Do you ever wonder how well you would cope if you were kidnapped? This question burned in my mind, so I started digging, and my fascination with this dark world led me down a rabbit hole that has truly changed my life.
For the last five years, in preparation for writing The Freedom Broker series, I have interviewed kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, psychiatrists who specialize in the captive’s mindset, K&R insurance executives, and the special forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. This monumental journey has been both inspiring and heartbreaking. Captivity is a form of purgatory. Hostages are alive, but they aren’t really living, dependent on their kidnappers for everything, all freedoms snatched away the moment they are taken.
Worldwide, more than 40,000 people are kidnapped every year, and this staggering number only reflects the incidents that have been reported. The actual number is much higher, as kidnapping has become an international crisis, especially in certain politically unstable parts of the globe. Why? In some cases, displaced military and police turn their security skills to kidnap-and-ransom to put food on the table; criminal organizations of all kinds and sizes abduct locals and tourists for quick cash; and terrorist organizations carry out kidnappings not just as a fundraising mechanism, but also as propaganda stunts. With little to no threat of punishment in some regions, these individuals and organizations can often kidnap at will.
Only around twenty-five to thirty people work as full-time crisis response consultants, the industry term for elite kidnap negotiators—and that number is also growing. Response consultants work for private companies, counseling their clients on travel safety. And when the worst happens, they offer support and guidance to hostages and their families while negotiating for the release of the captives. Responders travel all over the world and risk their lives to help others. I created Thea Paris, an elite kidnap negotiator who has very personal motivations for following this challenging career.
These kidnap specialists are patient, tactical, and brilliant at making decisions under enormous duress. They are usually fluent in at least one other language (and sometimes many more), as linguistic nuance can be critical in life-and-death negotiations. The backgrounds of these elite negotiators vary, but most have experience in the security arena, with résumés that include jobs at such organizations as MI6 or the FBI.
I had the privilege of getting to know Peter Moore, the longest-held hostage in Iraq—almost 1,000 days—and his story touched me deeply. Peter was taken with four British military soldiers, and he is the only one who made it home alive. He spent many months blindfolded and chained. To keep himself occupied, he caught mosquitos between his cuffed hands, trying to beat his daily record to keep his mind engaged. When the blindfold was removed, Peter spent endless hours staring at the cracks on the wall, designing an entire train system in his mind, which he was able to reproduce on paper after returning home. He also tried to befriend his captors so he could negotiate for small luxuries, like toothpaste and toilet paper.
I hope that the intensive research I’ve done and the novels I’ve brought into the world, The Freedom Broker and Skyjack, help to raise awareness for people fortunate enough that kidnapping remains an experience that happens only to characters in the books they read. For an in-depth map of the kidnap hot zones of the world, please visit my website at http://www.kjhowe.com
Join Kim Thursday 4-29 at 7 pm at Book Soup in LA and Saturday 4-21 at 3 pm at Book Carnival in Orange.