I knew it was going to happen. The gunshots would go off; I would be blindfolded, handcuffed and interrogated.
I planned an entire day around filming it. But when the actual kidnapping occurred, it was still extremely unnerving and gave me an uneasy feeling knowing that for some individuals, this was, unfortunately, the real thing.
But companies like Pilgrims Group, a security and risk-management company that identifies and manages potential vulnerabilities and special risk situations, provides simulated kidnapping training courses for everyone from journalists to NGO employees.
Their goal is that this simulated version will fully prepare employees with the appropriate tools and know-how in the unlikely chance that these threats might one day be a reality.
“We give ’em a little taste of what it might be like. And then hopefully they’ll take those lessons forward if it happens for real,” said Mark Stansfield, a deputy training manager at Pilgrims Group.
Clients pay around $2,500 for a two-day course, which is run by either former military, current firefighters or ambulatory care employees. Stanfsfield himself was a former major in the British Army, and many of the techniques employed throughout the training are similar to those that are used by the U.S. military and British Army.
Learning to lose control
It began with a checkpoint on a road.
Then I was kidnapped and interrogated. Three terrorists seized and dragged me somewhere. Although I knew I would not be physically hurt, I still planted my feet firmly in the ground until an overpowering force made me move. The first instinct is always to resist.
I was forced into a room with loud music and told to assume a stress position for about 20 minutes. A stress position is when weight is placed on just one or two muscles for a protracted amount of time, at first uncomfortable and then leading to intense pain.
I did not know when this would end and had no control over the situation.
Then, for about 15 minutes, I was interrogated. It was an intimidating and unnerving process. Stansfield showed me pictures of mass graves and yelled at me, asking why I was “spreading this kind of propaganda.”
I told him I was a journalist reporting a story without bias.
I was then swiftly placed into a separate room, where another person from the training course told me to sign a document “admitting” to crimes against humanity on behalf of my country. Extremely severe, this drill made me understand how captives are willing to sign a [false] document to save their lives.
Read More Virtual reality is set to go mainstream
In such cases, “it’s quite clear to the government back home that you must do things under duress so you won’t be killed,” Stansfield said.
The dangerous rescue
Then came the rescue. After I had been held hostage for a little over an hour, I heard more gunshots, then a command to get down and lie on the floor. A few minutes later I was told to run out of the building quickly as smoke was deployed.
The entire experience taught me that during the most dangerous of circumstances, the key is to stay calm and relinquish control. And most importantly, never to anger your captors.
That’s because kidnapping is typically an attempt to extort money, spread a political message or to swap prisoners, and chances are slim that the criminals intend to kill you right away. More than likely, you are there to be used as a pawn.
Stansfield said business for Pilgrims Group has increased “fivefold” since 2010 because of the rise of terrorism-related incidents around the world.
And journalists are largely in the fray, due to increasing threats from terrorist groups, such as ISIS, the Haqqani network and Boko Haram.
Thankfully, I now have some insight into what I should do if my personal safety is ever at risk.