Kidnapping statistics and what they do not show

I have spent the day sifting through all of the available statistics on global kidnapping and am amazed by what these statistics do not show. While I think the available statistics are important, we should be asking ourselves some questions.

The first bias in the available reporting is that global kidnapping is underreported. Many kidnapping victims never report the incident after a ransom is paid out of fear of being prosecuted, or fear that their former captors will come after the victim or their family. To say that there have been approximately 1300 Westerners from 32 countries kidnapped since September 11th, 2001 is an extremely low and conservative estimate.

The second bias is that some groups do not report their incidents unless they make the news. Sadly this tendency mostly includes some missionary organizations and humanitarian organizations. While it is easy to understand why these groups would keep these numbers close-hold, it does not help those trying to counter the problem. My research indicates that had these incidents been reported, the estimated 1300 incidents would be closer to 3000. These numbers do not include abductions linked to human trafficking, which would make the numbers much higher.

The third bias is that the focus of many of these studies is purely Kidnap for Ransom and the associated Kidnap for Ransom business model. Many of the most well-known cases turned out to be kidnapping for ideological reasons or other terrorism-linked cases. It is easy to forget that kidnappings happen for a variety of reasons which include ransom, media attention, political motivations, revenge, leverage, black mail, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, mental illness, and a long list of others.

There are other biases as well but it seems that one question never gets asked. How many of the victims in the reported statistics attended any kind of anti-kidnapping, travel security, or anti-terrorism training before traveling? Sadly our research indicates that most of these victims did not, and in many cases traveled to hot spots without it.

I have to ask why on earth someone would read through a ten minute security brief and think that was enough. Why would a business or an organization send travelers to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, or any other high risk location without putting their people through a multi-day anti-kidnapping course?

We were recently approached by a business who sends travelers all over the world and were asked if we could create a five to ten minute training video for their travelers. The business wanted to make sure they were compliant and checked all of the blocks required for their business insurance. Our question to them was simple, is that what your employees lives are worth? A five to ten minute check-the-block video or training brief would become a company’s worst nightmare if something happened to one of their travelers. I am sure the potential duty-to-care law suit would be far more damaging than the multimillion dollar ransom payment. Checking the block legally indicates that they were aware of the problem, yet chose to give only the bare minimum security training. This is a prosecution attorney’s dream case.

If we were to exclude government and military travelers, how many corporate travelers are trained in basic travel security measures that would prevent most kidnappings? How many missionaries, aid workers, journalists, and world travelers have even thought about prevention training? Perhaps this is a study that should be done. A three to five day block of corporate anti-kidnapping training could save a corporation millions and help stop the growing business of kidnapping. A three to five day block of anti-kidnapping training for all missionaries or humanitarian workers heading to a high risk area could be the factor that keeps the ministry or NGO afloat and keeps them from going bankrupt. I will admit that anti-kidnapping training is not the total panacea for preventing all incidents but I would argue it is a start and probably far better for any organization than a ten minute check-the-block video.

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