Thieves are targeting long-haired women in the city of Maracaibo and cutting off their hair to sell as extensions to salons. Anna Hunter reports

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Apparently in the mid-19th century, hair was worth twice its weight in silver. Thick, glossy Mediterranean manes were the most highly prized, with “hair harvests” taking place in poor, rural areas of Italy, so that women could sell their crowning glories to wig-makers for a meagre profit. Unfortunately many women didn’t even get a say in the trading of their tresses, with women in 1869 having their ‘whole hair cut off in broad daylight in Westbourne Grove’ according to The Times.

Given our proximity to said London area, us glossies are considering taking protective measures when we nip out for lunch - hats, helmets and scarves at the ready. While we are fortunate not to face such threats to our locks in the modern day, the same cannot be said for women in the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo.

Gangs of thieves, known as the Piranhas, have been targeting long haired women in the country’s second largest city, stalking shopping malls, beaches and other public spaces to source valuable tresses to sell on as hair extensions to salons and manufacturers. The thefts normally involve two or three gang members surrounding a victim, forcing her to pull her hair back into a ponytail before slicing it off with a sharp blade. Long, straight hair fetches the best price, and according to CNN salon owners can charge over £300 to weave real human hair into the client’s own.

Speaking to Globovision news, Venezuelan stylist Jhonatan Morales said that ‘demand for hair extensions has increased by 30%’. Despite many salons, such as Jhonatan’s own, refusing to purchase hair without knowing its origin, it’s clear the hair extensions market is still booming.

In response to the recent outbreak of hair theft, Venezuela’s president Nicolás Morales last Wednesday assured citizens that himself and the authorities would not be taking such heinous hair crimes lightly.

“We will capture these people, we will legislate to ban this crime. What sort of aggression is this? Our girls are sacred and we will apply the law with great force.”

He claimed that the hair stealing  ‘mafias’ originated from Colombia. Given the proximity of Maracaibo to the Colombian border, the city is a centre for smuggling and prone to gang crime, violence and kidnappings. Murder rates are high and food and goods shortages are common. For many in Maracaibo, this recent wave of crime is the last straw.

Luis Navas, a police inspector in the town, expressed his exasperation and concern about the issue to local media:

“The crime is not taken seriously by many, but the truth is that you have a population, mainly women between the ages of 16-35, who now have an extra worry that fuels this life in constant fear, and that’s where the real crime lies.”

While the BBC’s Irene Caselli in Venezuela confirms that the authorities have not yet received any formal complaints, many have taken to social media to protest. Girls admit to being too embarrassed to report the hair thefts, but victims have described the ordeals as traumatic in an interview with Diario Panorama CNN.

The city’s mayor, Aveling de Rosales, recommended in a statement that ‘women avoid wearing their hair down in public places as it facilitates theft’. He assured local residents that guards had been stationed at the entrances of shopping centres, however Navas claimed that ‘no plan has been put in place, and no unit has been deployed to guard mall entrances’. In spite of the president’s promises, it seems that long-haired dwellers of Maracaibo may be forced to keep their sought-after strands out of sight for some time yet.