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. For example, in the United States, current victimless crimes include prostitution, gambling, and illicit drug use. 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."
For example, in politics, a lobbyist or an activist might use this phrase with the implication that the law in question should be abolished.
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.
Many victimless crimes begin because of a desire to obtain illegal products or services that are in high demand. Criminal penalties thus tends 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 lead 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. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, Russia became the first nation to legalize 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 homosexuality for these reasons. Almost fifty years later, Lawrence v. Texas struck down Texas sodomy laws.
Marijuana is legalized in the Netherlands. Australia only tickets for possession over 50 grams; Portugal also has this policy. Prohibition of alcohol 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 in many countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Greece, Mexico, Italy, Israel, and others, in one form or another.
- 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".