JEDDAH, 23 May 2005 — Doctors say there are two kinds of theft — the criminal kind and another type that comes from mental problems. Those with mental problems, however, might be wise to get a hand with their problems before they lose a hand because of them.
One popular explanation for theft is that it is a crime born of poverty and need. Sometimes, however, thieving has other and less obvious causes, and people with no economic need to feel driven to steal objects of little value to them.
Omar Abdul Latif, a loss prevention manager, told Arab News about several cases of kleptomania and the motivation behind them. Kleptomania is characterized by an irresistible urge to take invaluable objects that are not needed for personal use. Kleptomania cases are identified by two causes that can be traced to childhood. Children who are spoiled and undisciplined can become possessive, which in turn can lead to selfishness and kleptomania in adulthood.
Another cause can be deprivation during childhood — perhaps by not allowing the child to own anything or taking what little they own away. As they reach adulthood, individuals develop an obsession for possession that manifests itself as kleptomania.
Abdul Latif said just before a theft, the kleptomaniac experiences increased tension, sated only by theft of an object.
“At the time of theft, the patient feels pleasure or relief,” he said. “Most of the kleptomaniacs are unconscious of their actions until they are caught by someone else.”
Some cases are truly bizarre.
One woman was caught in a supermarket with bottle of skin cream hidden in her bag that only cost SR5. “When the security alarm rang and the security man approached her, she was surprised,” he said. “When the guards asked to check her bag she gave it willingly with a smile on her face.”
After they found the skin cream, the woman protested she had no idea how the cream arrived in her bag. It was obvious she stole the cream unconsciously.”
That theft is a crime reserved for the poor is untrue. Individuals who are well-off and from well-known families can be kleptomaniacs.
A Saudi bank manager was caught in a supermarket hiding a razor in his pocket. When the security caught him he denied stealing it. He defended his action by using his status as a bank manager and his ability to pay easily as proof that he would not have stolen the item.
“I earn a large salary and I have my own business and am a wealthy well-known person,” he said. He handed them his business card which shocked guards after they learned his identity. The issue then was handled discreetly.
Some women claim to have been robbed at wedding parties and social gatherings attended by the well-to-do. The line between kleptomania and conscious theft is blurred. The generally agreed definition of kleptomania is an irresistible compulsion to steal, motivated by neurotic impulse rather than material need. No specific cause is known. The condition is considered generally as the result of an underlying emotional disturbance rather than as a form of neurosis in itself.
In most countries, kleptomania is not classified as insanity, and individuals are held responsible except when complete lack of control over their actions can be positively established.
Bayan Saeed, a frequent guest at weddings, was a victim of theft — or was it kleptomania? She was robbed last year in one of Jeddah’s best wedding halls.
“First, I suspected the waitresses,” she said, “but I found the stolen items with one of the guests who was wearing an expensive outfit. She claimed they were hers, but when I checked the bag I found several of my personal items as well as my mobile phone.”
Majed Batterjee, the head of Al-Batterjee Security Products, said they have experienced several cases of kleptomania that stretch the definition beyond the limit.
“A woman entered a famous brand men’s shop in Jeddah accompanied by three body guards,” Batterjee said. “She grabbed an expensive leather jacket that cost more than SR4,000, cut off the plastic security tag and left the store without paying. The salesman pleaded that the jacket would be taken out of his salary, but she ignored him.”
Batterjee told of another incident in the Eastern Province when a woman entered the store with her five-year-old son. She took off her son’s old outfit and dressed him with new one from the store and left.
“When she was questioned, she claimed that she came with her son wearing an identical outfit,” Batterjee said.
Mona Sawaf, a psychiatrist at King Fahad Hospital, said that there is no connection between kleptomania and theft.
“Theft is the conscious act of taking a valuable object, while kleptomania is an unconscious practice, which has nothing to do with the value of the object. A kleptomaniac, because he or she becomes addicted to the relief of the anxiety they experience, takes objects of little or no value.”
She added that about 10 percent of theft cases are committed by kleptomaniacs, mainly the elderly or teenagers.
“Kleptomaniacs can be cured by psychiatric treatment,” Sawaf said.
Etedal Idrees, instructor of Islamic culture in Dar Al-Hekma College, said the penalty of hand amputation is only viable if an object was stolen not out of poverty or starvation but for sheer greed.
“Exceptions could occur if the individual was a confirmed kleptomaniac and required treatment,” Idrees said.
A Jeddah police officer said they don’t consider kleptomania an illness and that it is be treated as a crime. “This would be used as an excuse by thieves to get out of the problem by claiming that they are kleptomaniacs,” the officer said. He added that there are two kinds of rights: The private rights — the right of the victim — and the public right, which is the government right.
The officer added that even if the victim of the theft forgave the thief the government still has to punish him. “After that if the police verify if he has been accused of the offense more than three instances, the hand is cut off,” he said.