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Home > Reviews > Surviving Kidnappers

Surviving Kidnappers

Author Olaf Ofstad

ISBN No 9781788032797

Review date 19/05/2019

No of pages 180

Publisher Matador

Publisher URL

Year of publication 25/10/2017


Our Review


£ 19.99

Bankers; aid workers; journalists; oil refinery engineers; politicians; tourists; anyone can be kidnapped, in many parts of the world. Some cities, as Olaf Ofstad writes - he names Mexico City, Johannesburg and Kabul 'are simply kidnapping hubs'.

He has, in his book Surviving Kidnappers, offered a guide to what anyone in a region that is at risk of kidnap can do, to reduce the risk of being kidnapped, and being better equipped to manage physically and mentally if they are, for whatever reason (profit and extortion, politics, revenge).

The author goes into some impressive detail about what to do if a kidnapper is psychotic, or violent, and draws heavily on social psychology. For example, if as a kidnap victim you are mistreated, 'remember that you must not appear to be a victim'; crying or otherwise showing suffering will make the kidnapper dislike you more; so bite your lip and be 'as tough as you can'. Somehow, when kidnapped you have to be accommodating enough that the kidnapper (whether guard or leader) feels in control, but you have also to show that you are not afraid, and avoid giving reasons for kidnappers to turn angry or violent (although they could at any time), by being 'calm, confident and non-confrontational'.

If that sounds hard, the author, a Norwegian, pictured, is a trainer. He has worked as a diplomat and for the Red Cross internationally. He is also the author of Conflict Management in International Missions, A Field Guide (Routledge, 2015).

Mental control is important, to be able to weigh risks - is it ever a good time or place to escape? what to do when the authorities are making a rescue attempt? what can you say to help prevent a knifepoint street or car park robbery turn into a kidnap? Again, the advice is not to beg or cry; you only get rejection, and that will make the assailant feel more negatively towards you. "Control of your mind is the single most crucial survival factor, as all your conscious action depends on this. Being the master of your thoughts and decisions is therefore your prime asset." Despite trauma, whether threats or actual harm, keep a grasp on your emotions, is Ofstad's advice in a nutshell.

This might sound easier said than done; is it practical; does it involve somehow giving in to kidnappers? Ofstad is realistic, having interviewed victims. In the shock of the actual assault leading to kidnap, as Ofstad says most victims 'have huge problems focusing and thinking clearly'; which may cause mistakes, such as defying the attackers (can be fatal, as they are tense) or trying to flee (despite the alertness of the kidnappers and little chance of escape). To repeat, only by keeping calm can the victim make intelligent decisions, Ofstad points out. That includes taking action when others might stay in denial; Ofstad gives the example of the Bataclan Theatre terror shooting in Paris in November 2015 (and there are numerous other examples) when people who reacted quickly escaped and lived; some others did not.

On a practical level, someone who is simply visiting or working in a troubled country may not take the time to read the book fully; so that its readership may only be specialists, managers or close protection and other security operatives whose job includes such risks. That would be a pity as the book is full of good sense, such as listening to your 'gut feeling' if a stranger or a scene does not seem right. That's only half the good sense, though; you have to work out what to do, if you feel uneasy, as you may walk into something bad or worse. Again, Ofstad's advice is to 'hold on to your resistance and find a way out of the situation'. As Ofstad points out, kidnappers can be charming and do their best to put someone in a confusing situation, to bring about a kidnap (or indeed a hijack).

On the premise that prevention is better than cure, you may read more carefully the beginning third of the book, 'precautions against kidnapping', such as in a hotel, in a restaurant or workplace, on the street or on the road or at sea; and if you are working abroad and have your family with you, bear in mind that your children in the house might be an even more effective bargaining chip for a kidnapper.

To sum up, little in our daily lives, as Ofstad says, prepares us for the challenges of captivity. But in any challenging situation, mental preparedness makes a big difference: "If the worst happens and you are assaulted and / or kidnapped, you should be able to steel yourself, use your mind and make intelligent decisions."

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For more details visit also Ofstad's website