In her new book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting,
Rachel Shteir details the history and specifics about the propensity certain people have towards stealing. This habit is often viewed as primarily a woman’s crime and even a bit glamorized by the media attention given to young female celebrities (think: Lindsey Lohan) but this is not the reality. In fact, women and men actually shop lift at the same rate with men edging slightly ahead.
People tend to steal things they want, not necessarily things they need. In terms of what people actually steal the gender division is fairly clear. Men tend to steal items such as small electronics and women are more drawn to cosmetic and clothing items in general.
There are also different types of shoplifters which include the amateurs, or individuals, stealing for their own reasons, and the professional shoplifters engaging in what is called organized retail theft. The professionals tend to travel in packs and will resell the goods they steal. So in essence stealing is their business.
There are a number of things that lead people to take things that don’t belong to them. Some are compelled by a feeling of emptiness and describe the act as a way to fill the void. Others are responding to an overwhelming impulse ad not unlike other impulse control disorders, have not learned to manage these feelings. These individuals will recount the intense build up of stress just prior to the theft and that stress is then released by the act itself. There are also those individuals for whom the need for instant gratification is an addiction in and of itself.
Why people stop shoplifting, if they do chose to stop, also varies widely. Some simply have been caught or fear being caught so much so that the cost outweighs the benefit. Others will talk about Karma, or the belief that what you put out into the world will ultimately come back to you, as motivating them to cease stealing. While others will have a moral awakening which may be the result of getting older and having a better understanding of right from wrong. Those that are addicted to the process may only stop once they have received treatment for the underlying mental health issues that cause the behavior.
If you are someone who has shoplifted in the past or has been exposed to shoplifting at some level then what are your reasons for taking something that doesn’t belong to you and if you have stopped doing so, why?
Here are a couple of resources for those who feel powerless over their impulse to steal and want to do something about it: