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Victimless Crimes: Drug Abuse and Sex Work


This work’s primary objective is to research and analyze victimless crimes, namely drug abuse and sex work, from the viewpoint of criminology. For these purposes, various criminological theories were applied to victimless crimes to explore the problem from different perspectives. The research results have shown that causations of drug abuse and sex work can be found in every applied criminological theory. It is advisable to further explore drug abuse and sex work from all criminological perspectives since all the corresponding factors can impact the crimes under discussion.

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Drug abuse and sex work are matters of current interest in modern criminology. In the United States, the problem of drug use is critical, primarily because of the growing opioid crisis. Recent excessive prescriptions of painkillers have led to increased drug mortality rates and overdose deaths, and reduced average life expectancy in America. Another severe criminological concern in the United States is sex work, including such activities as prostitution, phone sex, and others. Many people, including adults and juveniles, are engaged in prostitution, which is an actual criminal act in the United States.

Besides, drug abuse and sex work are correlated since they are both so-called victimless crimes, meaning that they do not have a particular victim in most cases. Although victimless activities mentioned above often do not harm third parties, they are still considered crimes because they can hurt criminals themselves. Therefore, this paper is designed to research and analyze drug abuse and sex work as criminal acts and apply various criminological theories to them to investigate the issue from different perspectives.

Drug Abuse in the United States

Drug use in the United States has a relatively long history, yet the reasons nowadays differ from those in the second half of the twentieth century. Active use of drugs started with hippie movements of the late 1960s, when members of those movements promoted the usage of psychoactive substances from the view of mind-expanding tools (Schmalleger, 2020). Then, the use of drugs could not be specifically called “abuse” as people who were engaged in it pursued utterly different goals. They were “promoting free love, personal freedom, experimentation with subjective states of consciousness” (Schmalleger, 2020, p. 391).

Things are different nowadays since drug abuse has become a crucial concern in many fields, including medicine, law, and society. People become addicted to various types of heavy drugs, often obtaining severe diseases because of that. Moreover, drug use may make people violent towards others, committing a so-called drug-facilitated crime (García et al., 2021). Thereby, drug abuse is a crucial issue that must be addressed on multiple levels to achieve an adequate and effective solution.

Sex Work in the United States

As was mentioned above, sex work is another type of victimless crime, and it is widespread in the United States. According to Schmalleger (2020), around 40,000 people, including juveniles, are arrested every year for prostitution. However, the research reports that the average number of youths somehow involved in prostitution is estimated to be up to 300,000 yearly (Schmalleger, 2020). Moreover, in cases of prostitution, clients are considered criminals, along with providers of sex services in the United States and other countries (Landsberg et al., 2017). The term “sex work” is broad and includes many activities, including prostitution, phone sex, the industry of adult movies, computer sex, and several aspects of the sex toy industry (Schmalleger, 2020). However, the problem of prostitution currently remains the most crucial in the United States, especially in those parts of the country where sex work is illegal.

Victimless crimes from Different Criminological Perspectives

Classical and Neoclassical Criminology

The classical criminological perspective was developed more than 200 years ago. It suggests that people are “rational beings and that crime is the result of the exercise of free will and personal choices based on calculations of perceived costs and benefits” (Schmalleger, 2020, p. 67).

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Therefore, applied to victimless crimes, the classical theory makes them completely understandable as drug abuse and sex work primarily result from free will. In most cases, people are not pushed to do drugs or become providers of various sex services. As for the punishment, classical theory finds it effective in decreasing the crime rate if it can negate the rewards that may be obtained from committing a specific crime (Schmalleger, 2020). For instance, an effective method of punishment for drug abusers should make them think that they do not benefit from using drugs anyhow. Applying specific medications that can negate narcotic effects and side effects might work in this case.

The neoclassical criminological perspective is similar to classical thought in many ways. However, it applies classical principles to crime issues of contemporary society in a more modern way (Schmalleger, 2020). As mentioned above, classical criminology is 200 years old, meaning that such a long period could not pass without specific changes in society and criminology. Classical principles are still applicable, yet they need some adjustments proper for the current time, which explains the appearance of neoclassical criminological theory. A significant difference in neoclassical thought is that punishment serves ancient retribution concepts along with deterrence (Schmalleger, 2020). Therefore, it is less applicable to victimless crimes since most such cases do not have victims who could want revenge in any form.

However, crimes under discussion are not always victimless because drug abuse may have unpredictable effects on people’s minds and lead to extraordinary consequences. In France, there was a case of a sexually assaulted 22-year-old woman who could not resist her attacker because she was under the drug effect (García et al., 2021). The details of the case state that toxicological analysis found methylene-dioxymethyl-methamphetamine, or MDMA for short, in the woman’s blood (García et al., 2021). Therefore, the neoclassical theory would be more applicable in this case as the woman would much likely demand retribution towards her attacker.

