What are Some Examples of Victimless Crimes?

Examples of Victimless Crimes

In today’s society where you hear about all the different types of crimes committed each day, whether it be a robbery or an assault, have you ever wondered what is a victimless crime and what are some examples of victimless crimes in the criminal justice system?

There are several examples of a victimless crime, but here are a few of the more common ones that comes to mind: public drunkenness, trespassing, recreational drug use, homelessness, gambling, and traffic violations. 

What Is a Victimless Crime?

What Is a Victimless Crime?

A victimless crime is generally an illegal criminal act whereby there is no identifiable victim. This usually only involves only the perpetrator or is a voluntary act between consenting adults.

There is obviously no official legal or statutory definition since in theory, a victimless crime would not actually exist. Typically, laws are enacted to restrict unwanted behavior and actions, such as assault or abuse. However, there are situations where a law criminalizes certain consensual behavior where is no victim, such as recreational drug use or prostitution.

Examples of Victimless Crimes

  • Prostitution or solicitation
  • Recreational drug use
  • Assisted suicide
  • Homelessness
  • Gambling
  • Public drunkenness
  • Living in vehicles
  • Sleeping in public
  • Begging
  • Trespassing
  • Traffic violations
  • Adultery
  • Pornography
  • Abortion
  • Incest

It can be argued whether some of these examples are truly victimless crimes or can go even further and argue whether they should a crime at all. Note, that depending on the state, some of the examples are actually legal, such as gambling and prostitution, which is legal in certain parts of Nevada.

Drug use will be discussed in more detail later in the article.

Let’s take, for example, living in a vehicle. There are different opinions on the matter, but who is victimized by the individual who chooses to live in their vehicle. Now, obviously, if this individual parked their vehicle on private property, for example on a stranger’s driveway, then there could be trespassing, as well as any potential property damage.

For Victimless Crimes

This has been a part of the overall discussion about the proper scope of criminal law. Proponents claim those crimes that can be viewed as victimless, should then have the underlying statutes that define such offenses be repealed.

Some of the thinking to support this argument claim that as a matter of principle, society cannot legitimately prohibit conduct that only harms the individuals involved in the act. Additionally, it is also noted that the following can be said to be true of victimless crimes:

  1. Most involve no complaining parties other than law enforcement
  2. Involves the exchange of prohibited goods or services that are desired by the participants
  3. The specific individual or social harms involved tend to be viewed as less serious or less likely to occur than those harms involved in crimes with victims

It has also been shown over the years that some of these victimless crimes have not decreased, so that provides additional support for abolishing the statutes that define these offenses as crimes.

Other more progressive thinking includes legalizing certain victimless crimes and then perhaps enact laws to tax the individuals or the activity which will provide another form of revenue for the state and federal authorities.

The idea to legalize prostitution in the United States has been around for decades. The argument for this claims it would remove the organized crime element and human trafficking. It can also create a safer environment for sex workers if there was some form of registration as a sex worker and providing better access to healthcare.

The debate over whether to legalize drugs at the federal level has continued for decades, and yet to date there is still no clear solution that will satisfy both sides of the debate anytime soon. Besides the potential revenue from the sale of drugs, just imagine the billions of dollars that can be saved each year spent to enforce drug related laws and various justice programs to combat the drug problem.

Therefore, it is again the individual states that have taken their own initiative to enact some form of drug legalization, whether it is just for one drug or all drugs across the board.

The legalization of marijuana is an excellent example, since 2012 there have been eighteen states, including Washington D.C., and Guam, that have taken steps to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana:

List of States Where Recreational Marijuana is Legal

*Legalization measure was passed in 2020, but struck down by state Supreme Court in 2021. 

It must be noted that these legalization measures are only at the individual state level, it is still considered a crime by federal authorities since the federal government has not legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, federal law enforcement has typically taken a hands-off approach and has not pursued individuals, as long as they conducted the activity within the legal framework of the respective state law.

With the exception of Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, the remaining states are either in the process of decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana or have already implemented such new laws. Decriminalization is different from legalization in that, it is only the reduction of penalties for a criminal act or reclassifying the act as a civil offense.

It can also be said that other products such as alcohol or cigarettes can be harmful as well, yet it is not illegal to consume them. Therefore, proponents argue that the potential harm that can be caused cannot be the only criteria used to determine if a crime should be considered victimless or not.

Against Victimless Crimes

Critics claim, although there may be no actual identifiable victims other than the participating individuals, what about the cost of these so-called victimless crimes, as everything has a consequential cost. For example, society or taxpayers would ultimately be burdened with the cost of the drug rehabilitation programs for a drug addict, so then can the taxpayers be deemed as indirect victims.

Moreover, citizens that were harassed or offended by public drunkenness or disorderly individuals, the spouse of an adulterer or prostitution client, or the family of a drug addict; all of these can also be deemed to be victims in some form.

Lastly, arguments on this side of the discussion have typically centered more around the moral aspects of a particular activity, rather than whether the activity had any identifiable victims. These arguments also usually focus on four behaviors, prostitution, drug use, homosexuality, and abortion.

One can observe by the type of behavior, that this very much aligns with the political right and the conservatives within the United States and their particular views on these issues.

The Rest of the World

The Rest of the World

Opinions on this issue can vary drastically from country to country, as different regions of the world have different laws on some of the previously discussed ‘crimes,’ as well as different moral perspectives, which are typically based on either cultural norms or religious beliefs.

For example, prostitution has been legalized in many European countries for years, in some form or another. In countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Turkey. the Netherlands, Hungary, and Latvia, prostitution is legal and regulated, whereas in other countries, it is legal but not regulated.

In the Netherlands, even though prostitution was not legalized until 2000, it was more or less tolerated for decades prior. The premise for legalizing prostitution stemmed from the idea that it would remove the organized crime element, limit human trafficking, improve access to healthcare for the sex workers, and make sex work safer.

There has not been any definitive report that has shown the legalization has actually worked in eliminating the criminal element and the human trafficking, although it can be said that the working environment has been made safer for those workers that were not trafficked or coerced into the trade.

In most of Asia, prostitution is primarily illegal but tolerated in certain countries. There are a few countries where it is legal in a limited manner.

For example, prostitution is legal in Singapore and Hong Kong. In Singapore, it is legal in areas where brothels are allowed to transact business, as well as in other designated zones where it is tolerated. Any worker caught outside these areas will be prosecuted. In Hong Kong, the buying and selling of sex with one woman is legal but doing the same with more than one woman would constitute a brothel which is illegal.

In other countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, where prostitution is illegal, it is however extremely widespread and pretty much tolerated by the authorities. The industry brings in millions in revenue for the red-light areas and the respective countries as a whole.

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