Warren, MI asked in Civil Rights and Criminal Law for Michigan

Q: How should I handle being stopped by an accusation of shoplifting when my ostomy bag is full?

I am an ostomate; there has been an increase in reports from fellow ostomates on support group sites of being stopped/accused of shoplifting when they have a full bag or bulges from a parastomal hernia. Some have resorted to exposing their body and/or medical device; some have even been poked in the "bulge" which can be painful or even cause injury (the bulge includes the bit of intestine sticking out of the abdominal wall or is a hernia, both painful if poked). Unfortunately, walking through a store tends to stimulate the digestive tract, leading to a usually filling bag when heading to checkout. Stress can have the same result, and, as I do not even know how to appropriately handle this situation without the ostomy issue, find the thought of being put in this position stressful. Even worse is the thought of being faced with this issue while in a dress! I am hoping that having a "what if" plan eases that stress and would allow me to handle any such situation appropriately.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Brent T. Geers
Brent T. Geers
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Licensed in Michigan

A: Great question! It's hard to give a "right" answer because there are a number of variables to consider...including the reality that some people simply lack empathy.

The simple answer is to do what probably comes naturally to you: if confronted, remain calm and explain that you have a medical condition that requires the use of that bag, and offer to go with them to a private area if they would like to verify. That though, may not resolve the embarrassment and humiliation.

In an ideal world, store security should not be stopping you unless they have already seen something suspicious. Good stores generally don't want to risk being wrong and the negative publicity and good will that may result.

Self-checkout lanes are becoming increasingly common and are quickly becoming the most common way shoplifting and mistakes happen. If it were me, I would avoid using self-checkouts, which should greatly reduce your chances of being accused.

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