The problem of a victimless crime has been labeled as controversial due to the different opinions surrounding this issue. In this paper, the definition of the victimless crime, as well as my position on the crime, will be presented and discussed.
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Victimless Crime: Definition and Limitations
A crime can be considered as victimless if the parties involved in it were willingly exchanging goods or services; the information about the crime and its conditions are shared by the participants of the transaction. The word “victimless” should not lead to confusion because it does not mean that there is no victim of the crime. This word only indicates that the exchange by the parties was voluntary.
The common types of victimless crimes include gambling, prostitution, drug use, and money laundering. Although, as it can be seen, victimless crimes often include participants who are not aware of their “victim” status, not all “victims” of victimless crimes are addicted to a certain substance or unable to give consent to participate in a certain procedure. Trafficking of human organs is also marked as a victimless crime. This is possible due to the nature of trafficking of organs: the participants are offered a particular job (illegal, but profitable). The participants give their consent to the organizer, believing they will work as, for example, illegal dishwashers. Their IDs are confiscated, and they are forced to donate an organ. Thus, they have given their consent but no to the eventual procedures that they had to endure.
The problem of victimless crimes is that they are directly connected to others, such as sexual assaults, homicide, harassment, violence, and others. Thus, there are victims, but they are expected to participate in the transaction voluntarily.
My Opinion on Victimless Crime
To understand why there are no victimless crimes, it is important to approach the definition once again. Although the definition states that no third party is involved or being harmed and there is no victim who would look for help from the police or authorities, victimless crimes do bring harm to the participants and their privacy. Because none of the parties who made the deal asks the police to investigate the crime because their participation was voluntary, it is challenging for the police to investigate victimless crimes because they require invasion of an individual’s privacy and social life. Moreover, as it was stated above, victimless crimes can lead to crimes that involve a victim.
For example, Washington Examiner states that not only drug dealing per se is dangerous and violent to the traffickers and participants, but the drugs also lead to violent offenses among the drug users. Thus, what at first was regarded as a crime that had brought no harm to a third party eventually becomes an assault on or offense against another individual. Moreover, points out Washington Examiner, other victims of drug dealing are infants who are born addicted to drugs due to their parent’s addiction. People involved in drug trafficking are often blackmailed or threatened. Swindon Advertiser discussed the case of a 15-year-old teenager who was charged with drug trafficking; the court withdrew the charges as soon as it was stated that the child was a victim of modern slavery. Thus, drug trafficking often involves individuals who did not give their consent to participate in the crime but who are not able to seek help.
Another example that is often labeled as a victimless crime is prostitution. Depending on the country, prostitution can be illegal (the USA, Russia, Philippines, China, etc.), partly legal (sex in exchange for money is allowed, but brothels and pimping are illegal) (Czech Republic, Poland, Great Britain, etc.), or fully legal and regulated (Germany, the Netherlands, Latvia, etc.). The individuals who engage in prostitution, especially sex workers, are trying to survive and support themselves or their families by this type of work, like any other worker would, notices Janet Duran in New Jersey Opinion. Some of the sex workers also state that they find pride in their work and are not ashamed of it.
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Thus, decriminalization of prostitution would help such workers work legally and not fear for their well-being and safety. Nevertheless, full decriminalization does not guarantee that sex workers will not be assaulted, exploited, and forced to sell services. Moreover, it is difficult to evaluate whether a sex worker who has been engaged in the industry for decades is indeed proud of her/his job or does not have other options. Even full decriminalization of prostitution does not interrupt violations against human rights in brothels. Thus, in some countries, prostitution is not considered a victimless crime, and, depending on the law, the sex worker or the buyer can be arrested. In the USA, however, prostitution is both criminalized and considered as a victimless crime, when, in fact, sex workers have to face risk and discrimination against them.
Another issue that has been widely discussed by the public is the use of cannabis as a drug that can help relieve chronic pains and seizures. Although I believe that cannabis indeed can help in certain cases, it does not mean that I support full legalization of cannabis use. The trafficking of cannabis is also considered as a victimless crime because the framework of this trade is the same as with other drugs. The users of cannabis may not consider themselves as victims, but the drug influence on the human organism can vary. The Independent points out that cannabis can be the cause of a heart condition that is somewhat similar to a heart attack.
Another side of the marijuana issue is that the current laws govern the use of marijuana so strictly that deaths do happen, although not from a marijuana overdose. The Cannabist, an online magazine dedicated to marijuana use in the USA, points out that more people have died due to police encounters that tried to arrest the users for marijuana possession but eventually shot them. Zachary Hammond was shot during a police marijuana bust, Trevon Cole tried to hide the marijuana and was shot by one of the officers, and Keith Lamont Scott, who was suspected of marijuana use, was fatally shot after he refused to comply with police demands. Hence, a victimless crime (use or trafficking of drugs) connected to drug use often does have a victim and sometimes not the only one.
In the book American Holocaust: The price of victimless crime laws, Tim O’Donnell provides examples of deaths caused by or connected to victimless crimes: murders during unsuccessful drug deals, suicides of addicts, gamblers, people involved in prostitution, killings of bystanders during shootings connected to drug deals, individuals who died in prisons, sex workers who died from serial killers, sex workers who died from HIV/AIDS, etc. As in can be seen, “victimless crime” is not a sufficient definition to describe the real state of affairs. Moreover, some people gain profits from victimless crimes but do not directly involvement in them (owners of brothels, casinos, manufacturers of drugs, etc.).
The concept of a victimless crime was discussed by E. Schur and H. Bedau in their study, Victimless crimes: two sides of a controversy, which was published in 1974. Although some of their views appear obsolete today, Bedau’s opinion is still applicable to most of the recent cases that investigate victimless crimes: a person whose rights were violated is a victim. This is an approach that I consider accurate. At the same time, I would not want to restrain people from performing activities that they like but that are able to harm them. After all, everyone should have the right to choose freely what they favor. Nevertheless, if such activity is potentially dangerous to the people around the offender or the community and society, this case should not be called a victimless crime. Victimless crimes cause a secondary criminogenic effect that often involves victims (e.g., a customer sexually assaults a sex worker because he/she finds the sex worker’s work unsatisfactory). Thus, victimless crimes do not exist and the laws that govern such crimes should be revised.
“Victimless crime” is a controversial definition that frequently covers cases where victims are present but cannot look for help or sue the offender. Victimless crimes can lead to secondary criminogenic effect or even end fatally both for the partakers and bystanders. The victims of victimless crimes are not always capable of understanding their victim status and can be forced to take part in a victimless crime.