SPECIAL REPORT: SHOPLIFTING
Why it’s never OK to steal.
“IT BECAME ABOUT HAVING CONTROL AND SEEING HOW MUCH I COULD GET AWAY WITH.”
Slipping an extra packet of Skittles into the bag at the self-checkout doesn’t count, right? And neither does secretly popping a lip gloss into your handbag? It’s only stealing if you take something expensive or break into someone’s house… right? Wrong. Taking anything you haven’t paid for – even if it’s only a $2 nail polish – is shoplifting (AKA racking or lifting) and it’s a BIG deal. Surprisingly, the peeps most likely to shoplift aren’t creepy-looking guys with tatts and guns like in the movies – it’s, um, you. Yep, the Australian Institute of Criminology did a huge study last year and found that females are higher than males on the shoplifting radar. Shoplifting is costing Aussie businesses millions of dollars every year and, more importantly to us, it’s landing young girls in some major trouble. “Penalties for stealing can range from an infringement notice through to time in a juvenile detention centre,” warns property crime squad commander Detective Superintendent Murray Chapman. “While it might seem like a way of gaining status among your friends or social media fame, there can be some quite serious consequences. Being charged with a criminal offence can have an impact on your ability to travel, study or get a job.” So if it’s such a big risk, why are teens doing so much shoplifting? A lot of girls shoplift because of the pressure to fit in. Maybe you’ve had someone ask you to act as a ‘lookout’ while they steal, or encourage you to shoplift something to prove you can be part of their group. But you need to realise that if someone is pressuring you to shoplift, they aren’t a very good friend – and if you get caught, they probably won’t have your back and you’ll be the one calling your mum from the security room at Westfield. Way to get grounded for life! Other young people are shoplifting because they’re curious. “It was an experiment at first. It seemed really easy to take things I wanted,” says Leanne, 17. “It was just something to do when I was wandering around the shops. Then it became about having control and seeing how much I could get away with. It was kind of like an eating disorder in that way. I never got caught, but I don’t do it anymore.” Sam, 18, grew up in a small town and says she used to shoplift because, if she didn’t, her life was just boring. “There wasn’t really much else to do. We just used to take things we wanted for a bit of excitement,” she admits. “It was kind of fun, but we were lucky that we never got caught – that would have been really embarrassing in our town!” Registered psychologist Makayla Heard agrees that teenage shoplifting often begins as an experiment. “For most young people, I’d say that they would shoplift out of curiosity, to see if they could get away with it, perhaps they’re pressured by peers, or they may want something they can’t afford – and getting caught is usually enough of a deterrent to stop,” she says. She explains that young people who keep shoplifting after being caught fall into two categories. The first group is thieves who steal to get what they want or to make money, and this includes not scanning all of the items at the self-serve checkout at the supermarket. But, she says, for the other teens who continue to shoplift, it may represent another problem. “Some young people shoplift as a cry for help, and often they won’t really know why they did it, didn’t even need the items and say they couldn’t help themselves,” says Makayla. “It is important to find out what else is going wrong in their lives, like with family or school, and work on fixing those issues.” If that sounds familiar, it might be a good idea to find someone to talk to. If it’s a bit embarro to bring up, you could try an anonymous source like Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800). It might also help to adopt some short-term solutions, such as not taking a bag into the shops or not going to the shops when you’re stressed. “When people get the care they need, the shoplifting behaviour should cease,” adds Makayla.