What to do when you fall prey to a hostage taking

Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza

We’re hoping this does not happen to you but here are tips on how to act when you’re a victim of a hostage situation like what happened yesterday at the Quirino Grandstand courtesy of Capt. Rolando Mendoza:

Attempt to thwart the abduction. If you can escape the initial abduction attempt, your ordeal ends right there. However, the first few minutes of a hostage-taking situation or an abduction are the most dangerous, and they become more dangerous if you resist. While in many cases, the potential for immediate escape outweighs the danger of resistance, there are times (if there are multiple armed attackers, for example) where escape is not realistic and therefore not worth the risk. Think rationally and be cooperative in this sort of situation. The first few minutes are often the best time to resist since there are probably people around you depending on where you are. If this is the case and there are others around you, this is the best time to fight back in a way that will gain others’ attention and perhaps provide you with their help. After they have you where they want you (in a car or such) there will most likely be no one who can respond to your petitions for rescue.

Regain your composure. Your adrenaline will be pumping, your heart will be pounding, and you will be terrified. Calm down. The sooner you can regain your composure the better off you will be immediately and in the long run.
Be observant. Right from the start, you should try to observe and remember as much as possible in order to help you plan an escape, predict your abductor’s next moves, or give information to the police to aid in a rescue or to help apprehend and convict the kidnapper. You may not be able to use your eyes–you may be blindfolded, but you can still gather information with your senses of hearing, touch, and smell.
  • Observe your captor(s):
    • How many are there?
    • Are they armed? If so, with what?
    • Are they in good physical condition?
    • What do they look and/or sound like? How old are they?
    • Do they seem well-prepared?
    • What are their emotional states?
  • Observe your surroundings:
    • Where are you being taken? Visualize the route the abductors take. Make note of turns, stops, and variations in speed. Try to gauge the amount of time between points.
    • Where are you being held? Take in as much detail as possible about your surroundings. Where are the exits? Are there cameras in place, a lock on the door, or other security precautions? Are there any obstacles, such as a large couch? Try to figure out where you are, and gather information that may be helpful if you decide to escape.
  • Observe yourself:
    • Are you injured or wounded?
    • How are you bound or otherwise incapacitated? How much freedom of movement do you have?

Try to ascertain why you have been abducted. There are a variety of motivations for abduction, from sexual assault to ransom demands to political leverage. How you interact with your captors, and whether you risk an escape, should depend at least partly on your captors’ motivation. If they are holding you for ransom or to negotiate the release of prisoners, you are most likely worth far more to them alive than dead. If you’ve been captured by a serial killer or sexual predator, however, or if you’ve been abducted in retaliation for some political or military action, your abductor likely intends to kill you. Your decision of whether and when to attempt an escape should be made based on this information.

  • Keep a survival attitude. Be positive. Remember, most kidnapping victims survive–the odds are with you. That said, you should prepare yourself for a long captivity. Some hostages have been held for years, but they kept a positive attitude, played their cards right, and were eventually freed. Take it one day at a time.

  • Put your captor at ease. Be calm. Cooperate (within reason) with your captor. Don’t make threats or become violent, and don’t attempt to escape unless the time is right (see below).

  • Keep your dignity. It is generally psychologically harder for a person to kill, rape, or otherwise harm a captive if the captive remains “human” in the captor’s eyes. Do not grovel, beg, or become hysterical. Try even not to cry. Do not challenge your abductor, but show him/her that you are worthy of respect.

  • Attempt to establish a rapport with your abductor. If you can build some sort of bond with your captor, he/she will generally be more hesitant to harm you.

  • Avoid insulting your abductor or talking about potentially sensitive subjects. You may think your abductor is a pathetic, disgusting individual. While captives in movies sometimes get away with saying such things, you should keep these thoughts to yourself. In addition, as in most conversations with people you don’t know, politics is a good topic to stay away from, especially if you are being held by terrorists or hostage-takers that are politically motivated.

