A victimless crime is a term used to refer to actions that have been made illegal but which do not directly violate or threaten the rights of any other individual. It often involves consensual acts, or solitary acts in which no other person is involved. Such acts would not lead to any person calling for help from the police. For example, in the United Kingdom, current victimless crimes include recreational drug use. Some also include prostitution. However, this is controversial. Edwin Schur and Hugo Bedau state in their book Victimless Crimes: Two Sides of a Controversy that "some of these laws produce secondary crime, and all create new 'criminals' many of whom are otherwise law-abiding citizens and people in authority."
Victimless crimes are, in the harm principle of John Stuart Mill, "victimless" from a position that considers the individual as the sole sovereign, to the exclusion of more abstract bodies such as a community or a state against which criminal offenses may be directed.
In theory, each polity determines for itself the laws it wants to have, so as to maximize the happiness of its citizens. As knowledge progresses and behavior changes, and values change as well, laws in most countries lag badly behind social changes. Once it is obvious to a vast majority that the law is unnecessary at best, the law, until it is repealed, will be prohibiting a victimless crime.
Many victimless crimes begin because of a desire to obtain illegal products or services that are in high demand. Criminal penalties thus tend to limit the supply more than the demand, driving up the black-market price and creating monopoly profits for those criminals who remain in business. This "crime tariff" encourages the growth of sophisticated and well-organized criminal groups. Organized crime in turn tends to diversify into other areas of crime. Large profits provide ample funds for bribery of public officials, as well as capital for diversification.
The War on Drugs is a commonly cited example of prosecution of victimless crime. The reasoning behind this is that drug use does not directly harm other people. It is argued that the criminalization of drugs leads to highly inflated prices for drugs. For example, Bedau and Schur found in 1974 that "In England the pharmacy cost of heroin [was] 0.06 cents per grain. In the United States street price [was] $30-90 per grain." This inflation in price is believed to drive addicts to commit crimes such as theft and robbery, which are thought to be inherently damaging to society, in order to be able to purchase the drugs on which they are dependent.
In addition to the creation of a black market for drugs, the War on Drugs is argued by proponents of legalization to reduce the workforce by damaging the ability of those convicted to find work. It is reasoned that this reduction of the workforce is ultimately harmful to an economy reliant on labor. The number of drug arrests increases every year. In a poll taken by the Bureau of Justice Statistics between 1980 and 2009, "[over a] 30-year period...[arrest] rates for drug possession or use doubled for whites and tripled for blacks."
Legalization of victimless acts
Many activities that were once considered crimes are no longer illegal in some countries, at least in part because of their status as victimless crimes.
Two large categories of victimless crimes are sexual pleasure and recreational drug use (drug pleasure). On the first,
- Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, Russia legalized homosexuality. The new Bolshevik legal code contained within it the concept that, if there was no victim, there was no crime. When Joseph Stalin came to power, these changes were reversed bit by bit, until homosexuality was effectively made illegal again by the bureaucratic regime.
- In the UK in the 1950s, the Wolfenden report recommended the legalization of "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private", for these reasons.
- Almost fifty years later, Lawrence v. Texas struck down U.S. sodomy laws. As of 2015, sale of sex toys remains illegal in Alabama.
Marijuana is semi-legalized in the Netherlands. Australia only tickets for possession over 50 grams; Portugal also has this policy. Prohibition of alcohol, a failed "social experiment", was repealed in the United States, and there are efforts to legalize cannabis and other illegal drugs in many countries, including the United States.
Prostitution is legal, though usually restricted, in many countries including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Italy, Israel, the U.S. state of Nevada, and others.
Adultery (sexual acts between a married person and a person other than the spouse) and fornication (sexual acts between unmarried people) have not been prosecuted in the United States for over 50 years, although the laws against them, like those against sodomy, are still on the books in several states. However, because sodomy laws were struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence, the laws against fornication would also be unconstitutional as was recognized by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Martin v. Ziherl.
- Anti-homelessness legislation
- Illegal drug trade
- Jury nullification
- Malum prohibitum
- Public-order crime
- Status offence
- "Is Prostitution a Victimless Crime? - Legal Prostitution - ProCon.org". prostitution.procon.org. Retrieved 2015-10-02.
- "Is Prostitution a Victimless Crime?". Retrieved 2015-10-02.
- Schur, Edwin (1973). Victimless Crimes: Two Sides of a Controversy. The New York Times Company.
- "The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign." John Stuart Mill (1859). On Liberty. Oxford University. pp. 21–22. Retrieved 2008-02-27.
- Frase, Richard. "Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice". Retrieved 3 October 2011.
- Snyder, Howard. "Arrests in The United States". Office of Justice Programs.
- Edwards, john. "Marijauna laws".
- Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do (ISBN 0-931580-58-7) is a book by Peter McWilliams criticizing the existence of laws against consensual crimes. See mcwilliams.com