The title is hyperbolic, but I truly was a crime victim this weekend. My wife and I took our kids to a local amusement park, and at some point in the morning, someone stole my wife's phone from her bag. When she first noticed it was missing, we wondered if she had accidentally left it in the car. We thought maybe she dropped it somewhere. But, she kept coming back to the same conclusion: she remembered putting it in her bag after we stopped for a snack, and it was no longer in her bag.
We assumed the phone was gone for good, but I thought it might be a good idea to send a text message to the presumed criminal mastermind. The text read, "Do you have a phone that doesn't belong to you? I would like it back please."
To my astonishment, I received a text message several hours later from my wife's phone. It explained that the current possessor of the phone had just bought it for $50, but that she wanted to give it back to us. She just wanted to be reimbursed for the money she paid for it. She also called me from my wife's phone and left me a voicemail, complete with her own cell phone number.
I assumed she was lying and that she was the one who took the phone in the first place. I also assumed she was monumentally stupid. But, when faced with the choice of standing on the side of principle, not paying her for our own property, and probably not getting the phone back versus paying $50 to avoid the expense of buying a new phone and dealing with potential identity theft issues, my wife and I quickly decided we were getting off cheap for only $50. After a quick text message exchange to arrange where to meet and a stop at an ATM, I paid the woman and got my wife's phone back.
Here is what I could have done: I could have taken a picture of the woman holding my wife's phone. I could have called the police and given them this woman's cell phone number. I could have brought her to justice--the phone is expensive enough that it might have qualified as felony theft. But, it was hot, it was late in the day, the whole family was tired and starving--my wife and I just wanted the phone back so we could go home.
Needless to say, I was in a very bad mood for the rest of the evening. I felt violated. I felt cheated. I couldn't shake the horrible feelings I had about meeting a person who was brazen enough to take someone else's property and then demand they pay her for it. Had I put my children in danger? Could I have been shot? All of these questions and emotions swirled in my mind.
Today, I feel much calmer about the incident. My only lingering regret is that we did not spray the phone thoroughly with Lysol, and I am wondering what weird sorts of ear diseases my wife has been exposed to.
Obviously, this was not a major violation. It may have been a felony, but it was not a big deal for me or my family. Nevertheless, I had a very strong, very negative reaction to it. I can only imagine how a person would respond after an assault, or a rape, or the murder of a loved one.
It makes me curious: Have you been a victim of a crime, big or small? What was your emotional reaction to it?
Thanks for reading this slightly unusual post from me. I'll be back to normal on Wednesday.
Max Wachtel, Ph.D.