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Perpetrators of kidnappings and hostage-takings defy easy categorisation, both in terms of their motives and their choice of victim. This is one of the conclusions of the doctoral research by Jaap Knotter, the first academic to produce a typology of the unlawful deprivation of liberty, or kidnapping and hostage-taking, in the Netherlands. Knotter's research reveals that the majority of kidnappers and hostage-takers act impulsively but choose their victims carefully. Knotter received his doctorate from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Wednesday, 29 January.

Man with handcuffs on

Knotter describes the phenomenon of kidnapping and hostage-taking in the Netherlands in all its facets and analyses the behaviour of the perpetrators. For his research, he spoke with 40 kidnappers and hostage-takers, from 'inexperienced' fathers who had impulsively snatched their child to violent abductors of women. 

Rationality versus impulsivity

‘The differences in perception of the perpetrators is remarkable. Some claim that they also experienced the kidnapping or hostage-taking they committed as an abduction or hostage situation, while others were not even aware that they had committed a criminal offence,’ Knotter says. The interviews reveal that only a minority of perpetrators consciously decide to deprive someone of their liberty and that even fewer make careful preparations. The choice of victim, on the other hand, is often a well-considered decision. Most perpetrators know their victims beforehand, though the relationship between perpetrator and victim can vary enormously.


While the police have various techniques at their disposal to combat kidnapping and hostage-taking, the perpetrators themselves employ a wide range of countermeasures to stay out of the hands of the law. These vary from technical (such as employing new counter-bugging technologies) and social (marshalling friends and family to frustrate infiltration attempts) to more information-focused measures (such as counter observation). Knotter: ‘In addition to experience, the context of a kidnapping or hostage-taking is crucial in determining what, if any, countermeasures are to be taken. Both the perpetrator's state of mind (i.e. the possible influence of alcohol/drugs or psychological or emotional pressure) and the perpetrator's own perception of the situation - does the perpetrator understand that he or she is committing a crime? - need to be factored into any decision to take countermeasures.'

Trends in the Netherlands

In his research, Knotter also mapped developments in kidnappings and hostage-takings in the Netherlands by analysing police report data. The period 1999-2008 saw the number of reports of kidnappings and hostage-takings rise, with the number of violent abductions of women doubling, but the number of violent kidnappings for ransom and sexual kidnappings falling.


Mr J.C. Knotter: Ontvoeringen & Gijzelingen. Supervisor: Professor D.J. Korf.
The doctoral thesis is published by Boom Lemma Uitgevers, ISBN: 978-94-6236-356-4.