25

I am living in UK university accommodation where everyone has their own room and about 8 or so of us share a kitchen.

Over the course of the year food (including mine) was going missing and because I usually don't socialise with them (I usually hang out in another flat) they seem to have shifted the blame on me. Obviously, they have no proof that I did anything but now I've been receiving comments when I pass them along the lines of "Did you enjoy that x you stole?". Usually, I just respond with a "huh?" and they walk off laughing.

  1. How can I talk to them effectively about this when there's an air of distrust around me?
  2. Should I say something to a higher authority?
28

It's unfortunate that they are stooping to petty remarks in passing. I myself wouldn't tolerate that ("Huh?" won't stop them.) I would ask them politely not to accuse you of anything you have not done and that they have no proof of.

I'm not sure you can convince anyone who doesn't want to be convinced that you're innocent. But that shouldn't stop you from proclaiming your innocence.

As others have stated, I think a conversation is in order. I don't know if your flatmates have regular meetings; if they do, put this on the agenda. If they don't, you can propose a meeting to discuss the problem of disappearing food. (Note, I don't say stolen. The thief/thieves might believe it's not really "stealing" but more like "borrowing", but 'forgetting' to replace it. That saves face.)

When you're together (not all need to be present) be careful how you approach the problem; don't imply anyone is lying. That only leads to defensiveness. Just start the gathering as a brainstorming session about disappearing food. Explain that some of your own food has gone missing, and give specific examples if you can, the more recent, the better (specifics give the appearance of truth.) If someone accuses you of lying, don't go on the defensive. Just maintain that you have not accused anyone because you don't know who is taking the food. You only know that

  • food has gone missing, and
  • some think you are responsible.

You don't really know if it's even a roommate doing so. It might be a friend of a roommate, who knows?

Maintain that you are not responsible, and ask that no one accuse you without evidence, just as you are accusing no one. Redirect to the issue: you're all there to try to come up a constructive way to solve the problem (personally I have never had this problem, so I have no good solution.) Food theft is a common problem in dorms; there are lots of articles on line about it, e.g. here and here. Avoid putting forth punitive solutions like adding laxatives to your food; if someone suggests it, say that you don't want to make anyone sick.

There might not be a solution. If you all agree, you might decide to install a camera, or keep your food in locked boxes in your rooms, or even to install a lock on your room door.

If the meeting goes well, great. If no solutions are offered or accepted, ask if a few of you should meet with the Resident Advisor, or whoever is in charge of solving difficult problems in the dorm.

7

I would address directly the comments with the comment giver as soon as it happens.

With the example you gave of:

Did you enjoy that x you stole?

I would respond with something like:

The only food I ever remove from the fridge is mine. I'm also disappointed(?) because I've had food taken. I don't know why you're accusing me of taking the x but I'm happy to hear what you have to say and perhaps we can clear the air between us?

In essence you're declaring your integrity, drawing attention to problem being shared, seeking to understand their perspective and then outlining a path to resolution.

3

Should I say something to a higher authority?

Problems like these happen quite commonly in hostels and dorms. And most of the times, they can be solved just by simply talking to the other person(s) regarding this.

You can try and ask them for a casual meeting somewhere, and explain the situation saying that you were not the one stealing the food, and the lack of any proof against you explains the situation.

If they continue to taunt or bully you even after you explained the situation, then you can go ahead and complain to the higher authorities like the warden.

But, first talk, before you escalate the situation to the higher authorities. Probably they have a misconceived impression about you, and they need to know that it is wrong.

2

In my "room mates" period, this sounds very familiar. We never blamed anyone, because we did not want to wrongfully accuse someone. Hearing other students, we've found out that we were not the only ones. So, it's safe to say that you are not alone?

I don't know how the authority can mean anything for you in your country, but here in the Netherlands they'll just say:

"Your own business, that's not my problem".

