A not so stainless steal: A brief overview of kleptophilia

In a review of paraphilias not otherwise specified (P-NOS), Dr Joel Milner and colleagues defined kleptophilia – also known as kleptolagnia – as a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from illegally entering and stealing from someone’s house. For some kleptophiles, sexual arousal may occur when looking at, thinking about, or engaging in sexual play with the stolen object. If the things stolen (e.g., such as ladies’ knickers) are the sole sexual focus, then it would be classed as fetishism. may be the appropriate diagnosis. If the behaviour itself (e.g., the act of actually stealing something) is the sexual focus (rather than the stolen items), then it would be classed as kleptophilia (i.e., because the sexual arousal derives from either the act of stealing the items or the fact the items were stolen, the object itself is not considered sexual). Furthermore, this would be classed by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as a P-NOS. In extreme cases, kleptophilia is sometimes associated with sexual sadism. For example, a 1991 paper by Dr. Lauren Boglioli and colleagues in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology reported that kleptophiles may sexually assault and/or rape the owner of the house that was burgled.

There has been relatively little research on kleptophilia and much of what is known comes from case studies (typically those who have been caught and arrested for the crime committed). The origin of the stolen item (i.e., whose item it is) may have some personal meaning for the kleptophile but for others it may be of no psychological consequence at all. The item may need to have belonged to someone personally significant for the act of stealing the item to be considered sexually pleasurable to the kleptophile. It has also been said that some kleptophiles may engage in their paraphilic behaviour legally by pre-arranging with a third party to have something stolen from their house. However, it is thought that most kleptophilic events are non-consensual and illegal, and thus result in criminal records for those kleptophiles that are caught.

Early writings by the psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel drew attention to the notion that stealing may have a sexual sense, and that doing a forbidden thing secretly may be a means of masturbation. Fenichel also asserted that for some people who steal, the sexual meaning is in the foreground and are therefore closer to being a paraphilia, and that the stolen object is the fetish itself.

In a 1999 issue of the Journal Of The American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, Dr. Louis Schlesinger and Dr. Eugene Revitch reported that:

Burglary, the third most common crime after larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft, is rarely the focus of forensic psychiatric study. While most burglaries are motivated simply by material gain, there is a subgroup of burglaries fueled by sexual dynamics. [We] differentiate two types of sexual burglaries: (1) fetish burglaries with overt sexual dynamics; and (2) voyeuristic burglaries, in which the sexual element is often covert and far more subtle. Many forensic practitioners have informally noted the relationship of burglaries to sexual homicide, but this relationship has not otherwise been studied in any detail”

A more recent paper led by by Dr. Michael Vaughan (University of Pittsburgh, USA) examined a sample of 456 adult career criminals. Using a statistical technique called latent profile analysis, Vaughan and colleagues constructed a methodologically rigorous quantitative typology of career burglars. Their findings revealed four distinct types of burglars. These were (i) young versatile burglars, (ii) vagrant burglars, (iii) drug-oriented burglars, and (iv) sexual predator burglars. All four groups showed significant involvement in various criminal activities, but the “sexual predators” were the most violent and had the most serious criminal careers. However, the paper did not isolate the motivations for burglary and so it is not known to what extent any of the sample participants (and particularly the sexual predators) were kleptophiles.

In kleptomania (i.e., the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects not needed for personal use or their monetary value), the underlying aim is not the stolen item itself but the act of stealing (in the same way that in kleptophilia, the act of stealing is the sexual focus, not the item stolen). In a 1983 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Chalkley and Dr. Powell provided clinical descriptions of 48 of their patients with sexual fetishes, and noted that fetishism is not a criminal act unless accompanied by stealing fetish objects (i.e., kleptophilia). Interestingly, the authors reported that one of their 48 patients stole because he was attracted to stealing clothes, another stole to procure used and stained clothes, and a third stole to obtain something belonging to someone he had desired and followed home. In a review of kleptomania the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr M.J. Goldman reported that many young people with kleptomania have stolen women’s underwear. He stressed that the ecstasy and urges felt while stealing a fetish object can contribute to sexual arousal and orgasm.

To my knowledge, only one case study in the psychological literature has specifically reported on the relationship between fetishism and kleptomania in a 2009 issue of the Archives of Neuropsychiatry. The paper was written by a group of Turkish psychiatrists led by Dr. Fatih Öncü and reported the case of a 32-year old married male patient suffering from both fetishism and kleptomania who was referred for psychiatric evaluation as a result of multiple stealing of the “fetish” items (mainly ladies’ underwear).

“At the age of 13-14 he had started to steal women’s garments (particularly scarves and skirts) at night. He used to take them to a secret place and masturbated with them while imagining having sex with the women he admired. After ejaculation, he threw the clothes away or burnt them. It was fifteen years ago when he first served a short jail sentence of about 45 days for stealing women’s garments…The same year he was arrested and jailed for 15 more days for the same reason, which was repeated 2-3 times in the next year, when he was jai- led for one month for each act, and four more times in the next ten years…Eight years ago, when he committed a crime similar to those mentioned above, a medical report with a diagnosis of ‘Psychosexual Disorder-Fetishism’ was issued by a state hospital. [He was] unable to control his impulses, repeatedly stole women’s garments (particularly while intoxicated) and had orgasm with these objects despite all social difficulties and punishments, and that he felt distressed, ashamed and regretful about his acts of stealing, he was diagnosed with the mental disease of “Fetishism and Kleptomania (involving only the fetish object)”.

According to the authors, the most important characteristics of this particular case are that (i) the individual stole items (in this case women’s underwear) that were not needed for personal use or their monetary value, and (ii) the act of stealing was recurrent and compulsive, but not preplanned. The authors note that while the intention in this case appears to be to possess the fetish item, the man was additionally gratified by the act of stealing itself. He did not need the items for their monetary value, and people close to him (such as his wife) already had such items.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Boglioli, L. R., Taff, M. L., Stephens, P. J., & Money, J. (1991). A case of autoerotic asphyxia associ- ated with multiplex paraphilia. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 12, 64-73.

Chalkey, A.J. & Powell, G.E (1983). The clinical description of forty-eight cases of sexual fetishism. British Journal of Psychiatry, 142, 292-295.

Goldman, M.J. (1991). Kleptomania: Making sense of the nonsensical. American Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 986-996.

Milner, J.S. Dopke, C.A. & Crouch, J.L. (2008). Paraphilia not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and Theory In Laws, D.R. & O’Donohue, W.T. (Eds.), Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment and Treatment (pp. 384-418). New York: Guildford Press.

F Öncü, S Türkcan, Ö Canbek, D Yeşilbursa, N Uygur Fetişizm ve Kleptomani: Bir Adli Psikiyatri Olgu Bildirimi, Nöropsikiyatri Arşivi 2009;46(3):125-128

Revitch, E. (1983). Burglaries with sexual dynamics. In L. B. Schlesinger & E. Revitch (Eds.), Sexual dynamics of anti-social behavior (pp. 173–191). Springfield, IL: Thomas.

Schlesinger, L., & Revitch, E. (1999). Sexual burglaries and sexual homicide: clinical, forensic, and investigative considerations. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, 27, 227-238.

Zavitzianos, G. (1983). The kleptomanias and female criminality. In L. B. Schlesinger & E. Revitch (Eds.), Sexual dynamics of anti-social behavior (pp. 132-158). Springfield, IL: Thomas.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on June 26, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Crime, Mania, Obsession, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Paraphilia, Psychiatry, Psychological disorders, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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