Thieves in Venezuela have begun stealing hair -- which can be sold for around $80 on the black market -- as a new form of income, highlighting the extent of the rampant insecurity affecting the country.
Scissors-wielding assailants in Venezuela's northwest Zulia department have been trapping women in public places, including in shopping centers, and cutting off their hair, which can then be sold to salons for up to 3,000 bolivares ($476 at official rates or $80 on the black market), reported El Nuevo Herald. In Maracaibo, the department capital, the crime has become such a problem that police have begun a special operation aimed at catching hair thieves.
According to Semana, the crime is performed by gangs of thieves, including a group of women called the "Piranhas," who operate in the center of Maracaibo. Officials said that women had reported being held at gun point and forced to put their hair in a ponytail so it would be easier to cut off.
The stolen hair is sold to salons for wigs and for increasingly popular hair extensions.
InSight Crime Analysis
Though the crime seems slightly absurd, it is in effect a reflection of the extremely poor security situation the country is facing. The fact that thieves can trap and rob a woman in a commercial center without fear of retribution, let alone steal her hair, paints a picture of a country where illegality reigns. The crime is also clearly profitable, bringing in comparable profits to stolen cell phones, and victims can be easily chosen based on physical characteristics.
Venezuela saw a record daily average of homicides for the first four months of 2013, and Maracaibo was placed on a list of the world's 50 most dangerous cities this year. Crime is facilitated in great part by high levels of corruption in the police and security forces, and a justice system that has been rated among the worst in the world. Although the issue is now high on the agenda for the new government of Nicolas Maduro, which has introduced some measures to reign in violent crime, government legitimacy in the fight is reduced by the fact that it covers up unfavorable crime statistics.