Information about kidnapping

There is very little information available about kidnapping because it is a crime that is usually unreported in the media and academics struggle to get access to former hostages and their families to conduct research. Information about how cases are resolved often remains secret. And as it is still a relatively low volume crime, it is difficult to draw generalizations.

Hostage US is committed to helping to improve public understanding of kidnapping – where it happens, why it happens, and who is taken. We are not a research organization, but we share resources about kidnapping to help with this process. We are committed to increasing public understanding of the needs of hostages and their families, during and after a kidnapping.

Frequently asked questions about kidnapping

How many Americans are kidnapped overseas each year?
There is no definitive data set for kidnapping. Statistics are held by the US government and by private security companies handling the negotiation for the release of Americans overseas. These figures are not released publicly. However through research and compilation of data, our estimate is over 200-300 Americans are kidnapped overseas each year.

Why are Americans kidnapped?
Americans – like most westerners – are kidnapped for a variety of reasons. Some are kidnapped by terrorist groups, others by criminal gangs. Criminals are looking to extort money. Terrorists might be looking for money, the exchange of prisoners, a change in policy or to gain propaganda. The motives vary from group to group, place to place and over time.

Which are the main countries where Americans are kidnapped?
Americans are kidnapped in many different countries, from Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to Mexico, Brazil, Iran and North Korea. The geography of kidnapping changes over time.

What kinds of people are taken?
There are many different kinds of people who find themselves taken hostage. Some are business people overseas on work assignments – they might be engineers in the oil and gas industry working in Iraq or accountants conducting an audit of their clients in Mexico or Pakistan. Some are journalists and aid workers, operating in some of the more dangerous parts of the world, like Syria, Yemen or Mali. Others are tourists who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, in countries like Kenya.

How long are they held for?
In some countries, kidnappings are resolved quickly – a matter of days or weeks. In others, hostages might be held for months or years. It can vary according to the identity of the kidnapping group, what they are looking to achieve, political factors on the ground, the identity of the hostage and what those negotiating their release are able to offer or do.

What is the American government’s policy on hostage cases?
In 2015, the President released the results of a review into US government handling of hostage cases, along with a new policy and Executive Order.

President’s Public Statement


Fact Sheet

Presidential Policy Directive

Executive Order

Where can I access the latest research on kidnapping?
There is a paucity of research on kidnapping. Hostage US has created a databank of resources that are available via our website. See our resources here.

How can I share my research on kidnapping?
If you are conducting research on kidnapping or come across useful data or articles that you would like to share, please send it to Hostage US and – subject to review – we will share it on our website to help others to access it.