Ben Lopez on how to survive being kidnapped

Ben Lopez, one of the world’s leading hostage negotiators, explains how a rubber chicken can save your life

Peter Moore
21 July 2011

Ben Lopez is a Kidnap and Ransom (K&R) consultant, with over 20 years’ experience as a hostage negotiator. He tells Peter Moore how to survive being kidnapped… And not to rely on your embassy for help.

How likely is it that a traveller will be kidnapped?

You’ve probably got a very low chance of being kidnapped as a traveller, just because kidnappers are not particularly opportunistic. It’s a very rare kidnap when someone says ‘Oh boy! Here’s a good one. Let’s kidnap them!’

Most of the time it’s something that’s been planned. They’ve done reconnaissance, they’ve been observing your movements for days or even weeks. They want to feel very comfortable that they’re not going to get caught or they’re not going to get hurt during the abduction.

Also, there’s no telling from a traveller’s demeanor whether they’re somebody who has got access to money. Is he a broke student with no money? Or is he the son of a Lord?

There are some countries where any foreigner is regarded as wealthy. But I’m guessing that that would result in an opportunistic robbery rather than a kidnap.

That’s right. Yeah. One of the cardinal rules of travelling is “don’t flaunt your wealth”. Don’t walk around wearing gaudy jewelry or big Rolexes or wear top of the line trainers and stuff like that. It’s just tempting people.

The bottom line is that the great majority of people all over the world are fine. They’re not kidnappers, they’re not thieves, they’re just regular people trying to get along like the rest of us.

Some of our readers work as volunteers. If you’re in a country longer term, working for a large organisation, are you more susceptible to being kidnapped with the view that your organisation or your government can be held to ransom?

There used to be this notion of security through engagement. In other words, if you’re somehow connected with the community that you live in or you’re working with that this somehow provides you with a modicum of security. It has intuitive appeal to it but frankly I would not want to bet my life on that. It’s a little naive. Since September 11 all bets are off. It used to be true that journalists were left alone because they were there to tell the story, they weren’t part of it, but those days are over.

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