x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Cross-dressing crime wave

A ban on men working in women's shops has caused security concerns after cross-dressing thieves target stores.

SHARJAH // When a ban on men working in women's shops was announced two months ago, there were concerns that security could be a problem without male guards. But few could have predicted the move would lead to a cross-dressing crime wave. On Monday, police arrested seven Afghans whom they accuse of dressing in abayas to rob stores. The men targeted shops staffed only by women, a senior police officer said.

The abayas brought the dual benefit of gaining the men access to women-only shops and disguising their identity to make them harder to catch. "We [had] several complaints of men robbing women shops almost on a daily basis," the officer said. "The cases were so many that police decided to make a plot to catch the criminals." The thieves would usually enter stores staffed by a lone saleswoman and threaten her with a knife. They would take money, clothes and jewellery.

On other occasions, the gang dispensed with the abayas to rob customers as they left a shop, police said. They allegedly approached women and told them that something was wrong with their car, but then snatched their handbags. Police made the arrests after studying CCTV footage of one of the robberies. They identified two suspects from the footage and followed them to a flat where the suspects were living.

When the flat was raided, police found jewellery, abayas, handbags and women's watches. The police officer said the men had all confessed. Their cases were referred to the public prosecution. Police cautioned staff in women-only shops to report anything suspicious. The Sharjah Economic Development Department announced in July that shops selling women's products should be staffed by women only. The law is not due to come into force until January, but many shops have already started implementing it.