Crime is usually committed in private. Punishment, however, is a public matter. The shame of public display is perhaps the most time-tested and effective means of correcting unwanted behavior. That’s why they once put the stocks in the middle of town squares, why drunks had to walk around wearing whiskey barrels, and why celebrity murder trials are televised. And, more perniciously, why blackmail is effective.
A West Knoxville man recently attempted to wield the power of shame against his neighbor, a 48-year-old disabled woman. The man would come over from time to time, help her get around the house or carry her groceries in. She was grateful and polite, but the man wanted more, and she wasn’t willing to offer it. So, in the course of his helpfulness, he began secretly pilfering her undergarments, building a small, lacy stockpile. When he felt he had enough to set his plan into motion, he called her and “threatened to display them around the neighborhood if she did not agree to socialize with him,” says the typically antiseptic police report. But apparently, the woman was more concerned about living next door to a probable sociopath than having her neighbors know that she wore underwear, so she called the police.