Biological Theories

Biological theories are another criminological perspective that considers crimes as brain-controlled actions. A biocriminologist claims that “no matter the source of human behavior, it is necessarily funneled through the brain” (as cited in Schmalleger, 2020, p. 83).

Therefore, any behavior, including one that leads to criminal actions, is centered in the brain. That applies to victimless crimes as all decisions are formed inside people’s brains, including decisions to take drugs and engaging in any type of sex work. The main difference between biological and classical theories is that biocriminology considers internal sources, namely genetics and physical conditions, for they significantly impact the mental processes of people’s brains (Schmalleger, 2020). Thus, it is vital to overlook those factors when considering any criminal cases, including drug abuse and sex work.

Biological concepts in criminology are usually divided into traditional and modern perspectives. The researchers state that early biological theorists considered criminal behavior caused by specific physical conditions and heredity levels (Schmalleger, 2020). On the contrary, the modern biological perspective studies natural crime causation more deeply, considering such factors as chromosomes and genes, environmental climate, neurophysics, and others (Schmalleger, 2020).

The environment in which an organism lives leads to specific behavior of that organism. A person might want to do drugs if their living conditions are critical and they seek an opportunity to get what they lack in life. In this case, medications may bring an imposed happiness or create a feeling that there are no real problems in the person’s life.

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As for sex work, it is also explainable from the biocriminological perspective. Considering the environmental conditions, people (primarily females) may engage in sex work because of financial problems or the absence of another choice to earn money (Landsberg et al., 2017). For instance, a woman comes from a low-income family or has no family at all, cannot get a proper education, or does not receive a chance for a well-paid job. They might consider their situation inextricable and see no other option than to start working in sex services. In many cases, even the illegal status of sex work may not stop people from engaging in sex work since the environment surrounding them does not offer another option, as they think.

From the modern biocriminological theory, biosocial perspectives have arisen recently. Although biosocial criminology can be considered a deeper investigation of current biological crime factors, the researchers observe that it covers the whole phenomenon of criminality, not just crime (Schmalleger, 2020). Therefore, biosocial theory primarily does not consider specific crimes but overlooks the initial origin of the crime commission from a biosocial perspective.

The researchers claim that “criminality can be seen as the willingness to violate individual rights and social norms, whether or not such behavior is against the law” (Schmalleger, 2020, p. 121). It is controversial whether it applies to victimless crimes under discussion since criminals in such cases primarily do not violate anyone’s rights except their own. However, drug abuse and sex work are not appropriate from the view of most social norms. That is why the definition of criminality can include these types of criminal actions from the viewpoint of biosocial criminology.

Nonetheless, crimes under discussion are not always victimless, as mentioned earlier. The researchers report that there was a case of drug-facilitated sexual assault in Copenhagen, Denmark (García et al., 2021). An attacker used quetiapine, a sedative antipsychotic preparation, to subjugate the victim before sexually assaulting her. From the biosocial perspective, that goes under the definition of criminality as the attacker violated the victim’s rights, not considering the illegitimacy of their actions to get what they wanted.

Psychological and Psychiatric Perspectives

Psychological and psychiatric theories are similar to biological conceptions in some ways, yet they are centered on various psychological factors. As Schmalleger (2020) states, the corresponding determinants that may impact the potential criminal behavior include the following:

  • Exploitative personality characteristics;
  • Poor impulse control;
  • Emotional arousal;
  • An immature personality.

The primary term explaining the correlation between those determinants and criminality is so-called criminal psychology. The researchers state that this psychology subfield is “the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system” (Schmalleger, 2020, p. 132). This criminological perspective applies psychological conditions, including various mental illnesses, to the crime commission cases.

The principles of psychological and psychiatric theories perfectly apply to the victimless crimes under discussion, especially those including drug abuse. As described earlier, one of the most crucial issues in the United States is the current worsening opioid crisis. The reason for that is the overprescription of opioid-based medications for diseased patients. The same thing may happen to mentally ill people who have prescriptions for different tranquilizers and antipsychotics.

It is common for people with severe mental illnesses to become addicted to specific preparations and turn their prescribed medication usage into drug abuse (García et al., 2021). Moreover, many people who have a severe mental disorder cannot manage the pain it brings and start doing drugs to avoid it. The occasions described above exemplify how the psychological conditions may lead to taking drugs and subsequently to drug abuse.

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Sociological Theories

The sociological perspective considers criminality from the viewpoint of social groups in which criminals exist. According to that theory, crimes develop from the societal structure and correlated social conditions that potential criminals are put in due to various circumstances (Schmalleger, 2020). The purpose of the sociological subfield of criminology is to estimate the possibility for a member of a specific social group to commit a particular crime (Schmalleger, 2020). The determinant sociological factors that may affect potential criminal activity are disorganized neighborhoods, discrimination episodes, socialization processes, and others (Schmalleger, 2020). Therefore, the social environment in which individuals have to live can play a significant role in their potential criminal behavior.

