Stealing a glance into shoplifting

The Dart examines the effects of shoplifting on the shoplifter, their family, the store and their community.

December 18, 2016


An anonymous girl hides necklaces and bracelets behind her back in an attempt to steal them from the store they are from. photo by Anna Louise Sih

story by Claire Molloy and Zoe Butler


While browsing the eyeshadow at Sephora, the newest Urban Decay Naked palette catches her eye, and she is immediately entranced. Reluctantly glancing towards the price tag, her hope for the palette diminishes after seeing the disappointing $60 tag. With a sigh, she walks away. However, for Alice*, the $60 tag is merely a suggestion and does not phase her at all. Why should it? She could just take it.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, about 55 percent of people who shoplift started in their teenage years. 89 percent of children know other children who shoplift, and around 65 percent of those children hang out with those who shoplift.

Alice is in Sephora holding the brown, matte evidence. While glancing up from across the aisle, she notices a store clerk giving her a suspicious look. Before she knows it, the lady is right behind her, making her second guess the decision of stuffing the palette into her bag. With a nervous glance around the store, she shuffles towards the door. She becomes even more frazzled when she sees a police officer enter Sephora.

According to STA student Jane*, there is a rush of adrenaline that flows over her when she steals. It gives her a high of sorts and, at times, feels addictive. It is one way Jane can feel better about herself. She struggled with mental illness, and successfully stealing made her feel accomplished.

“Sometimes I would go in places and I would be shoplifting only because it made me feel better,” Jane said.

But Jane didn’t begin stealing because it boosted her self-esteem. She was in a CVS with a friend when she saw a lipstick she really liked. She didn’t have any money with her, so she was joking around saying that she could just take it and no one would know. But this joke became a reality when her friend told her to take it, and she did.

For Anna*, another STA student, the fear of getting caught is partially what makes shoplifting so fun. Even though Anna never steals anything with a sensor on it, she gets a rush of adrenaline when she leaves with stolen goods.

“Every time as I’m walking out the door, I’m like ‘Oh my god, the alarm is gonna go off,’” and then I walk out the door and it’s fine,” Anna said. “It never goes off. But yeah, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kind of get a rush from it.”

Guidance counselor Amanda Johnson believes that students will continue shoplifting if they get the same result. The outcome plays a big role in whether a person will steal or not.

“[The result] is either ‘I stole something, it was fun, I got a rush, okay I’ll do it again,’” Johnson said. “…Or, ‘Well that was stupid because I spent a night in juvy and now I can’t.’”

photos by Anna Louise Sih

According to Jane, movies and television often paint shoplifting like a cool thing rich kids do because they want to. This idea was essentially the plot behind the 2013 movie ‘The Bling Ring’. This movie was based off of a real life group of teenagers who broke into celebrities’ houses to take whatever they wanted.

In recent years, accounts that romanticize shoplifting have begun to pop up on Tumblr, a social media site. ‘Pretty little lifters’, ‘Lift-Witch’ and ‘Klepto Bunny’ are just a few of the many accounts that post tips, tricks and hauls on the topic of shoplifting. Some accounts claim to be role playing accounts, in which they pretend to steal things, but others do not try to hide their crime.

According to Jane, she would never do anything like this because she wouldn’t want other people finding out that she shoplifts, and she doesn’t see it as something to brag about.

“I don’t want my mom finding out,” Jane said. “I feel bad about it, and it is not something that I am necessarily proud of for a long time afterwards.”

According to Johnson, it is difficult to tell how shoplifting will affect a person later in life. However, she thinks that people who have shoplifted will think about it for many years after.

“I think it’s hard to know how it’s gonna affect people,”Johnson said. “But I think if you’re honest with yourself, then you’ll probably have a little bit more remorse for what you did and it may cause you some psychological discomfort if you feel like you did something that you shouldn’t have done.”


Alice has to do a double take to realize the police officer is her friend’s dad. She leaves Sephora with a new Naked palette and slightly damaged ego. Later that day, the same police officer is standing on her doorstep. He reveals that he was called in to review the security tapes, because they were suspicious of someone shoplifting, only to discover that Alice had been the culprit. As Alice’s parents talk with the cop, her stomach twists. She didn’t realize until later that she would end up with only minimal punishment.

If caught, a call to the parents is seen as the best case scenario, according to Anna*.

However, many youths in the Kansas City area who have stolen and gotten caught have an entirely different reasoning behind their actions. Johnson used to work with juvenile offenders at Hilltop, a residential center aimed at providing “therapeutic services and quality treatment to adjudicated youth and their families,” according to their website.

Johnson doesn’t fully understand the reasoning behind St. Teresa’s students stealing if they have the money to pay for the items, especially after dealing with teenagers at Hilltop who were motivated by necessity rather than want.

“Essentially the main difference [between the teenagers at Hilltop and St. Teresa’s] is socio-economic status,” Johnson said. “A lot of the kids [at Hilltop] were raised in poverty, whereas a lot of students here are raised in middle to upper-middle class families. So not only are their financial resources more abundant, but also the students here have different access to education, to opportunities, to knowledge about the way things work around the world.”

According to Johnson, shoplifting was seen as a necessity rather than an option to these kids.

