What would you do in this attempted abduction scenario?
Screech! A van stops beside you and the door slides open. A gun’s pointed at you, and you’re ordered to get in.
Think about what you’re going to do now. Because if this happens, there wouldn’t be time to think. You’d also be too shocked to think rationally. Making the wrong move can mean death, or a fate that’s much worse.
Surviving an Abduction at Gunpoint
Scenario: Attempted Abduction with a Gun
You’re walking by the road. A vehicle suddenly stops next to you and the door opens. A masked man is pointing a gun directly at you, ordering you to get in.
What SHOULD you do?
Normally, anyone would cooperate when held at gunpoint. And this is what you should do if you are being robbed in the streets. After all, the perpetrator just wants your money and a quick getaway.
However, this scenario is different.
Money is clearly not the main objective here. This is an attempted abduction involving a vehicle that will take you to an unknown location; somewhere where escape is difficult and help is not available.
So, are you rethinking your decision to get into the vehicle? There are worse things that can happen to you than a gunshot, if you get on.
Find out what happens to victims of abductions…
What happens when you are taken elsewhere
Here are some experiences of victims — men, women and children. It paints a terrifying picture of how you could end up if taken elsewhere against your will.
Beaten, shot and sexually-assaulted – Male College Students
Two male college football players were kidnapped in a bizarre case of mistaken identity over drug-robbery. During their two-day ordeal they were beaten, shot, tortured and sexually assaulted. (report)
Assaulted and tied to a tree in the Australian bush
A 26-year old man was assaulted and then forced into a car, assaulted again at various locations, before being tied to a tree and left there. (report)
Raped and humiliated by a child predator
Alicia Kozakiewicz, who was thirteen years-old at the time, was groomed by a sexual predator online, lured out of her house and forced into a vehicle. When they arrived at the predator’s house, she was stripped and had a dog’s collar locked to her neck. She was raped, humiliated and tortured for four days before being rescued by the FBI. (report)
Raped and Imprisonsed for over a decade
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were abducted, beaten, raped and imprisoned in their perpetrator’s house for more than a decade. (report)
This couple became victims of human trafficking after being tricked into the prospect of working overseas. According to them, the men abducted would be forced to sell drugs, and women would be compelled into prostitution.
Suspected Assassination Attempt
A journalist, who had criticised the Sudan government was held for two months without charge and then released. Upon his release, he was abducted by unknown perpetrators, burnt and dumped near a graveyard. (report)
What should you do?
What you should do depends on many variables in that scenario. It also depends on your training and the risk you’re willing to take. One strategy clearly cannot work for all situations, and the risk of injury, death and trauma cannot be eliminated no matter what you choose.
We can only make general suggestions on what is sensible to do. But what you choose to do is totally up to your judgment. We will not be held responsible or liable for the recommendation and tips given here.
Scenario Answer: Do not enter the vehicle. Run away.
This article will explain why in the next section. And points out the general risks and chances of survival when choosing between complying or running away. It later lists tactics that increases your opportunities to escape and get rescued.
For now, here are self-defense experts responses to this scenario.
What would self-defense experts do?
The overwhelming majority on Quora also recommended not getting into the vehicle and escaping, despite the gun. Some of these people have survived a similar situation, while others who answered had worked in law enforcement and intelligence bureaus.
Why should you run away despite the gun?
No matter the intent, victims mentioned earlier were all stripped of their humanity while held captive.
This is the risk you have to accept once you enter the abductor’s vehicle. You surrender all control and chance of surviving to your kidnappers, and face the possibility of prolonged torture and sexual assault.
Here are other reasons why you running away might be the best course of action, despite the gun.
Much Lower Chance of Escape and Rescue
Abductions are premeditated and planned beforehand. They are made to ensure escape and rescue is close to impossible.
Kidnappers would observe their would-be victims for some time, regardless of their motives – be it sexual assault, torture, human trafficking or ransom. Even if they do not have a specific individual in mind (victim was at the wrong place, at the wrong time), a place to keep the victim captive would have been prepared beforehand.
Escape and calls for help at that place would be extremely difficult.
Hence, entering the vehicle diminishes escape or rescue opportunities significantly.
Chances of the abductor shooting you
Kidnappers expect you to cooperate and get into the vehicle without making a scene. After all, they are pointing a gun at you.
But they are unlikely to use it for these reasons.
- They don’t want you dead (at least not yet)
- They don’t want to draw attention to themselves (in public)
- The gun is merely a tool to make you comply – they are not mentally-prepared to use it. It may not even be real or loaded.
The moment you deviate from their expectations and make a scene while running away, it messes with their plan.
When you demonstrate that you are not an easy victim, by making a scene from the start, these monsters will often give up.
Of course circumstances vary and there is a gun involved. In the heat of the moment, the gun might even go off unintentionally.
But consider this.
If the person pointing a gun at you has to take you elsewhere to get what he wants, your experiences there will likely be worse than death. And if he is willing to shoot you when you run and make a scene, what makes you think escape or survival is guaranteed if you cooperate?
The option that gives the greatest opportunities to escape is at the beginning of the attempted kidnapping.
