March 16, 2011 -- In the News: Laundry theft is a common problem all over the country -- so much so that many universities make it part of their orientation material to warn students to watch out for their laundry.
But laundry theft is not often treated as a serious crime and, because many don't report it, there are no statistics on the amount of laundry stolen each year. However, one particular type of laundry theft is seen as a serious crime by law enforcement authorities: stealing women's underwear. It is considered a "gateway" crime -- the act of a potential sexual predator. Penalties can be harsh. In one case in Portland, Ore., a convicted panty thief was given 11 years in jail. He'd stolen more than 3,000 pairs of women's undergarments from laundry rooms near colleges. Some were even labeled with names and dates.
The Scenario: In a busy laundromat, an actor hired by "What Would You Do?" portrays a laundry thief who picks clothes out of dryers as if shopping for nice things. Another actor, playing a customer, asks other customers if they would be kind enough to keep an eye on his dryer while they step out to run an errand. Our "thief" starts taking clothes from the machine the customer has been entrusted with and putting the ones he likes in a basket with all the other clothes he's taken. Will the laundry thief be confronted? We also run the scenario with a laundry thief who is only interested in women's underwear.
What They Said:
"I thought he was odd, maybe just an odd guy, taking women's underwear- yeah could be a weird guy."
- customer at Laundromat
"I'm gonna call the police. Dump it out and put it back or I'm calling the police!"
- woman at Laundromat confronting underwear thief
"Sometimes you want to get involved, other times you're afraid."
- customer who reported laundry thief
"The guy is a wack job."
- customer describing underwear thief