The high-profile case of Brittany Grinder’s detention in Russia brought the harsh realities of the risk of traveling internationally into the consciousness of everyday Americans. However, as the Washington Post recently reported, many U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained receive far less media attention—and their numbers have only grown over the last decade. 

The risk of being kidnapped or wrongfully held in high-risk travel destinations or within the borders of U.S. adversaries is real for those brave enough to venture into the unknown. 

As FBI Special Agent Robert Saale shared, “Not a week goes by without the kidnapping of an American citizen abroad,” and while some situations can be resolved quickly, others may mean years of hardship for both those targeted and their loved ones.

What Do We Know About Americans Detained or Missing Abroad?

While details of some of the better-known cases of Americans held in foreign countries hit the headlines, the true scale of this problem remains veiled in secrecy. The State Department remains unwilling to share exactly how many Americans currently face this dire fate, with some cases seemingly considered classified and others simply undisclosed. 

Certain hostile regimes such as Russia, Iran, and Turkey are seen as the most common culprits when it comes to wrongful detention, however, ill intention or a simple misunderstanding can lead to an American being detained just about anywhere in the world.

Of course, for many families searching for loved ones who have gone missing overseas under mysterious circumstances, it can be difficult to identify whether they could have been detained under suspicion of a crime or in a visa dispute—especially when communication is prevented. Locating such missing persons abroad can be essential for ensuring they receive legal support and to safeguard their rights, making adequate investigation absolutely vital.

Federal Resources for Americans Missing Abroad

Historically, families have looked to the State Department, the FBI, and even international agencies like Interpol for support in finding and helping loved ones who are missing, kidnapped, or detained overseas. These remain key authorities in the search for U.S. citizens missing abroad, however for the last seven years, those left behind have benefited from the additional attention of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell.

This specialized task force was established under Presidential Policy Directive 30 in 2015 to bring home Americans in trouble. Speaking about its formation, assistant director of the FBI’s Victim Services Division Kathryn Turman shared: “The voices of hostage families on their interactions with their government were the driving force behind the White House hostage policy review and the creation of the HRFC.”

What You Can Do if Your Loved One is Missing or Detained Abroad

The first steps to take upon realizing that your loved one is missing abroad and may have been detained are to connect with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate and the State Department’s Overseas Citizens Service. You may feel able to reach out to local law enforcement in the country where your loved one was traveling, however if in doubt, embassy or State Department staff will be able to provide advice and guidance.

Oftentimes, media attention is pivotal in the successful resolution of cases of wrongful detention of a person missing overseas. Contacting media outlets both at home and abroad and launching social media campaigns can be highly effective strategies. You can explore our missing persons resource page for further information in these areas. 
When coming up against brick walls with local authorities or feeling frustrated with the support provided by American federal agencies, many families seek additional help from an international missing persons investigator. This specialized type of private investigator will offer a unique skillset in navigating the challenges that precede bringing a loved one home under such complex circumstances. If you require expert advice or want to get boots on the ground abroad that will answer directly to you, reach out to the Lauth Missing Persons team today.