In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Kidnapping

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Typologies
  • Offenders
  • Terrorism and Kidnapping
  • As a Business
  • Victims
  • Families
  • Societal Impact
  • Secondary Economics of Kidnapping
  • In the Media
  • Government Relations, Politics, and Responsibility

Criminology Kidnapping
Rob T. Guerette, Andrea Headley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0195


Kidnappings refer to the taking or abduction of an individual against his or her will, usually followed by some duration of captivity. Kidnappings can be undertaken for several reasons, but the most common are for a demand of ransom payment, as a political terrorist event, or the abduction of a child, often following a child custody dispute. Kidnapping as a behavior has been documented long throughout history and was common practice among nomadic groups, who would steal brides from neighboring tribes. Studies of kidnappings have examined the topic from a variety of perspectives, including tracing the historical development of kidnapping epidemics in specific regions of the world, identification of the various typologies of kidnappings, and efforts to understand kidnappings from the offender’s perspective. Some literature has focused solely on a specific variety of kidnapping, such as child and parental kidnapping, terrorism-based kidnappings, and so-called corporate kidnappings. Other research has looked at the impact that kidnapping has on victims, families, and society at large. In focusing on the societal impact, a considerable portion of research has explored the economic benefits of kidnappings both for offenders and for secondary economic markets. Finally, research has examined approaches to the prevention of kidnappings, as well as common responses, particularly the role of media and government in kidnapping incidents. Perhaps the biggest limitation found in existing kidnapping research is the absence of empirical studies, which stems from the difficulty in obtaining systematically collected and representative data samples. Most existing empirical studies have been devoted to identifying the most problematic kidnapping countries around the world, while a handful have begun to examine patterns and trends in an effort to further theoretical foundations within the topical area.

General Overviews

Several scholars have characterized the nature or historical progression of kidnapping epidemics that have occurred generally and in various parts of the world, while others have traced the development of specific varieties of kidnappings, such as political or corporate. Khan and Sajid 2010 examines the circumstance of kidnapping in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and the limitation of existing governmental responses, while Mohamed 2008 inspects kidnapping for ransom in Southeast Asia. Ochoa 2012 highlights trends in kidnapping in Mexico City, Mexico and Wilson 1994 discusses the historical kidnappings of free blacks in the United States from 1780 to 1865. Newton 2002 gives a more general overview of kidnapping throughout history. Detotto, et al. 2014 examines duration of kidnapping events in Sardinia over time. Auerbach 1998 provides narratives that highlight the evolution and nature of ransom and politically based kidnappings. Johnson, et al. 2003 discusses the increase of corporate kidnappings in developing countries.

  • Auerbach, Ann H. 1998. Ransom: The untold story of international kidnapping. New York: Henry Holt.

    This book employs a narrative case-study approach in combination with scientific studies to understand kidnapping worldwide. Specifically, the book looks at the growth of kidnapping for ransom and political purposes by exposing kidnapping negotiation processes.

  • Detotto, Claudio, Bryan C. McCannon, and Marco Vannini. 2014. Understanding ransom kidnappings and their duration. B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 14.3: 849–871.

    This paper analyzes the determinants of the length of kidnapping incidents by assessing ransom kidnappings that have occurred in Sardinia over time. A theoretical model is developed that particularly focuses on characteristics of the crime and the victim. Available online for purchase.

  • Johnson, Brian R., Doug McKenzie, and Greg L. Warchol. 2003. Corporate kidnapping: An exploratory study. Journal of Security Administration 26.2: 13–31.

    This study examines corporate kidnapping’s beginning and rise in developing countries while offering explanations for the increase. Additionally, this paper documents the inadequacies of reporting mechanisms, which distort official numbers for recording kidnapping incidents.

  • Khan, Naushad Ali, and Imran A. Sajid. 2010. Kidnapping in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Pakistan Journal of Criminology 2:175–187.

    This study identifies reasons for kidnapping occurrences while highlighting the frequency and overarching trends in kidnapping in the North West Frontier Province. This paper also attempts to understand the deficiencies in legal responses to kidnapping in this locale.

  • Mohamed, Mohd K. N. 2008. Kidnap for ransom in South East Asia: The case for a regional recording standard. Asian Criminology 3.1: 61–73.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11417-007-9040-1

    This article advocates the need for a systematic counting method in order to understand the extent and range of kidnapping incidents. Additionally, the paper outlines some of the shortcomings of current agency statistics (e.g., variations in legal definitions, categorizing mechanisms, and counting strategies utilized). Available online for purchase.

  • Newton, Mike. 2002. The encyclopedia of kidnappings. New York: Checkmark.

    This reference guide serves as a survey of kidnappings throughout history in order to identify kidnappers, victims, and the characteristics pertinent to the specific incident.

  • Ochoa, R. 2012. Not just rich: New tendencies in kidnapping in Mexico City. Global Crime 13.1: 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1080/17440572.2011.632499

    This paper focuses on the transformation and evolution of kidnappings in Mexico City, particularly paying attention to who is being kidnapped. The article utilizes qualitative analyses in order to provide an explanation for changes over time. Available online for purchase.

  • Wilson, Carol. 1994. Freedom at risk: The kidnapping of free Blacks in America, 1780–1865. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky.

    The author utilizes archival records in order to highlight the depth and breadth of kidnapping free Blacks, particularly as it pertained to the reinforcement of the slave trade. Additionally, the author discusses the feelings and responses to such kidnappings by Black individuals.

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