Rachel Briggs was a university student when her uncle was taken and held by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia and held for 7 ½ months before being released. She recalls that time as stressful, challenging and frightening. In 2004, Terry Waite, the humanitarian author and former hostage of the Islamic Jihad Organization, and Briggs founded Hostage UK, a non-profit group to provide families of hostage victims the type of support Briggs says her family didn’t receive during her uncle’s captivity.
Many former hostages and family members of hostages work with Hostage UK. These include Phil Bigley, the brother of murdered former hostage Kenneth Bigley, former hostage Judith Tebbutt and former hostage Peter Rudge. Hostage UK has dealt with some high-profile cases including those of deceased aid worker David Haines and Peter Moore, who was freed after 31 months in captivity after being kidnapped in Iraq. After his death, David Haines’ family asked well-wishers to donate to the charity instead of sending flowers.
Briggs has advised governments, companies and non-profits across Europe and North America and is a regular commentator in the international media. She is an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). She was formerly Research Director at The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Head of International Strategy at Demos, Head of the Risk and Security Programme at The Foreign Policy Centre, and Senior Honorary Research Associate at UCL. She is on the editorial board of the journal Renewal, spent a decade on the Advisory Board of Wilton Park (an Executive Agency of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), and Co-Chair of the European Commission’s Working Group on the Use of the Internet and Social Media to Tackle Radicalization.
Briggs recently moved to the United States and is founding Hostage US as an American 501(c)(3) counterpart to Hostage UK. Hostage US publicly launches at the end of this month.
Why are you establishing Hostage US?
Hostage UK was established by people with direct experience of kidnapping who understand the needs of hostages and their families. Our work is overseen by a dedicated team of Trustees who play an active role in our day-to-day work. We see the same type of services needed for U.S. citizens who are taken hostage. We have good relationships with the U.S. corporate security world, including ISMA, OSAC and ASIS, and we believe that we can provide support for kidnapped U.S. citizens and their families.
What services do you offer a hostage and his/her family?
We are about offering support instead of handling or taking care of the management of the case. Our team includes psychologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, financial advisors and communications experts who give their time free of charge. We don’t offer an operational response or get involved in the hostage negotiations or raise ransom or arrange rescues. We can’t bring back the loved one. We can help the family to make sense of what is happening, understand what to expect and how best to deal with things. We can put the family in contact with a former hostage or family member, to remove any feelings of isolation they might be feeling. We can also attend meetings with the family to take notes and be a friendly and reassuring presence. We can help the family to cope with practical challenges as they arise, such as financial household management, dealing with banks and financial institutions and liaising with employers. We can also put the family in touch with experts to help them deal with the media, and we can help to prepare background information or ‘‘proof of life’’ materials. Overall we offer support, free of charge regardless of any financial situation. We provide confidentiality: we don’t speak publicly or privately about any of the people we support. And, we are entirely independent. Families who go through a kidnap, at some point, will come to question where there is a conflict of interest. For us to do our job and provide support, we need to be independent of all interests.
How can corporate security become involved?
We are looking for organizations to give their time and expertise, such as hotel groups, airlines, law firms for legal support, and mental health specialists. For example, we need to create a network of trauma counselors. We are looking to create a network of specialists, and we believe that corporate security can play a huge role.
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