PETALING JAYA - There is an increasingly worrisome trend of violent crimes resulting in grievous harm, said psychologist and criminologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat.
While victims were only deprived of their valuables in the past, they now face the danger of sustaining heavy injuries and even losing their lives in the process.
Women walking alone are popular targets, as with the case of obstetrician Dr Delaila Ahmad, whose thumb was cut off by snatch thieves in front of her polyclinic in Subang Jaya last Tuesday.
"There is a distorted cognitive justification for this violence: when in pain, the victim is less likely to chase after the motorcyclist, take down number plates, or provide meaningful information about the attackers," said Dr Geshina in an e-mail interview with The Star Online.
Onlookers are also more likely to help wounded victims instead of chasing after the culprits.
"Some cause harm to exert power over their victims. A few sadistic criminals also enjoy watching others in pain, and it serves as a bragging right among other snatch thieves," she said.
Dr Geshina, who is with Universiti Sains Malaysia's Forensic Science Programme, explained that there are two basic types of violent offenders: the caring and the uncaring.
The first type adopts a more hesitant approach, with a soft-spoken manner and seemingly harmless appearance.
They ask for permission first, seek compliance, and psychologically justify the need for violence.
"If the victim hands over their valuables, violence is less likely. If a sharp weapon is used, it is used once to stop the victim from chasing after the criminal," said Dr Geshina. However, the problem lies with the uncaring sort.
This confident lot approaches potential victims in a threatening manner with clearly verbalized threats and a readiness to spring into violence.
"Anything and nothing may trigger it. Perhaps the victim was slow to hand over the goods, or screamed suddenly to get help from passersby. This is enough for the criminal to lash out several times, often resulting in multiple slashes," she said.
Those who snatch while riding motorcycles belong to this class of criminal, as they are unconcerned with whether their crime causes the victim's death.
"Some snatch thieves like to operate during the day, some at night, and others steal whenever they want. The common elements are the opportunities to do so, the lack of someone capable of stopping them, and possible gain from the theft," said Dr Geshina.
Commercial hubs, packed neighborhoods, and industrial areas see higher crime rates as the potential victim pool is larger, various crimes can be committed in a wider zone, and there is a higher likelihood of escape.
Though ignorance of the law is not a viable excuse, Dr Geshina thinks that many criminals are unaware of the exact repercussions for their actions.
"The best deterrent against violent crime is education about our criminal justice system and the negative consequences to criminals and their families. Most importantly, knowledge of what the victim and his or her family suffers," she said.
To Dr Geshina, moral decay among the younger generation is also a factor, with her study last year showing lessening morality levels.
"People are becoming more individualistic. They come first, regardless of whether their personal needs harm others, so taking other people's hard-earned valuables is not a problem for robbers and the like," she said. She also blamed negligent parents who allow their children to play violent electronic games that blur the boundary between fantasy and reality.
However, parents are sometimes unaware of such activities as unethical cyber cafes allow young clients to indulge in said material without sufficient monitoring of content propriety.
"In Egypt, a four-year-old boy shot his father dead because the father refused to buy a violent game that the boy's cousin was playing. He thought his father will become alive again as per the characters in that game," she said.
As for safety activist and expert Captain K. Bala, violent crimes are a behavioural approach.
"Perpetrators think victims will counter and engage, so they hurt the victim to make them withdraw," he said in a phone interview with The Star Online.
Bala opined that the worth of someone's stolen valuables should not be made public knowledge as those "sitting at home earning nothing will be more aware of the easy money out there", and cautioned against oversharing on social media.
"The more people share a criminal's modus operandi on Facebook, the easier it is for others to learn how to commit the perfect crime. People need to be careful with what they share," said the director of training at the Code Red Survival Academy.
"Putting out your story on Facebook doesn't contribute to official statistics. While it's good to tell people what happened to you, the exact details should not be shared as it might give people ideas," said Bala, who added that young perpetrators are likely to surf the Internet for 'inspiration'
In the past, people took their troubles to the police and made an official report, which would begin the launch of a proper investigation.
"Now, less people are making official reports as they think nothing will come of it. Some find it easier to settle their troubles themselves. But you should lodge a report and let the police do their jobs," said Bala.
To avoid being "hidden statistics", the safety trainer encouraged Malaysians to report crimes so it will reflect on the crime index.
Proper statistics also help police procure a bigger budget from the government for crime prevention and hot spot treatment.
"If six people undergo - and report - snatch theft in front of a certain mall, the hot spot treatment would be to light up the area, install warning signs, or even a request for the mall to beef up security," he said.
With almost two decades of experience in conducting safety courses, Bala's top personal safety tip is to know the number of your district police headquarters (IPD).
"Instead of calling the 999 hotline, contact the police directly as the IPD can summon patrol cars to the site of the report," he said.