Here’s a summary of the advantages and risks of your options.
What are the risks and survival rate for your options?
Since this is neither a robbery nor a hostage situation, your options are to: (1) enter the vehicle, or (2) run away.
What are the risks and possible consequences?
|Factors||Enter the vehicle||Run away|
|Survival||No guarantees that you won’t be killed||Risk getting shot when fleeing|
|Escape/Rescue||Significantly low once you enter the vehicle||Much higher|
|Fate||Death, prolonged imprisonment, sexual slavery, torture||Reporting to the authorities about the monsters|
|If rescued||Lifetime of trauma||NA|
Should you pretend to cooperate until there’s an opportunity to escape?
It depends on when you plan to escape.
As mentioned, once you get into the vehicle, you are unlikely to escape. The perpetrator might be wielding a gun at you in the enclosed vehicle. It gets even lower if you are restrained.
Again, if you believe survival is guaranteed by cooperating, what makes you think those monsters won’t kill and dispose of you later? Sociopathic perpetrators have no issue with telling a manipulative lie.
Your margin of error and opportunity to escape diminishes as you go down this scale:
- Escape while outside the vehicle – highest chance of successfully escaping
- Escape while inside the vehicle
- Escape when you disembark
- Escape from the unknown location – negligible chance of successfully escaping
If you want to fake it, it has to be before entering the vehicle. But this tactic should only be used if you know what you are doing, to buy time or to ensure your safety (based on your judgment). It is a risky tactic. This will be covered in the next section.
In both options, death is a possibility. It is only a matter of when.
Since death is a risk in both options, why not pick the option that gives you the highest chance to escape being dehumanised?
Here’s what exactly you should do if you choose to run away.
How should you run away and avoid getting shot?
When running away, your objectives are to:
- Reduce the odds of getting shot
- Increase the chances of timely rescue (if you do get forced into the vehicle)
Again, there are many variables that determine what you should do in each scenario, and there are no guarantees that you will survive. So, take this as a generalisation that assumes:
- there are no more than two kidnappers
- the kidnappers do not get out of the vehicle (van/car) when pointing the firearm at you
- the gun is a regular firearm that does not spray bullets (i.e. automatic rifle)
Here they are…
1. Be Mentally-prepared to fight for your life
If you encounter this scenario, death is a possible outcome in whatever option you choose.
So, take this as your final act of self-preservation; your last stand. Be mentally-prepared to fight, shout, scream and run like you have never done before.
Accept that you may die. This mental act of accepting death reduces potentially deadly fear-responses like hesitation.
2. Move out of the line of fire
The moment you are ready, move out of the perpetrator’s aim swiftly. Then run.
This puts distance between you and the perpetrator. The chance of being hit when you are moving is no more than 50%, based on various tests.
3. Run in the opposite direction of the vehicle
By running in the opposite direction of the vehicle, you give yourself more time to escape.
The vehicle will take time to turn around if the driver wants to pursue you.
4. Run in a Sporadic Zig-zag Pattern
Don’t run in a straight line. Be hard to aim at with a gun.
Another tip to being hard to shoot is to angle your body while running so that only your oblique can be aimed at by the shooter. Smaller surface area, though not necessarily practical if you need to be quick.
5. Draw attention to the situation
Shout! Get attention from passersby.
You are relying on passersby to report your abduction, and pay attention to the vehicle details, if your escape fails. Also, authorities who happen to be around (or get contacted by the same passersby) will come to your aid.
Make sure to be clear on describing your situation succinctly. People may ignore your shouts of “help me” or incoherent screams simply because they are not sure of the circumstances (e.g. could it be a domestic dispute? is this a lovers’ tiff? is this person from the asylum?). Even worse, kids who are being abducted and scream may be mistaken as bratty kids fighting their parents or relatives.
These are some suggestions on what should be yelled. And it needs to be clear that the perpetrator has no relations to you.
6. Head towards a crowd, government building or anywhere safe
Run towards a crowd, government building, business places, shopping mall, police station or anywhere safe. You are unlikely to be followed because that would draw attention.
But make sure to put obstacles between you and the perpetrator that acts as cover from shooting (e.g. weaving into pillars).
Remember to make a scene but be clear to passersby on what is happening.
If you are in a rural area, where there is no one around, find a hiding place to wait it out. Obviously, don’t make any noise when hiding.
7. Watch where you are running
Be calm and look at where you are running.
There is no need to look at the perpetrator continuously while escaping. Fear and adrenaline can cause you to trip up on obstacles (i.e. a woman running away from her abductor, ran right into a fence). Don’t ruin your chances at escape.
8. Report the attempted abducction
You need to report this attempted kidnapping to the police.
This is important to protect other would-be victims and to thwart a second attempt if you are a specially-picked victim.
When the odds are stacked against you
Even if the mentioned assumptions are ignored, knowing the above tips gives you a survival advantage (NOT guarantee) when trying to run away.
However, you will need more training and knowledge of tactics to increase your chances of survival and escape. You need to enroll in a comprehensive self-defense course that specifically trains against kidnapping and shootings from a competent instructor.
