A chance to break free of his fetish

PHOTO: A chance to break free of his fetish

HE HAD spent the last 10 years in prison on preventive detention for stealing women's wallets. He had a fetish for them as they aroused him sexually.

The fetish was so strong that he committed a spate of similar offences barely a month after his release in February last year.

Low Ji Qing, 47, faced the prospect of another long spell behind bars. But this time, the economics graduate from the University of Western Australia was spared that fate.

Low has been in and out of jail a few times for theft offences since 1986.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to 36 months of supervised probation. He had earlier pleaded guilty to four charges of stealing women's wallets.

Another five similar charges and one charge of fraudulently obtaining five ez-link cards were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Under the terms of the probation order, Low has to make full restitution of about $5,000 to the victims in instalments over a 20-month period.

He also has to stay at a men's shelter and attend a treatment programme as part of his rehabilitation.

The court heard that Low was diagnosed to be suffering from fetishism - a psychiatric disorder that involves recurrent sexual fantasies, urges or behaviours involving the use of a non-living object.

Shame kept him from seeking treatment

Shame kept him from seeking treatment

He had told a government psychiatrist in 1996 that he would get sexually aroused from the smell of the leather wallets that he stole. That was the first time he had revealed the real reason behind his thefts.

But shame kept him from seeking treatment. And his disorder remained a secret for years. That was until he was nabbed for the spate of thefts that took place between March and May last year.

He took several women's wallets on six occasions at retail outlets such as an NTUC FairPrice supermarket and Tangs department store.

He also re-offended while out on bail.

On Nov 11, he stole an unattended wallet at Carrefour in Plaza Singapura. An hour later, at Isetan Scotts in Orchard Road, he took another wallet left unattended in a pram.

When the owner discovered the wallet missing, she approached the store manager, who directed a search in the store.

The wallet was found on a display shelf with its contents intact. Low had regretted stealing it and left it there.

He was detained by the store's security staff and handed to the police.

The court heard that in more severe fetishism cases like Low's, the disorder may manifest itself as a prominent feature in the person's life, causing disruptions in interpersonal relationships and other areas of functioning, including getting into trouble with the law.

In general, fetishism that is at a severe or high level "will persist throughout one's life and needs to be managed proactively to prevent problems arising," wrote Dr Todd Tomita, acting chief at the department of general and forensic psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), in a psychiatric report.

Dr Tomita noted that while there is no specific onset age for the disorder, it typically starts to strike in early adulthood.

Struggle began when he was 7

Struggle began when he was 7

For Low, his struggle with fetishism began when he was only seven.

He began by smelling his sister's belongings, such as her undergarments, handbags and wallets. Gradually, he preferred to smell only her wallet.

As he grew older, he had recurrent sexual urges and fantasies involving her wallet. He would go on to arouse himself with the wallets of his friend's sisters.

He continued doing this despite having a girlfriend for 11 years.

During his national service days, he would visit a library at the National University of Singapore, where he would take female students' wallets, look at their photographs and fantasise about them.

Low had held white-collar jobs ranging from executive to director-level positions before he fell into his life of crime, which began in 1985.

He would take women's wallets in places like supermarkets and shopping malls. He targeted attractive women who placed their wallets on top of supermarket trolleys.

Once he took the wallets, he would masturbate and leave them where people would see them and return them to the owners.

For theft, Low could have been jailed three years and fined on each charge.

This article was first published in The New Paper.