Kidnapping: How Can EAPs Intervene? by Understanding the Cultures of Societies and Workplaces and the Differing Perspectives of Criminals and Their Victims, EA Professionals Can Minimize the Impact of Kidnappings on Workers, Their Families, and Their Employers

Article excerpt

Kidnapping is the act of seizing and depriving someone of his/her freedom to obtain an economic or political benefit or the satisfaction of revenge. It is an act that works to the detriment of the physical and psychological well-being of the individual.

Unfortunately, kidnapping has become a daily event in Colombia. Over the last several years, official statistics show a strong increase in the number of kidnappings. In 2002 there were 2,992 cases officially reported, and it is estimated that the actual number of cases was far higher (perhaps more than 50 percent higher).

Kidnapping now affects all socio-economic levels of the Colombian population. In the beginning, a profile of possible victims could be defined according to their wealth, property holdings, and economic comforts, but little by little the problem has grown and nowadays there appear to be other grounds for kidnappings. Following are the most usual types of kidnappings in Colombia:

* Kidnapping for ransom, with the clear intention of obtaining a benefit (money, property, etc.);

* Kidnapping as a way to exert political pressure (for example, the release of terrorists who are in jail);

* "Express" kidnappings, where money is demanded in a very short time (typically forcing the victim to withdraw funds from an automated teller machine);

* Extended kidnappings, wherein the kidnapper decides to take all the time necessary to obtain his/her demands and shows no interest in ending the kidnapping;

* Kidnapping the victim to obtain information;

* Kidnapping to "sell" the victim to another group that is in charge of the negotiation (in general, the kidnappers are common criminals who do not have the organization to keep the victim and have to get rid of him/her as soon as possible and obtain an economic gain);

* "Miracle fishing," in which the kidnapping is random and anyone can be a victim (the kidnappers "study" the characteristics of the person(s) to be abducted; this type of kidnapping often occurs on roadways and many buses are stopped); and

* Group kidnappings, in which many people are kidnapped (for instance, passengers on a plane, children on a school bus, worshippers in a religious ceremony, or people attending a party).

To avoid being kidnapped, some people pay a "vacunas" (vaccine), a monthly fee that is a form of "tax" to a kidnapping organization. Employers may also pay this fee to prevent their employees or workplaces from being used as leverage. Kidnapping is becoming a priority issue for businesses in Colombia, as it is more and more common for an employee to be abducted to demand ransom money from the employer.


Employee assistance professionals who provide consultation to work organizations in Colombia must be very familiar with the characteristics of kidnappings in the country--who carries them out, the reasons they do it, the methods they use, and other details that define the profiles of the kidnappers, the victims, and the crime itself. Understanding the different types of kidnapping acts and methods of negotiation allows the EA professional to provide the proper advice and devise action and prevention plans according to each work organization's needs.

EA professionals also need to know the work organization's policies regarding the possible kidnapping of an employee. For example, if the kidnappers demand a ransom, is the employer going to pay? If so, under what circumstances? If not, how can the image of transparency be projected and the fact that there will be no hidden negotiations? Employees, as well as their close relatives, must know the risks of a possible kidnapping and the policies to be followed.

It sometimes happens that employers do not see the need to take time to analyse this problem and discuss ways to prevent it. …