Exploring the Bonds between Captives and their Captors

Exploring the Bonds between Captives and their Captors

Exploring the Bonds between Captives and their Captors
Exploring the Bonds between Captives and their Captors

Hostages (of terrorists, skyjackers, kidnappers, bank robbers, rebelling prisoners, and gunmen) are used by their captors to exert leverage on a third party—perhaps a family, the police, or a government agency. These captives could react in an unanticipated way to being trapped and held against their will. Instead of showing anger and seeking revenge, these pawns in a larger drama may emerge from a siege with posi- tive feelings for, and attachments to, their keepers. Their outrage is likely to be directed at the authorities who rescued them for acting with apparent indifference to their well- being during the protracted negotiations. This surprising emotional realignment has been termed the Stockholm syndrome because it was first noted after a 1973 bank holdup in Sweden. Several psychological explanations for this “pathological transference” are plausible. The hostages could be identifying with the aggressor, and they might have

become sympathetic to acts of defiance aimed at the power structure. As survivors, they might harbor intense feelings of gratitude toward their keepers for sparing their lives. As helpless dependents, they might cling to the powerful figures who controlled their every action because of a primitive emotional response called “traumatical infantilism.” After the ordeal, terrorized hostages need to be welcomed back and reassured that they did nothing wrong during—and right after—their captivity. People in occupations that place them at high risk of being taken prisoner—ranging from conve- nience store clerks and bank tellers to airline personnel and diplomats—need to be trained about how to act, what to say, and what not to do if they are held and used as a bargaining chip during a stand-off. Law enforcement agencies need to set up and train hostage negotiation units as an alternative to solely relying on heavily armed SWAT teams whose military-style assaults endanger the lives of the captives they are trying to save. Crisis negotiators no longer consider the bonding that may occur between captives and captors to be detrimental. The development of the Stockholm syndrome actually can increase the hostages’ chances of surviving the ordeal. However, it could also mean that law enforcement cannot count on the victims’ cooperation in working for their own release and for later prosecuting their violent and dan- gerous kidnappers in court. In terms of frequency of occur- rence, it is likely that this type of coping mechanism by captives has been overemphasized and inaccurately assumed in cases that were diagnosed by commentators in the media. Identifying with the aggressor and seeing rescuers as adver- saries rarely takes place, according to an analysis of the narratives contained in the FBI’s Hostage/Barricade Database System (see Ochberg, 1978; Fattah, 1979; Symonds, 1980a; Turner, 1990; Louden, 1998; Fuselier, 1999; and De Fabrique, Romano, Vecchi, and Van Hasselt, 2007).

B O X 1.4 (Continued)

26 CH APT ER 1

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indicate a huge increase in the number of reported instances of suspected abuse. How can this upsurge be explained? One possibility is to interpret this spike as evidence that parents are neglecting, beating, and molesting their children these days like never before. But another explanation could be that new compul- sory reporting requirements recently imposed on physicians, school nurses, and teachers are bringing many more cases to the attention of the authorities. Thus, a sharp rise in reports might not reflect a genu- ine crime wave directed at children by their caretakers but merely a surge in official reports because of improvements in detecting and keeping records of maltreatment. Victimologists can make a real contri- bution toward resolving this controversy by devising ways to estimate the actual dimensions of the child abuse problem with greater precision. Other pressing questions that can be answered by careful measure- ments and accurate statistics include the following: Are huge numbers of children being snatched up by kidnappers demanding ransoms? Or are abductions by strangers rare? Are husbands assaulted by their wives about as often as wives are battered by their husbands? Or is female aggression of minor concern when compared to male violence? Is forced sex a common outcome at the end of an evening, or is date rape less of a danger than some people believe (see Loseke, Gelles, and Cavanaugh, 2005)?

Once injured parties have been identified, and their ranks measured, researchers can carry out a needs assessment through interviews or via a sur- vey to discover what kinds of suffering they are experiencing and what sorts of assistance and sup- port they require to resolve their problems and return to the lives they were leading before the crime occurred. Such studies might reveal their unmet material and emotional needs, and weak- nesses in existing programs and policies.

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