Bags are a recurring theme in this week's news. On the local front, there were two incidences involving theft of handbags, aka "purse-snatching": one on March 1 in the shopping complex near IH-45 and FM 646, and one on March 3 a short distance north of Centerpointe on Main Street.
I wish that news stories like these would provide more detail as to what may have triggered the specific crimes that occurred.
The first woman was robbed at approximately 1:00 a.m. Clearly, if you wish to increase your chances of being robbed, walk across any 24-hour Walmart parking lot after midnight (or any other commercial parking lot, for that matter).
But the second woman was robbed on a weekday right around five o'clock rush hour in the absolute center of League City, near the corner of Highway 3 and FM 518. It doesn't get any more publicly visible than that. Was this totally random, or was there something specific about the circumstances that led to that particular woman being targeted?
From the reporting as given, we'll never know, and these things are worth knowing. For example, did that woman appear unusually wealthy? Was she carrying the type of handbag that looked particularly expensive and therefore might contain a lot of cash or credit cards? Or was it a type (perhaps flimsy) that looked particularly easy to snatch?
American women tend to use handbags as fashion statements, whereas women in many other countries stick to a more utilitarian groove. WikiHow has an entry on preventing purse-snatching, but it doesn't really deal with that distinction.
Myself, I use a "cross-body bag", not to be confused with a "body bag". It's extremely difficult to buy a good utilitarian cross-body bag in America, as most of the ones I've found have been fashion-driven knock-offs of what women more often carry overseas.
This website claims that cross-body bags make women less vulnerable to purse-snatching. There may be some truth to that simply because a thief, looking at a woman whose purse is essentially wrapped around her body instead of carried in the hand or over the shoulder, may decide that it would be too much work to remove it (i.e., other women would be easier targets). Of course, a thief could cut the strap in order to circumvent this difficulty (my bag has a stainless steel cable running inside the strap to prevent that kind of thing).
Simply standing out from the crowd may also help, and women who wear utilitarian cross-body bags definitely don't fit the American mold. The key to avoiding crime is to make yourself appear atypical in a way that defies quick assessment and suggests relative strength. If a criminal cannot fit you into a preconceived stereotype that is immediately understandable in terms of its vulnerabilities, you are more likely to be passed over as a target.
Which brings us around to this week's second entry in the bag-related theme: shopping bags. The City of Austin has just passed one of the most comprehensive shopping bag laws in the nation. All plastic and paper bags will be banned at check-out counters starting in March of 2013. We can expect that precedents like this will eventually spread into other areas as well.
This type of restriction sounds like a PITA, but it's really not. I began carrying re-usable shopping bags several years ago not because I was suffering from greenie guilt, but because they are simply more convenient. The problem with disposable bags is that they have gotten smaller and smaller over the years as retailers have had to contend with lawsuits alleging that people got injured because they tried to lift a retailer's bag that was too heavy and therefore it caused them to throw their back out or otherwise get injured (although such lawsuits are not always successful). What's a true PITA is having to wrangle fifteen microscopic grocery bags when the contents would instead fit into two regular tote bags, which would then be easily manageble, one in each hand.
And of course, both of my hands are always free because I'm wearing a cross-body bag as my purse. So if you want to look like an unlikely bag-snatching prospect, wear a cross-body bag and carry your groceries in a couple of canvas tote bags.
Of course, my teenage daughter doesn't label this configuration as "unlikely bag-snatching prospect". She just calls it "nerdy".