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Victimless Crime and Punishment Overview

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

The phrase 'victimless crime' can be surprisingly controversial. A victimless crime is defined as an offense to which all parties consent and no one is injured. But not everyone agrees on how 'injury' should be defined; and some ask, if no one is injured why is it a crime?

Why So Complicated?

Some people say that possessing drugs is a victimless crime while others argue that drugs harm society generally and make all of us, the community at large, victims of drug deals. Similarly, it is generally accepted that prostitution and gambling are victimless crimes, but some people still oppose these activities.

Consider prostitution or gambling and it is evident that these acts too can cause harm communally even if the parties directly involved are not technically injured. The notion of a victimless crime is complicated then because it represents a conundrum: should people be punished for an act that hurts no one?

What is wrong with the act if no one gets hurt? And if punishment is appropriate, how severe should it be? The fact that a crime is "victimless" does not guarantee that it will be charged as a misdemeanor.

Gambling and Prostitution

Let's first take a look at prostitution. Putting aside the potential arguments about societal harms that arguably come from selling sex, prostitution is the perfect victimless crime. There is a buyer and a seller and there is a bargained-for exchange between two consenting people. So really, the only thing that makes this act a crime is the law itself and not anything inherently harmful in sex.

Another example of a victimless crime is gambling. Although betting money on sport may not be legal, when you do it, no one gets hurt, technically speaking. Of course this ignores the impact of our activities on people close to us. It is safe to say that even though no one may bleed when a gambler goes broke, people around them can be bled dry by the gambling life.

Law and Fashion

The law changes with the times. Things that were once crimes become acceptable and are no longer punished. This is starting to happen around the country with the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. And it may well happen for other drug crimes and offenses that are considered victimless too.

For now, however, if you are charged with a crime -- victimless or otherwise -- speak to an attorney. Get help with your defense.

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