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How not to get kidnapped abroad, and what to do if you are

The threat of being kidnapped while overseas is a genuine concern for many U.S. business professionals and travelers.

Last year, the U.S. State Department released a list of 35 countries where American citizens run the greatest risk of being kidnapped, with countries including Haiti, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turkey being among the places where Americans are advised to proceed with caution, if at all.

kidnap

Photo by Mitar Šivinjski / Flickr

While most people would prefer never to undergo the physical and emotional trauma of being abducted and imprisoned for ransom, there are some who are willing to pay to experience the situation in order to be prepared on how to react to this type of assault. Many business professionals have consulted with Adam Thick, whose company Extreme Kidnapping provides the kidnapping experience along with critiques on how the abducted subject can respond to being taken.

Thick began his service in 2002 as a service for thrill seekers who were curious about what it is like to be kidnapped. Over the years, he generated U.S. and European media attention for this unlikely entertainment.

“Some people do it for a new and novel experience,” Thick said. “Others do it for the adrenaline rush. Some do it for the same reason one goes to a haunted house: you want to be scared. And some people like the loss of control.”

Of course, most people are not eager to lose control of their freedom, and Thick noticed some of his clients weren’t entirely getting abducted for fun.

“Over those years I noticed occasional clients that talked about kidnapping prevention, traveling abroad, and asking me about kidnapping and ransom insurance,” he continued. “I would tweak their kidnappings to accommodate them, with an eye to threat assessment, prevention and risk management.”

In 2009, Thick expanded Extreme Kidnapping’s services to focus on business professionals traveling abroad. Today, approximately one-third of his operations focus on this client base and he has consulted with individuals and companies in New York and Connecticut who send their workforces into countries where personal safety is not always guaranteed.

When Thick and his crew are engaged by a business professional to conduct a kidnapping, it begins with the subject being grabbed from a public place and taken to a location where they will be held for up to 24 hours. The faux kidnappings either take place near Thick’s corporate headquarters outside of Alexandria, Louisiana, or he can bring his team to any location across the country. But unlike the entertainment kidnappings that race nonstop, the business version includes pauses while Thick evaluates the subject’s reaction to what is taking place.

“Some typical responses are being very tense and forgetting to breathe,” he said. “We can tell if someone is too tense and not breathing and we will try to calm them down a bit and remind them to breathe. This is usually during the initial kidnapping, at the point of contact and the time period immediately after. Once they are restrained and in captivity, I wouldn’t say there is a typical response — people vary, and their approach to the situation varies as well.”

Thick pointed out there are basic reactions for a kidnap victim during captivity.

“One thing you don’t want to do is try to fight back during the kidnapping,” he continued. “This is a mistake. In real life, it can get you seriously injured or killed. Once you have been kidnapped, you also don’t want to antagonize your kidnappers — talking back, spitting, resisting and not following orders will all result in negative consequences. Things you see in the movies are not what you want to emulate when it comes to kidnapping. In real life, situational awareness is paramount.”

To avoid kidnapping, Thick stressed the practice of situational awareness with all senses being on alert while abroad.

“Too many people are buried in their smartphones and actually walk into glass doors, so it’s no wonder kidnappers are so successful,” he quipped.

He also warned against calling attention to oneself, especially where a designer suit or expensive wristwatch would give the impression of being a wealthy American. He also urged arranging for transportation and cautioned against jumping into taxis, observing that “you never know who the driver works for or if he gets extra ‘commissions’ for delivering unsuspecting tourists or travelers to kidnappers.”

Another measure Thick recommended was purchasing a handcuff key and concealing it on one’s person, thus offering a possible chance to escape if handcuffed. Extreme Kidnapping offers corporate workshops on escaping captivity, and he was adamant that this skillset could not be absorbed from YouTube videos.

“Watching it and doing it are two different things,” he said. “Many people think that watching the video equates to being able to actually do it in real life. Until you try it, and succeed, you don’t know what you are doing. It’s good to know the theory, but you have to physically put it into practice and the various restraints one can encounter in a kidnapping will take practice to get out of.”

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Phil Hall's writing for Westfair Communications has earned multiple awards from the Connecticut Press Club and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. He is a former United Nations-based reporter for Fairchild Broadcast News and the author of 10 books (including the 2020 release "Moby Dick: The Radio Play" and the upcoming "Jesus Christ Movie Star," both published by BearManor Media). He is also the host of the SoundCloud podcast "The Online Movie Show," co-host of the WAPJ-FM talk show "Nutmeg Chatter" and a writer with credits in The New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired, The Hill's Congress Blog, Profit Confidential, The MReport and StockNews.com. Outside of journalism, he is also a horror movie actor - usually playing the creepy villain who gets badly killed at the end of each film.

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