Stealing From Hotels: Harmless Thrill or Deeper Problems?

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Stealing for Fun and Sentiment

Some nick an item for sentimental reasons.

Steve, a 61-year-old CEO, says he took an ashtray from the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco 30 years ago because "it had my initials on it."

And Martha Chabinsky, a 58-year-old yoga teacher from New Hampshire, confesses she took a silver monogrammed teaspoon from Boston's venerable Locke-Ober restaurant on her wedding night.

"It's a nice reminder," she said. "I felt guilty at the time, but I had to have it. But that was the last thing I ever stole. As a yoga teacher, I learned there is more to stealing than the item taken -- in yoga there are rules for living."

Remorse is what differentiates the "atypical theft offender" from the "typical theft offender" or common thief, according to Will Cupchik, a Toronto psychologist and author of "Why Honest People Shoplift Or Commit Other Acts Of Theft."

Theft is "the occasional crime of the moral majority," said Cupchik.

But one of the "commonest mistakes" is to assume they do it for the thrill. The reasons, he said, are often unconscious and far more complex.

"Why would someone risk their job for a wine glass?" asked Cupchik. "Consciously, they may have done it for the thrill, but other psychological issues are going on."

In 1983 study that was published in a peer-reviewed journal, Cupchik and his colleagues concluded that those who steal had experienced some sort of loss. Often, they came from families touched by alcohol or drug abuse. A surprising 29 percent had cancer or were close to someone with the disease.

Sometimes offenders go for years without stealing, then something triggers the behavior -- a fight with a spouse, a sick child, loss of a promotion.

He concedes stealing from a restaurant or hotel may not be pathological, but asks, "Why does someone risk so much for so little?"

Anand, whose parents have plundered hotels around the world, asks the same question.

"I would draw the line at the silk shoe bags and my parents could afford the corkscrew," he said.

"On one level my step dad gets a childish kick out of it and thinks it's funny," said Anand. "But I think I would take the moral high ground. It's stealing, no matter what level."

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