Explore the ethics of shoplifting with this dilemma

SHOPLIFTING MIGHT NEVER lead the evening news, but it’s still a major problem. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (shopliftingprevention.org), more than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers in the United States each year. That’s more than $35 million every day. A quarter of shoplifters are kids, and more than half of adult shoplifters started stealing as teens. Theft Ethics

While we hope our Scouts would never steal, they might well know kids who do. Whatever their exposure, shoplifting is a good topic for an ethical discussion in your troop or crew. Here’s a story to get you started.

The Dilemma
Bobby is one of those guys who never quite fit in. He’s not a jock, not a brain, not in the band. He just goes to class at Ridgeway High, goes home on the bus and goes about his business. So when his classmate Trevor invites him to join The Group, a sort of unofficial school club that spends a lot of time playing paintball and video games, he’s thrilled. For the first time since he started high school, he’s going to belong.

Then Trevor tells him about The Group’s initiation ritual. In order to get in, he has to go on a little shoplifting adventure at Walmart. Bobby is hesitant, but Trevor assures him that it’s no big deal. He just has to lift a sweatshirt or something, which won’t make any difference to a store that brings in a gazillion dollars every year.

That Friday night, Bobby reluctantly accompanies Trevor to Walmart. He enters a dressing room with the cheapest sweatshirt he can find on the discount rack, puts it on under his jacket and quickly heads for the parking lot, expecting every step of the way to be tackled by a security guard.

A security guard doesn’t spot him, but someone else does: his friend Archer. Now, Bobby’s crime has become Archer’s ethical dilemma.

For Discussion
Begin the discussion with a general exploration of shoplifting. You can find extensive background information, including shoplifting laws by state, at shopliftingprevention.org.

Discuss these questions with your Scouts or Venturers:

  • How do you define shoplifting? Why is shoplifting a crime?
  • Shoplifting doesn’t have a direct victim like robbery or burglary, so who are its victims?
  • Does shoplifting affect you and me? If so, how?
  • What are the punishments for shoplifting? (A little prior research can help here.)
  • Do you know someone who has shoplifted?

Archer could take several actions, including those listed below. To keep the discussion focused, talk about each action separately.

Archer does nothing

  • What is good or bad about doing nothing?
  • Is Archer legally required to do anything? Is he morally required to do anything? Is there a difference?

Archer confronts Bobby

  • What is good or bad about confronting Bobby?
  • What should Archer say?
  • What should he do if Bobby denies the crime?
  • What should he do if Bobby explains that the crime is part of an initiation and that he’ll never steal again?
  • What should he do if Bobby promises to make amends by anonymously leaving $10 (the cost of the sweatshirt) at the store’s service desk?
  • What should he do if Bobby agrees to put the sweatshirt back on the rack?

 Archer reports the crime to the store

  • What is good or bad about reporting the crime?
  • What should Archer say?
  • What should he do if the store manager is unconcerned (an unlikely prospect) or if Bobby leaves the store before anything can be done?
  • Is there a way to report the crime yet keep Bobby out of legal trouble? Should that be a concern for Archer?

Ask the Scouts to think of other possible actions Archer could take. Rank all the possible actions, including those above, in order from most to least ethical. Challenge each Scout or Venturer to choose the most ethical option if he is ever in a similar situation.

Finally, discuss whether Archer should report Trevor and, if so, to whom. Is Trevor guilty of a crime because of what he encouraged Bobby to do?

Applying Scouting Values
Ask the youth how this scenario relates to the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Point out that the Scout Law begins with trustworthiness.


Read more ethical dilemmas to discuss with your troop or crew at SCOUTINGMAGAZINE.ORG/ETHICS.

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