based on obedience and submission first, then mutual trust was the only possible way to resist.
“And the victim must have been broken and must remain so so that the externalization of evil is possible. The victim who refuses to assume this role contradicts society’s simplistic view. Nobody wants to see it. People would have to take a look at themselves.”
A successful evasion can require months, sometimes even years to be achieved. The calculation of risks, as well as the accurate analysis of them, can lead to freedom, as in some cases traded to history.
The risk analysis should take into consideration:
– the victim’s physical features compared to the kidnapper
– the whole surface of the room where the victim is being held
– the relationship developed with the kidnapper
– potential weapons of circumstance
– creativity, our smartness, bravery, and will to survive
Last but not least, having some good luck, and faith contribute to a successful escape.
About the author
Kyt Lyn Walken is Official Representative and Instructor for Hull’s Tracking School (Virginia) and Antipoaching Certified Ranger for Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide Inc. (Colorado).
She’s a long time Prepper and Survivalist and she wrote several articles and essays on this topic.
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