Taking people hostage for financial or political gain is almost as old as history itself1. While it has always been unpleasant to be held hostage, the dynamics of hostage taking has changed over the years. For example, increasing use of smartphones and internet in general and among hostage takers in specific has made the hostage business both more volatile, much faster and has made pictures and videos of hostages more widespread2.
In recent years, much media attention has been focused on the extreme violence and brutality displayed by hostage takers in the Middle East. The beheadings of several hostages by the Islamic State in 2014 has been on the cover of newspapers and as breaking news in television as violence makes good headlines3. The extreme violence and brutality against hostages taken by pirates of the coast of Somalia or in Syria by ISIS may lead to the belief that all hostages are exposed to violence during captivity. However, less research on hostage taking has been devoted to exploring how, why and how often physical violence against hostages takes place and how hostages have dealt with it4.
This article seeks to provide a brief overview of the extent of violence and the circumstances hostages are exposed to by their captors, thereby adding details and insights to the dynamics of hostage situations. Drawing on experience from 12 cases involving 24 Danish hostages in the period 2007-2017 this article will analyze the reasons why some hostages are exposed to violence and identify potential mitigation techniques. While researching the subject it became clear that the lack of available data restrains the project. Firstly, the 12 identified cases, which forms the foundation for this project, are by no means exhaustive, as many cases likely remain unknown to the public. Secondly, the nature of the subject means that much information and many details of the cases that are known to public are hard to obtain. Therefore, this essay relies primarily on cases where it has been possible to interview former hostages in order to improve the validity of the findings. The study will inform both professionals dealing with hostage negotiation and crisis management, organizations providing hostage survival training and the wider public. The insights provided may help negotiators understand the dynamics of the physical threat against the persons they are trying to be released. Further, as support to relatives is part of most crisis management, professionals may use this information to limit the uncertainty experienced by the relatives by relating to other similar cases. Finally, hostage survival training and similar training programs such as hostile environment awareness training (HEAT-courses) may be qualified by including knowledge on violence and the associated coping strategies.