About you being acused:

You should not worry about it. Learn that only the truth will set you free. Of course, you are free to bring it into the group showing you are really hurt about it. ( There is a huge possibility that they'll keep going on. It depends on wether they like you or not )

I want you to share an article about it. It's written by Audrey Hunt, a psychologist from the UCLA.

https://pairedlife.com/problems/How-to-Cope-With-Being-Blamed-For-Something-You-Didnt-Do

In this article she said, and i quote:

"You don't need to prove your innocence"

Which is also my official answer.

PS: Since I do not know you personally, there is also the possibility that you are the thief. ( I do not accuse as well. ) In that case, do not use this advice. Instead, follow a new one: Immediately stop stealing and if you are brave enough, apologize to them.

  • The article you linked to is really good for people dealing with those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but I'm not sure it applies to more "normal" people. – anongoodnurse Aug 20 '17 at 22:14
  • At first glance yes, but she divided it. She had her experiences with NPD's and added that part to the article. She also puts down a lot of general stuff about being accused – Tomas Aug 20 '17 at 22:17
1

The one big part of the problem that the earlier answers seem to have missed is

because I usually don't socialise with them (I usually hang out in another flat) they seem to have shifted the blame on me.

Unfortunately, your not being in their group gives them the tendency to blame you rather than one of themselves.

In addition to all the solutions offered by the earlier answers, I would suggest you spend more time with your housemates (even though it's tough in this situation) and improve your relations with them, so that they would develop more confidence in you and a sense of you being part of their group, even if you are with them only some of the time.

I agree with the part of UKMonkey's answer that states that

The problem you face, is that there is real possibility that there are multiple people involved. Person X takes person Y's food. Person Y thinks it was person Z, so takes some of theirs ... The problem snowballs.

While it may take time to resolve the issue, putting in a little effort to integrate yourself better into their group will at least reduce their tendency to blame you for everything; giving you 'breathing space' and 'time to think' of a good solution, unless moving out is an option.

1

The problem you face, is that there is real possibility that there are multiple people involved. Person X takes person Y's food. Person Y thinks it was person Z, so takes some of theirs ... The problem snowballs.

With cameras, proving person X was eating person Y's food is hard; after all, both parties could have the same type of canned tuna. I wouldn't expect this to lead to anything other than more finger pointing and the reply "but it was my food".

The option that I personally would take is to remove myself entirely from being a victim. Store your food in a locked container. If you want to encourage other housemates to do the same so that no one is acting alone; and the containers fit nicely in the fridge, that's up to you; but remove yourself from being a target.

1

"Huh?" is probably the worst way to deal with this issue. From my experience, I can say that this problem is the handiwork of only one individual with an overactive imagination. I should know, I used to be that over-imaginative person - and seldom right - not very long ago.

You can identify this person as the one who makes the most jokes, laughs the loudest and is generally the chattiest.

Once you identify this person, try taking her/him along to that other flat with you. If you have correctly identified, this person cannot refuse another chance to make some more jokes.

From then on, this overactive imagination will become your ally.

However, if this person is the actual thief, then God save you.

-3

They don't know you very well if they just accuse you like that.

I think a one possibility would be to actually steal some food. Make it something small, do it during a time that gives you an additional reason (the shops were closed and I was sooooo hungry) or something. Then the very next day go to the person it belonged to with a replacement item, tell them that you took their food and you feel terrible and try to explain why you did it and that you will never do it again. Make sure you convey how sorry you are for taking that small bit of food and make sure to actually replace it.

After that they'll find it a lot harder to blame you when they just witnessed your reaction when you actually do steal food.

Of course it's a bit dishonest, but if you think that this would be what you would do if it really ever did come to that (and i strongly feel this would be the right way to react after stealing someone's food), you might be able to think about it as just a little demonstration of what you know to be true.

  • 5
    This could reinforce their original idea that you were the thief all along, and are just trying to make up for it now that you've been "caught". I don't think the correct reaction to being called a thief, is to actually become a thief and prove them right. – Xen2050 Aug 21 '17 at 11:05

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