  • Be a good listener. Care about what your captor has to say. Don’t patronize him, but be empathetic, and he’ll feel more comfortable around you and more benevolent toward you. Being a good listener can also help you gather information that would be useful for an escape or to help police apprehend the abductor after you’re freed.
    • Appeal to your captor’s family feelings. If you have children and your captor also has children, you have a powerful bond already in place. Your captor can probably “put himself in your shoes,” realizing the impact his abduction or death would have on his family. If you have pictures of your family with you, consider showing one or more to your captors if the topic comes up.
  • Try to communicate with other captives. If you are held with other captives, talk to them as much as is safely possible. If you look out for each other and have others to talk to, your captivity will be easier to handle. You may also be able to plan an effective escape together. Depending on the situation, your communication may have to be covert, and if you’re held for a long time you may develop codes and signals.

  • Keep track of time, and try to discern patterns. Keeping track of time can help you establish routines that will enable you to maintain your dignity and your sanity. It can also help you plan and execute an escape if you can detect patterns of when your abductor comes and goes and for how long he is gone. If there are no clocks available, you will need to make a conscious effort to keep track of time. If you can see sunlight, it will be fairly easy, but otherwise you can listen for changes in activity outside, make note of differences in your captor’s awareness level, try to detect different food odors, or look for other clues.

  • Stay mentally active. Think about what you’ll do when you get back home. Hold conversations in your head with friends and loved ones. Do these things consciously, and you won’t be going crazy–you’ll be keeping yourself sane. Captivity can be boring and mind-numbing. It’s important challenge your mind so you can remain sane, but also so you can think rationally about escape. Do math problems, think of puzzles, try to recite poems you know; do whatever you can to keep yourself occupied and mentally sharp.

  • Stay physically active It can be difficult to remain in shape in captivity, especially if you’re restrained, but it’s important to do so. Being in good physical condition can aid in your escape and keep you in good spirits during your captivity. Exercise, even if it’s just doing jumping jacks, pushups, or even pushing your hands together or stretching.

  • Ask for small favors If you’re settled in for a long captivity, gradually ask for small accommodations. Request a heavier blanket, for example, or a newspaper. Keep requests small, at least initially, and space them far apart. You can make your captivity more comfortable and make yourself more human to your captors.

  • Blend in. If you are held with other captives, you don’t want to stand out, especially not as a troublemaker.

  • Watch out for warning signs. If your captors decide to kill you, you need to know as soon as possible so that you can plan an escape. If they suddenly stop feeding you, if they treat you more harshly (dehumanizing you), if they suddenly seem desperate or frightened, or if other hostages are being released but your captors don’t appear to intend to release you, be ready to make your best move.

  • Try to escape only if the time is right. When is the right time to escape? Sometimes it’s safest to just wait to be freed or rescued. However, if the perfect situation presents itself–if you have a solid plan and are almost certain that you can successfully escape–you should take advantage of the opportunity. You should also attempt to escape, even if your chances are not good, if you are reasonably certain that your captors are going to kill you.

  • Stay out of the way if a rescue attempt is made. Hooray–the cavalry is here! Before you get too excited, keep in mind that aside from the first few minutes of an abduction, the rescue attempt is the most dangerous time in a hostage situation. Your captors may become desperate and attempt to use you as a shield, or they may simply decide to kill any hostages. Even if your captors are taken by surprise, you could be killed by the actions of police or soldiers, who may use explosives and heavy firepower to enter a building. When a rescue attempt occurs, try to hide from your captors, if possible. Stay low, and protect your head with your hands, or try to get behind some kind of protective barrier (under a desk or table, for example, or in a bathtub). Don’t make sudden movements when armed rescuers burst in.

  • Follow the rescuers’ instructions carefully. Your rescuers will be on edge, and they will most likely shoot first and ask questions later. Obey all commands they give. If they tell everybody to lie down on the floor or put their hands on their heads, for example, do it. Remain calm and put rescuers at ease.

    Actually, maybe the PNP needs to read this too.

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    1. Joyce A.Loredo says:

      Thank you for sharing this.Its better to be prepared than knowing nothing at all!!I’ll pass it on!