Anti-Kidnapping Collaboration (Mexico)

Mobile Solutions to the Mexican Kidnapping Epidemic (MAKE): Beyond Elite Counter-Measures Towards Citizen-Led Innovation

Kidnapping has emerged as a major source of societal insecurity in Mexico, with public authorities recording 1,698 kidnappings in 2013. However, despite this being the highest number on record, official statistics reflect only a small fraction of incidents and the majority of kidnappings go unreported. Police complicity; high levels of impunity; failure to uphold the rule of law: all have eroded public confidence in state capacity to combat this illicit practice. In this context, the insecurity born of kidnapping pervades Mexican society and the so-called ‘democratization’ of this threat ensures that it is no longer just the rich who are exposed. This criminal phenomenon also manifests extra-territorial reach as its ramifications seep across the US-Mexico border.

The project ‘Mobile Solutions to the Mexican Kidnapping Epidemic: Beyond Elite Counter-Measures Towards Citizen-Led Innovation’ is charting the shifting topography of the Mexican kidnapping epidemic and examining various ‘mobile solutions’ that have emerged to counter it. These include strategies such as: internal/external migration; cross-border security services; escort security; and, personal locator-chips. However, our research ambitions extended beyond these multiple mobilities and the protection of wealthy elites, to engage with innovative ‘citizen-led’ responses. Working with activist-citizens, NGOs and human rights defenders, our transnational academic collaboration has built capacity within Mexico by developing a portfolio of counter-kidnapping resources. Together we worked to provide answers to the key question: how do you counter kidnapping when you cannot access private solutions or rely on the state? 

Through Participatory Action Research (PAR) with activists and victims’ groups, we have explored the potential of the following resources: a counter-kidnapping handbook; a support- network that links the families of kidnap victims with civic activists; and, a mobile-phone ‘app’ developed as both a secret alerting system and a secure reporting mechanism. Whilst the connection between security and technology is often framed in terms of social or mobility control in academic debates, our research takes an alternate approach. We examine how technology can facilitate, rather than restrict, mobility, as well as how it can both protect human rights and those who defend them. Harnessing the potential of new technological resources, we had explored new means to foster strategies of peer-to-peer security planning, to strengthen victims’ independence and to improve their capacities to assist others. Integrating new technology into citizen-led counter-kidnapping we have worked to bring forth much needed social change. 

This project is seeking not only to track this illicit phenomenon across Mexico’s social classes and territorial boundaries, but also to harness a deeper understanding of kidnapping to both inform and innovate citizen responses. By extending counter-measures against kidnapping beyond entrepreneurial private security solutions for elites towards wider societal benefit through citizen-led action, we pioneer new thinking on how to guarantee security when states fail to uphold the rule of law. Furthermore, as kidnapping is a regional problem across Latin America, our research is also providing a template that can be adapted for other contexts.

Researcher: Camilo Tamayo González.