Tactic: Pretending to cooperate
This is extremely dangerous. A lot can go wrong. This is not the best option if there are two perpetrators trying to force you in.
You should only do this if:
- you know how to and are confident enough to disarm the perpetrator in seconds
- or you need to buy extra time
- or the gun is too close to you to miss
When disarming any shooter, distance matters. The closer the better.
So, trick the perpetrator to come closer. DO NOT enter the vehicle.
Act frightened and pretend to be so shocked and fearful that you cannot move. This may prompt the gun-wielding perpetrator to come closer to “assist” you in. If you know how to disarm him/her and are confident, do it.
Otherwise, once the perpetrator is close enough to you, move swiftly out of the gun’s line of fire and gouge the perpetrator’s eyes (or do anything to temporarily prevent him/her from aiming). Then run immediately.
What you need to know about opportunistic abductions
Perpetrators prefer manipulating and tricking their victims into a vehicle or going to a remote location. This makes the would-be victim’s disappearance less suspicious and difficult to trace. This tactic has been used by sexual predators and human traffickers; to manipulate the victim’s desires, loneliness, self-esteem and desperation to their aims.
But what has manipulation got to do with this scenario (abduction by force)?
They are related. When manipulation fails, the perpetrator resorts to force.
In order to coax you to get in, the perpetrator may make false guarantees. The shock, fear and desperation from that situation happening will make you susceptible to manipulation; to hear what you want to hear.
Exceptions to This Scenario’s Recommendation
If you live in or travel to another country that has its own advisory on how to deal with abductions, follow that. This is especially true for countries that have a high occurrence of abductions (for ransom).
Government authorities and your own country’s embassy would have a prescribed set of guidelines.
- U.S. Department of State Travel Alerts and Warnings (List of countries with safety concerns)
- Gov UK, Foreign travel advice (List of countries travel advisory)
- Australia Government – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Smart Traveller (List of countries travel advisory)
If you do travel overseas or to another state/province, keep yourself updated on safety issues and recommendations for that area. You are also advised to register your name with your respective embassies or governments, especially when visiting regions known for abductions.
Prevention: How NOT to get get kidnapped in real life?
1. Be aware of your surroundings
In this day and age, people are perpetually distracted by their smartphones. You need to, at the very least, know what’s happening around you while you go about your daily routine.
2. Avoid getting close to a vehicle
Never ever get close to an unknown vehicle.
Notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, tricked women by acting helpless. When they got close enough to his vehicle, they were forced in.
Some tactics used by serial killers and abductors are:
- Tricking victims to help them load groceries into their vehicles
- Pretending to be hurt or disabled to help them to their vehicles
- Pretending to ask for directions from within their vehicles (when the victim gets close, there is a gun pointing at them.
3. Carry items that can be used as weapons
Carry some form of weapon. Disguised weapons like kubotans and pepper spray works.
If you live in a country where these are banned, use keys and even deep heat sprays.
4. Sign up for self-defense training
Take up a short course on reality-based self-defense that specifically teach you how to deal with abductions, shootings, robberies and more.
This would increase your chances of survival, especially if the kidnapper gets out of the vehicle with the gun, if there is more than one abductor or if someone vulnerable is with you (to be able to protect the both of you).
Advice on Attempted Abduction on Children
It is believed that child abduction is on the rise, with more than half of the victims kidnapped by strangers. The video below shows a 13-year old running away from an attempted abduction on CCTV. She did everything right to survive. It also reports that “more than 80% of kids who escaped an attempted kidnapping did something proactive” (i.e. running, screaming, struggling and not getting into the vehicle).
You need to weigh your options, think it through and decide how you want your kids to deal with such a scenario (if it involves a gun).
Three resources specific to child abductions:
- Safety Tips to Help Avoid Child Abduction
- Preventing Abductions
- CHILD ABDUCTION PREVENTION – Parent’s Guide to Child Safety
Warning and disclaimer
The suggestions given should be used at your own risk and judgment.
Every hostile situation is different and the factors vary: type of vehicle, type of firearm, number of kidnappers, presence of passersby, immediate environment and whether you are alone of with another person. Also, you can’t really tell your perpetrator’s intentions in a split second.
Will it complicate matters if the perpetrator gets off the vehicle to pursue and shoot at you? Of course. Will it complicate your escape if there are more than two accomplices? Definitely.
Ultimately, it boils down to how willing you are to accept what will happen when you arrive at the unknown location.
If you believe cooperating is your best option, go ahead. Use your best judgment.
In this scenario in which you are forced to get in a vehicle with the threat of being shot, the general recommendation is to run away and shout for help. There are several reasons why the possibility of being shot is being ignored. The most important of which, is the likely prospect of torture, sexual assault and prolonged imprisonment at an unknown place where escape is near impossible.
The recommendation and suggested getaway tips should be assessed with your own judgment and used at your own risk.
Be always aware and stay safe.
Inspiration source: Quora
Great article! I’m glad to say that my (unstudied) ideas mostly align with those of the “experts”.
Good to hear! And thank you, Vince.