Emerging Issues in Security

Surviving Kidnappers Book Review

Olav Ofstad’s new book, Surviving Kidnappers: Precautions, Influence, Strategic Tools, addresses a security issue that is unlikely in the United States but quite possible in many third-world countries, including Mexico, Latin America, Africa, and parts of the Middle East, chaotic parts of eastern Europe, and Russia.

g-stockstudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Published in 2017 by the Matador imprint of UK-based Troubadour Publishing, his book offers a unique look at a subject most global business executives would rather not consider but one that keeps their security team leaders up at night. Whether the event is a kidnapping for ransom, or more likely, as part of a terrorist act, a political statement from a right- or left-wing group, or what will likely end in a murder, kidnappings of corporate, military, transportation, or tourist targets have many motives and attack possibilities.

Olav Ofstad is a Norwegian researcher and lawyer who has spent many years working in conflict areas with embassies and international organizations. He has interviewed numerous kidnap victims, counseled victims of terror, and he offers training in security and kidnapping survival.

His chapters discuss why kidnapping has always existed; precautionary measures against a kidnapping attack; the assault, transportation, and captivity phases; how to influence and even manipulate kidnappers once in their custody; dealing with angry and violent kidnappers; recognizing and avoiding the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome”; and getting safely released and coping with the physical and psychological aftermath.

He categorizes the most likely targets of kidnapping to include military personnel; aid workers and humanitarian relief personnel; diplomats and politicians; sailors and shipboard crews; journalists; business executives; people who are or appear wealthy to kidnapping crews; oil and gas refinery workers; tourists, especially those who are unaware and fail to blend in with the areas where they are traveling; women; children; pilots, air crews, and their passengers; and people who live in high-risk, problematic countries where kidnappings are common, the police and military response are often ineffective (since they may be in on the crime as well), and diplomatic support from the victim’s home country can be hard to get.

If capture is inevitable, due to surprise, ambush, overwhelming numbers, or superior force, Ofstad offers a frank look at surviving the experience by using psychological methods designed to connect with the kidnappers and lessen the captive’s chance of being tortured or killed. His list of difficulties while in captivity include the obvious fear of death or torture; helplessness and lack of control over your destiny; fears for your family, especially not knowing your fate; worry about being forgotten by your home country or family, as the months and years add up; guilt; passivity; lack of medical care; and even conflicts with other captives, which can lead to security problems or your own demise.

He talks about the best ways to survive an interrogation, physical and psychological torture, and getting through the daily grind, which for some captives, has lasted for years before their ultimate release. Survivors have learned to mediate, control their breathing, create a daily regime of physical exercise (both to burn stress, help sleep, and make it possible to escape or fight back when possible, to ultimately get away), and use positive affirmations that they will be rescued.

While there are no guarantees when it comes to a frightening and all too common crime—a regular cash industry in some countries—his book gives real and proven strategies for avoidance, survival, and recovery.