Coming home from captivity: Who is effected and why it matters

This past weekend we taught a seminar on captivity at the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation’s World Congress. Our goal was to help others to understand the plight of those who have been held against their will in kidnapping events, human trafficking, and any other situation where people are captivity. What is it like to come home from captivity, who is effected, and why does it matter?

We have been fortunate enough to interview people who have been kidnapped as well as human trafficking survivors. In every case, each of the survivors told us that coming home was incredibly difficult. The home they knew was not the same, and their relationships with family members and friends were fractured and distant. In the case of the survivors of kidnapping for ransom, the families were often changed forever because they had to sell everything they owned in order to raise the ransom money. Friends and colleagues were also effected because they were relationally or geographically close when the incident took place. Non Profits and the mental health community as a whole most often focuses on the survivor, but rarely considers the family and friends.

Teenagers who end up in the human trafficking world face the same plight. In many cases, human trafficking survivors face an even more bleak reality. Many times the family was the catalyst which led to their human trafficking in the first place. In some cases, the teenagers entered the human trafficking world because their close friends were actually recruiters for the gangs or other organization. Those lucky enough to come home find that they trust no one and have little empathy for those around them. The years of survival make them calloused and distant.

Our discussions with both groups of survivors uncovered several key problems that have made returning home extremely difficult, unless their return was facilitated by our government agencies.

  1. Mental Health and Social Services are most often survivor focused and can be nonexistent for those returning from an overseas kidnapping. Family and friends often do not receive help or counseling in the process. The result is that therapy and assistance is often too little too late and without the proper tools to assist in readjustment.
  2. Medical issues are often overlooked in the process of coming home which can leave the survivors with parasites, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, improperly healed fractures, and medical issues which may require surgery to repair.
  3. Mental Health, Social Services, and Non Profits do not have the resources to assist in long term care or reintegration. Survivors often lack the skills or the ability to integrate back into society. There is little help for the families to reintegrate back into the community. Survivors and families continue to struggle with the stigma of having had a family member in captivity or in a trafficking situation for years following the event.
  4. The survivor often lacks the ability or desire to reconnect with their family. It is not uncommon for weeks to go by before the survivor is ready to talk to their family or friends.
  5. Society does not understand the plight of those who have suffered captivity and often ostracize victims because of their past. One of the biggest complaints of victims of human trafficking is how isolated they feel, and how many believe that their trafficking was a personal choice.
  6. Survivors are often traumatized when Law Enforcement get involved because of police interview techniques and other practices which disregard the survivor’s trauma in order to obtain evidence. In some cases, corrupt law enforcement officers were involved in the survivor’s detention or trafficking along the way. This little known fact leaves the survivor unwilling to trust law enforcement.
  7. Families have to navigate some incredibly gray legal areas in order to bring their loved ones home. Non-Disclosure agreements between the family and Kidnap for Ransom Consultants or others involved in negotiating their release can leave the family and survivor feeling isolated and unwilling to tell their story.
  8. Fear that those responsible for the kidnapping or trafficking will materialize and harm family members, friends, or reacquire the survivor paralyses victims and families. Hyper vigilance, paranoia, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are very common. Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is also very common within this group.
  9. Faith based organizations often do not have the resources to help survivors deal with what they have been through. In many cases ministers and clergy have little training in helping survivors deal with moral injury, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health issues resulting from captivity.
  10. It is not uncommon for survivors to be re-victimized by people who mean well. Survivors often feel like they are not being allowed to move on because others are not healing as quickly as they are.

Captive Audience Prevention Training and Recovery Team recommends that civil society take the lessons learned from the military community in reintegrating survivors of captivity back into normal life. The military approach combines Mental Health, Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and Medicine into a comprehensive reintegration process capitalizing on the first hours, days, and weeks in order to help normalize the survivor and the family. The military approach incorporates law enforcement and intelligence into the process under the supervision of a psychologist to ensure that evidence is gained and to go after those responsible for kidnapping, trafficking, and other crimes.

The bottom line is that human captivity can happen to anyone, rich, poor, or middle class. The problem is going to get worse, and we need to put processes, protocols, and procedures into place to help survivors to come home and thrive.

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