Kidnapping according to SAPS’s definition has been rising since 2008/2009, with the only drop observed during the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The first three quarters of 2021/22 have seen more reported incidents than the whole of the 2019/20 financial year.
Strategic Organised Crime Risk Assessment report for South Africa published in September 2022 states that kidnapping for ransom or extortion represents only a small minority of these cases – fewer than 5%, according to SAPS statistics – but it is likely to be one of the most under-reported categories due to its nature and persistent threat to the victim’s well-being and that of their family, even after release. It is also the most lucrative of kidnapping categories and one in which transnational organized crime groups are most prominently involved.
Here are a few everyday tips on how to remain vigilant and avoid becoming a target:
Avoid attracting attention
Lower your profile by leaving expensive jewellery or watches at home and dressing simply. If possible, avoid using ATMs or exchanging money in the street. Stay out of public places
(e.g. hotel lobby or bar) and avoid ‘loose talk’ which can be heard by anyone in earshot.
A fixed schedule makes it easier for you to be followed and eventually abducted. Vary aspects of your daily routine such as your route to work and your means of transportation. Limit the
disclosure of your (travel) itinerary.
Some routine is inevitable. Recognize routine travel or work patterns and increase your level of awareness during these periods.
Assess the security of your meeting locations. Programme emergency numbers into your mobile phone and avoid being rushed – which can often lead to careless actions.
Let your partner or colleague know your schedule, who you are meeting and where, as well as when you expect to return.
Always think about your personal security. Lock your car doors and confirm the identity of the person or driver meeting you.
When on foot, look out for the following:
- People peering around corners, through doors or windows;
- Sudden changes of direction;
- Mirroring: you cross the road, they cross the road;
- Fixation: staring at you and not noticing what is going on around them;
- People turning away or leaving the area when observed;
- Anyone seen reading, loitering, or standing without a reason to be there;
- Anyone suspicious using a mobile phone when entering or exiting your house, workplace or meeting location.
When travelling in a vehicle, look out for the following:
- Vehicles or individuals in prohibited zones;
- Broken down vehicles near your commonly used routes or areas, including choke points (e.g. narrow, remote road with no escape routes) ;
- Vehicles that remain in the same area for extended periods of time;
- Vehicles that remain at the same distance regardless of speed or traffic;
- Vehicles that drive erratically, make sudden stops, slow down or speed up, or consistently drive by the same location.
If you do notice any of the above, use the following strategies:
Frequently look directly behind you. This can be overt or covert and may spook any potential surveillance team. Crossing the road, particularly at a pedestrian crossing, offers an opportunity to look back and forth several times without it being obvious what you are doing.
Challenge anyone suspected of following you. Ask them for directions or the time, and note their reaction. Only do this if you feel comfortable in your surroundings.
Scan the area for Bluetooth devices with your mobile phone. Scan in several locations and see if you see the same device multiple times.
Enter a safe indoor environment and use the opportunity to observe your surroundings. When you leave, check behind for anyone following you. In urban areas enter a shop, large store or mall. Hold the door open for those behind you giving a chance to look back or use the door’s reflection.
If at any time you believe you are being followed, head to a safe location (e.g. police station or hospital) and call for a vehicle to collect you.
If the unthinkable happens, and you are abducted, remember the following:
During the abduction:
- Escape may be totally unrealistic and a high risk strategy;
- The kidnappers will have the advantage, since the abduction will have taken place at a time and place of their choosing;
- It is easy to provoke a violent reaction resulting in injury or death
If you are abducted, whilst being moved:
- Try to control your fear and emotions;
- Follow any instructions you are given;
- Mentally record what you see and hear during movement.
If you are captured, here are a few do’s and don’ts:
- Comply with instructions through passive acceptance;
- Address captors by their names if openly known;
- Alert captors to your medical needs;
- Stay calm – your controlled behaviour will influence those around you.
- During a kidnapping, you should prepare yourself for long periods of boredom and isolation punctuated by extreme moments of threats, pressure and violence.
- If there are other hostages, try to communicate with them. Communication can help you overcome feelings of isolation;
- Try to get hold of some essentials. Simple things like a blanket, papers or magazines will make a vast difference to your comfort;
- Manage your time by setting up schedules for simple physical or mental tasks, such as exercise, day dreaming and mind games;
- Try and build a rapport with your kidnappers. Start conversations about family, sports or any other non-controversial topics. Get them to see you as a human being and not just a kidnap victim;
- Aim to maintain your dignity and self-respect at all times.
- As a hostage you will feel isolated, with limited or no access to outside information. You may have feelings of hopelessness and abandonment, but remember that family, friends and colleagues will
be working hard to secure your safe release. Your job is to survive the kidnapping ordeal.
- Be a nuisance or stand out from the crowd if in a group;
- Stare, which could be seen as challenging or threatening to the kidnappers;
- Be overly submissive, which reinforces power and encourages aggression;