Hostage US Article: The Conversation of Wrongful Detainment

The Conversation of Wrongful Detainment
January 2022

Wrongful detainment. Unlawful imprisonment. Arbitrary detention. Although each of these terms begins with an adjective that describes the unjust nature of the act, the fact that a jail—and therefore an authority—is involved usually requires a little more explanation in conversation. Properly defining these terms will help the public and the world at large to understand the context and the complexity of the problem.

At Hostage US, we are working to clarify our own definition of wrongful detainment so that we can better explain the work we are doing and ensure that we are offering the very best, tailored support to families coping through this crisis and to detainees returning home after captivity. As we are having conversations to evolve our support, so, too, is the public. We are glad to see conversations happening around understanding the scope and the repercussions of this issue.

Within the world of kidnapping, there are differences between hostage-taking and wrongful detainment. The captors are different, the environment in which the person is held is different, and the relevant avenues to secure a release are different. In a hostage situation, the perpetrators are criminal groups, gangs, individuals, or terrorists, whereas the captors involved in a wrongful detainment are unfriendly state actors. This differentiation is important because understanding wrongful detainment requires an acknowledgment of complicated international relations and a sensitivity to diplomacy. In the middle of it all, the unfortunate captive becomes a bargaining chip for political leverage.

There are unique challenges for families of wrongful detainees. In addition to managing overwhelming stress and worry, they are often strapped with the responsibility of getting food, medicine, and other supplies to the detainee in prison. This is no easy feat, especially in situations where the US has no diplomatic presence, and the monthly cost can be an enormous burden on families who are already spending money on trips to Washington, on legal fees—often in in the US and in the country where the loved one is held—and on anything else that might get them closer to a release. When the bills increase as the months stretch on, what other choice does a family have but to pay them?

Through our partnerships, Hostage US offers connections to pro bono services and top tier professionals who will work with families and returning detainees to address each of these issues.

The public’s awareness of this critical problem is increasing, but there are still gaps in knowledge, and families are often left with the task of explaining—to friends, neighbors, the media, and prospective donors—why taxes can’t be paid, mortgages are overdue, or other payments are late. There’s no “wrongful detainment” box to check on most forms. In our experience supporting families of wrongful detainees, we’ve heard how hard it can be for them to describe the unique and dire circumstances surrounding their needs.

Requests for help, for advocacy, for exceptions, or for financial support are too-frequently met with a pause. The phrase “wrongful detainment” hangs in the air because many don’t know how to respond, and this creates just enough space for there to be a need for more explanation. Who are the authorities? What are the circumstances? The charges? The evidence? And possibly the most insensitive question: What was your loved one doing there in the first place? Unfortunately, this type of shaming only points to lack of understanding, which often results in a hesitancy to get involved. This is why the conversations need to keep happening.

Returning home after a wrongful detainment also poses its own set of challenges. There is a lack of government funding to help returning detainees rebuild their lives. In fact, upon release, they often have to pay their own way back to the US. Returning detainees find themselves struggling to untangle missed tax payments and accrued fees. All the while, they must explain their absence, assert their innocence, and ask for special exceptions.

Hostage US is here to walk alongside returning detainees, helping them to rebuild, to access available resources, and to make the request for the special exception. We understand and, perhaps most importantly, we don’t require an explanation.

All captives held unlawfully should be met with the same respect and attention, while families of hostages and wrongful detainees should be held with the same tenderness, compassion, and sense of community. Hostage US provides that steady and consistent support and we encourage you, the public, to learn more about wrongful detainment and to join the conversation.