“If they wanted to eat that day or if they wanted their little sister or brother to have diapers, then that’s what they needed to do,” Johnson said.

Kayla Kratofil is a UMKC law student and assistant director of Kansas City Youth Court, which is “a peer court that acts as a diversion from the traditional juvenile justice system,” according to their website. She has tried teenagers in Youth Court who are shoplifting as a necessity, and says that when situations like that arise it’s difficult to find a balance between the legal aspect of it and the feeling of empathy for these kids.

“We try to help [the offenders] find a way where they could obtain the money or point them to resources that might be able to provide them with items or resources in order to obtain the materials that they need,” Kratofil said. “If we can help a youth figure out a potential job opportunity that’s maybe on the bus route, not that we could necessarily see them through all of that, but to be able to suggest alternatives.”

The idea of want versus need made Anna question her reasoning behind stealing.

“I could live without all this stuff that I take,” Anna* said. “But when people steal [things] like food, it just makes me sad, because you wouldn’t be stealing that if you didn’t need it.”

According to Kratofil, this opens up a conversation with the defendant about how this could negatively impact their future, and they show them other options that are available to them.

“We try to take that as another opportunity to discuss with them the impact of their decisions in saying this [opportunity] was a possibility before, but now that you have a criminal charge on your record, that’s just another way that your actions are going to impact you now and in the future,” Kratofil said. “It’s kind of a double edged sword where it’s a suggestion of a different way to do it, but now it’s kind of too late at that point.”

Kratofil stressed that it only takes one time to be caught, but getting away with shoplifting multiple times gives a false sense of “invincibility to the law.”

According to Kratofil, there is a certain course of action that follows after being caught, if the defendant is under 17 year old. First, it’s up to the store to decide if they want to press charges, which they most often do. Then they will contact a law enforcement officer or detain the defendant while they’re contacting the officer, who will come to gather all of the information from both sides.

The officer will run the defendant’s name through the system and pick a course of action based off of if they qualify for diversion programs, which are based on rehabilitation, like Kansas City Youth Court. If they don’t qualify, they need to go to formal juvenile court.

If the shoplifter is 17 (or older), which is the age of criminality, then the effects on them are far worse than being considered a minor. Kratofil says that the main difference between being tried as a minor rather than an adult is that the juvenile system is more oriented toward rehabilitation, whereas the adult system is typically punishment oriented.

“The juvenile in the family system versus specifically the juvenile system tries to evaluate the child or the youth and determine if they need any services to prevent this in the future,” Kratofil said. “That can include mental health services, classes, educational programs, mentor/mentee programs and a variety of other programs to address whatever underlying issues led to the criminality of the juvenile in order to be able to help them learn, and prevent them from committing crimes in the future when they reach the age of majority where the consequences would be much more severe in the adult system.”




Alice got lucky. Since it was only her first time getting caught, she was able to go through Youth Court. She only received a few hours of community service, and the crime didn’t go on her record. But what Alice doesn’t realize is the effect she has made on everyone else. Now, her younger sister sees that as acceptable behavior, and her parents have a newfound distrust towards her. Now, the employees at Sephora have a valid stigma against teenage girls shopping at their store. She thinks of how this impacted a big company like Sephora, and begins to realize the greater impact stealing has on small businesses.

According to sophomore Marie* the fear comes in with the possibility that “you could get caught.” But Mary Green, store manager of the (New) Dime Store, says she is more worried about the jobs and well-being of the shop.

“What it ends up doing, is that if you are a place where things get stolen from a lot, you’re losing so much money, that the owner is maybe not able to continue running the store, and things have to close down, so a lot of us would lose our jobs,” Green said. “So that’s a direct impact. It has never gotten to that, but it very well could.”

Many students seem to be aware of the fact that smaller, local businesses seem to be more heavily affected by theft, and don’t allow themselves to steal from places like the New Dime Store. But stealing from big corporations is justified in their minds because they don’t see all the people they are hurting, just one ‘big evil corporation.’

“I know people who have stolen from [stores like] It’s A Beautiful Day or Arizona Trading Co., and that just makes me mad, because an artist in our community is putting their art out and is trying to make a profit off of that,” Anna* said. “… if I think your art’s cool enough to buy, I’m gonna buy it. I’m not gonna steal it, because I can visualize the person I’m hurting. But with a corporation, I’m like, ‘they’re all evil.’”

According to Kratofil, almost everyone, whether directly or indirectly, is affected by shoplifting. The most obvious effects are on the defendant and their family. They are the ones that have to go to court, and the defendant has now started a criminal record. They have also altered their relationship with their parents and the “role model factor” with any younger siblings.

The effects that aren’t always immediately obvious are those on the store and community.

“When it comes to the store, they can lose revenue for any products that are not recovered or damaged or taken out of the packaging,” Kratofil said. “The store also has to pay for security measures like on-site officers and surveillance cameras. The community in general, if the store ends up losing a lot of money, they might have to raise prices for all of their products as well as the stereotyping that can happen to certain members of the community.”

Alice came full circle after seeing the effects on her family, her community and herself. She didn’t realize the harm she was causing until she took a step back and looked at the full picture. This wasn’t just one girl in Sephora, taking something she wanted. This was a sister, a daughter, a friend, a community member altering the way others saw her, and altering the way she saw herself.


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