When applied to drug abuse and sex work crimes, sociological theory suggests that engaging in such activities might be caused by various social factors. For instance, a recent study describes Denmark’s case of a drug-poisoned and subsequently sexually abused young girl who was still a child (García et al., 2021). The man who did this to her was her relative (García et al., 2021). Without proper psychological treatment, the girl might come to a subconscious conclusion that a similar attitude towards her is normal and appropriate. In the future, this case involving a combination of inadequate drug usage and sexual activity may make the girl consider that completely normal and subsequently engage in drug abuse and selling sex services.

Criminal Victimization

While criminology’s primary purpose is to understand the offenders’ behaviors and define the crime causation, victimology is a correlated science field that studies victimization processes and the reasons why people are likely to become victims. Victimology divides victims into two major groups: direct victims, who experience victimization personally, and indirect victims (Schmalleger, 2020). They are also called secondary victims, which means “people who are not directly involved in the crime but may still experience its effects” (Schmalleger, 2020, p. 264). This typology does not fully apply to the crimes under discussion since they are victimless, which suggests victims of no type are involved in the crime.

However, it is only partially true because, from victimization theories, an individual involved in drug abuse or sex work may be considered a criminal, a direct victim, and an indirect victim of the crime. For example, considering sex work, a sex services provider is a criminal since they act against the law. They are also a direct victim of that crime because sex work (along with drug abuse) is factually a crime committed against oneself. Finally, they can be considered an indirect victim since they experience some side effects of the crime, namely unwanted sex in most cases. Moreover, there are many cases of violence towards sex workers, mainly because of their profession, which makes them victims, too (Landsberg et al., 2017).

Vancouver sex work policy adjusted to “no longer target sex workers while continuing to target clients and third parties in an effort to increase the safety of sex workers” (Landsberg et al., 2017, p. 563). Although sex work and corresponding violence are separate crimes, in this case, there is still a strong correlation that leads sex work criminals to become violence victims.

Crimes against Persons

Crimes against persons can be determined as actions towards other individuals that harm them in any way. These include violent crimes, such as homicide and murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery (Schmalleger, 2020). However, specific homicides can be justifiable in the United States if they are committed as part of self-defense or in the process of defending one’s family (Schmalleger, 2020). Although victimless crimes such as drug abuse and sex work mostly do not go under the definition of crimes against persons, there are specific correlations in particular cases.

For instance, sex workers might become victims of crimes against persons as a featured consequence of their professional environment. Landsberg et al. (2017) report that sex work in Canada is often “associated with greater risk of experiencing violence, abuse, and discrimination” (p. 564). The reason for that is the criminalization of sex work in Canada, which makes sex workers move their business to more isolated districts that are often dangerous (Landsberg et al., 2017). There are fewer potential witnesses in those areas, which is why sex workers’ risks to be intimidated, raped, or treated violently are increased (Landsberg et al., 2020). Since the actions mentioned above are mostly part of crimes against persons, sex work can be considered a direct cause.

The same can be said about drug abuse since many crimes against persons are committed under various drugs. For instance, a study carried out in Italy showed that out of 256 cases of rape, around 37% involved victims who were positive for one or more substances (García et al., 2021). The drugs involved included cannabis, cocaine, various opiates, methadone, heroin, and morphine (García et al., 2017). Therefore, drug abuse may lead to becoming a victim of crimes against persons without full conscious awareness of that.


Summing up, victimless crimes, namely drug abuse and sex work, have been researched and analyzed in this paper from the viewpoint of various criminological theories. First, classical and neoclassical theories have shown that people take drugs and engage in sex work following their will, not pushed by anyone. Second, biological and biosocial theories suggest that any behavior primarily forms in the brain, meaning that brain activity leads to doing drugs or providing sex services. Third, psychological and psychiatric criminology offers evidence that people are can commit victimless crimes because of specific psychic conditions. Fourth, the sociological perspective considers the social environment in which an individual lives or has to live as a potential cause of abusing drugs and becoming a sex worker.

Finally, victimless crimes have been considered from the viewpoint of victimization and crimes against persons. The conducted research has shown that criminals in cases of drug abuse and sex work may become victims; furthermore, their actions can lead to subsequent violent crimes, such as homicide or rape. Victimless crimes are a required field of modern criminology that should be further investigated from all criminological perspectives.


García, M. G., Pérez-Cárceles, M. D., Osuna, E., & Legaz, I. (2021). Drug-facilitated sexual assault and other crimes: A systematic review by countries. Journal of forensic and legal medicine, 79, 1-15. Web.

Landsberg, A., Shannon, K., Krüsi, A., DeBeck, K., Milloy, M. J., Nosova, E., & Hayashi, K. (2017). Criminalizing sex work clients and rushed negotiations among sex workers who use drugs in a Canadian setting. Journal of Urban Health, 94(4), 563-571. Web.

Schmalleger, F. (2020). Criminology Today (10th ed.). Pearson Education. Web.

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