Following the eighth: the consequences (or lack thereof) for stealing

The eighth commandment that Moses gave to the Hebrews after his visit to Mount Sinai was “Thou shalt not steal.” However, petty theft at Principia often goes ignored and unchecked.

First-time visitors walking through the Principia concourse are amazed when they see the number of backpacks full of valuables that lie around with no protection. Ambassadors proudly declare that the campus is theft-free. They promise that anyone can leave belongings around campus without worrying. That seems to be true in some cases; items like computers, backpacks, and textbooks rarely seem to move from the spot which they were placed.

Instead, objects that are usually stolen are everyday necessities. Sometimes, they are “borrowed” for indefinite periods of time. Every year, proposals are floated through student government on how to fix the issue of people using bikes, skateboards, or scooters without permission.

Freshman Cole Johnson said he left his scooter in the bike rack of Ferguson House only to find it later, muddy and broken—the manual brake had been snapped off. Junior Max Bruch went an entire semester without his bike because, he said, someone used it to get back and forth from Williams Cottage to class.

Locker room theft affects athletes as well. The soccer team had an outbreak of thefts during the 2014 fall season. This forced many players to begin hiding their wallets out of fear of having them stolen while left unattended at practice.

Bruch was also a victim of locker room theft. He said, “[I had] $40 that got taken from [my] locker… [it] was the uniform fee I was going to give to coach. I remember walking to dinner and [Assistant Coach] Dana [Byquist] asked, ‘Do you have your practice uniform money?’ And I said ‘Yeah!’ Then I checked and [had to say], “Well, I got robbed… I’ll get it to you later.” Bruch never got the money back and still had to pay the $40 fee.

Both inexpensive essentials and costly belongings are stolen in dorms. Recently, sophomore Jemlok Farson accidentally left some brand-new bottles of shampoo in the shower. He said, “I realized my mistake… [but the] bottles were empty [by] the next day.” During sports camp, freshman Kaylin Hernandez brought out his Xbox and game controllers to bond with his teammates. He left the second controller on the couch in the Ferguson recreational room and when he returned to put it away, he found that it was gone. Hernandez eventually resorted to buying a new controller because the original was never returned.

To try to prevent theft, house meetings advise students how to hide money, wallets, and other valuables. However, there seems to be less effort put into stopping thieves from stealing.

Around campus, theft is not considered an issue of importance. Having a bike borrowed for a day or two is considered an inevitable occurrence unless a bike lock is used. The owner of the shampoo is blamed when they leave their soap in the shower. A misplaced controller becomes a Sherlock Holmes-style investigation into who possessed it last and where they left it.

Among students, the conversation around theft often turns into victim blaming. Questions are changed from “Who stole this?” or “Why did you think it was okay to borrow this without permission?” to “Why did you leave yourself open to the possibility of it getting stolen?” Often, the responsibility of cleaning up after theft is shifted onto the victim, not the perpetrator.

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