If you find yourself being help captive, there are some things to consider.
Your only task at this point is to get home alive. Look for things that will make that possible.
You will probably have a bag over your head in an effort to deny you any sensory input whenever you’re moved from place to place. You will also have your hands and possibly your feet tied together.
Don’t struggle with confinement. Instead, use the time you have to think through the situation. Try to absorb what is happening around you. How many turns did we make? How long we were in the car? Sounds, temperatures, smells, light, accents, etc.
You must listen closely to everything they tell you to do. Every detail about them may be useful to you later.
If escape is not possible, then do your best to remain calm, quiet, polite, and cooperative with your captors. Your captors will feel threatened and have a high level of tension. Don’t draw attention to yourself with sudden movements, verbal remarks, or hostile looks. Their response to your actions could be deadly.
Also, understand you may be held for a very long time in austere conditions. You may also be moved frequently to deter location and rescue attempts. They may even dress you in their style of clothing to make you more difficult to locate and identify.
When you’re being held, make sure to avoid doors, windows, and open areas. Stay close to the interior walls.
If allowed, take every opportunity to read, sleep, or write to occupy your time. Constantly assess the things happening around you.
Manage your expectations. Focus on your faith and the important things in your life.
Think through “what if” scenarios.
Things may (and probably will) evolve rapidly.
Remember, your captors are in control for now. Your objective now is to take care of yourself and get home. You will need any piece of information you can get to help you focus.
Throughout the process, try to discreetly observe your captors and memorize their physical description. Listen for voice patterns, language distinctions, or accents. Look closely at their clothing and shoes, or other unique characteristics (e.g., scars, tattoos).
Prepare yourself for possible verbal and physical abuse, along with lack of food, sleep, water, or sanitary conditions. You should also expect psychological abuse ranging from denying you sleep to mock execution. They will most likely deny you food, communication, and the toilet. The intent is to make you manageable, weak, dependent upon them, confused, desperate, and to convince you that rescue is not possible. (It works.)
Continuously look for ways to improve your situation. Try to build rapport with them, if possible. Start out by asking for basic things like a toilet. Make it seem like it’s their decision by telling them you don’t want to mess up the area where you’re being held. It will help you if can make them feel you’re deliberately treating them with respect.
At the same time, don’t expect them to treat you with respect. Captors will try to leverage anything they can find against you and your family. The personal things in your wallet, smartphone, purse, or backpack (e.g., personal photos, phone numbers, etc.) can hurt you in this case.
The things posted on social networking sites or that can be found via Google are also valuable to them. This is a good time to consider what you have out there on the web for the world to see.
They may use the information they find on you to further increase your stress level or the desperation you feel. They might tell you they have also abducted your child or spouse by showing you pictures of them. They may tell you they have made contact with your family or threatened them. The weaker you become psychologically and physically, the more believable these things will become.
Your captors may attempt to convince you the abduction is your fault for some reason. They may claim they are punishing you personally, your company, or your country for something you have no control over. Try your best not to agree or disagree on any issue with your captors. Just tell them you don’t know or understand the things they are discussing or asking of you. Play dumb and hold on as long as you can.
Avoid discussing sensitive topics like religion and politics with them. Your religion may also help you or hurt you, so be sensitive to cultural sensitivities of your captors. They may have respect for your strong faith, which could be a positive thing. They may also see you as a religious “crusader,” which will create problems for you.
If you’re being held by someone in an official capacity such as the police, ask to speak with someone from the U.S. Embassy. If they deny you this, then ask to speak with someone from the Red Cross. If you’re in an Islamic nation, ask for the Red Crescent instead (there’s that cultural thing). Be polite, but persistent.
Realize that attempting to escape (or actually escaping) from authorities will probably make your situation worse. They probably have your passport, wallet, etc. The likelihood they will catch you again is high.
Always think carefully before you act. At the same time, there is only one chance to get this right. Just do the best with the circumstances you have. Get to the embassy as fast as you can.
For more information, see my other post on what to do during a rescue attempt.
For more than 23 years, Steve was an intelligence community professional who traveled and lived throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America. He now uses his experiences and formal training to help people overcome their reluctance to travel by giving them the solid, reliable information they can use to plan effectively, reduce risk, react to danger, and return home safe.