In the 1990's, Poland was often shaken by information about ransom kidnappings. Even today, kidnappers abduct a dozen people every year. Kidnappings cause enormous public outrage. However, until now scientists have not devoted much attention to the victim, i.e. the kidnapped, and to those who paid the ransom. Dr. Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz-Słowińska recognized that this was a good topic for a doctoral dissertation.
She researched the court case files of 23 legally closed court cases involving 35 kidnappings for ransom, from the years 1998-2008. The research was conducted in the criminal departments of district courts in Bydgoszcz, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Łodź and Olsztyn. Most cases were examined by the courts in Gdańsk and Łodź.
In the analysed cases most hostages were men. For the most part the people forced to pay the ransom ran business activities generating significant revenues. In 71% of cases the ransom was paid, with negotiations lasting from a few to a dozen days.
"The kidnappers had very good knowledge of the victims' financial situation. For the most part the person forced to pay the ransom was related to the hostage, and less often a business partner (7%). Sometimes the people who organized the kidnapping were people from the victim's immediate surrounding: friends, partners, employees or neighbours," says Dr. Pruszkiewicz-Słowińska.
Initially, kidnappings often involved people associated with illegal business. Today, anyone who is doing well for themselves and is able to quickly gather a large amount of cash should be aware of the fact that they can become a victim of crime.
In the cases studied it never happened that the perpetrator did not free the hostage. Two abductees managed to escape. Despite the fact that the perpetrators were convicted, the vast majority of victims never recovered the money. What is Polish kidnapping like?
In Poland it is organized crime groups that are responsible for the majority of kidnappings. They often kidnap in broad daylight, in front of people, in the open. Kidnappers operate as though they fear no-one and nothing, for example witnesses. They want to kidnap the victim as quickly as possible and to extort a ransom from them.
Research shows that ransoms range from a few thousand zloty to several million dollars. Criminals prefer dollars or euros. Kidnappers are very brutal, especially towards men. In the case of children the kidnappers treat them relatively gently. The average detention of hostages in Poland lasts from a few days to a few weeks. If the family obeys the kidnappers' orders, most often the victim is released.
Dr. Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz-Słowińska is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Trial at the Faculty of Law and Administration at UWM. She teaches criminal procedure and the protection of personal data and classified information. The book "Kidnappings for ransom – an analysis of the role of the victim" is her doctoral thesis.