What are the Different Types of Victimless Crimes?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Victimless crimes can fall into a number of categories, including crimes without a clear victim, moral crimes, crimes against the state, or activities where the victim and the perpetrator could be considered the same person. In all cases, the government deems a particular activity a crime for health, safety, or social reasons, but it doesn't have an identifiable victim who experiences harm as a result of a perpetrator's actions. Some legislation pertaining to such crimes is controversial, and in some regions, reformers work to dismantle laws they feel are unfair or unnecessary.

Tax fraud is a crime against the state, but a victimless crime.
Tax fraud is a crime against the state, but a victimless crime.

Crimes without a clear victim involve cases where perpetrators cause harm, but no specific member of society is harmed by it. Rather, society as a whole pays the price. For example, when a person drives without car insurance, it exposes other drivers to risk, leading car insurance providers to raise prices to cover uninsured motorists. This crime affects society in general, but doesn't harm a specific person unless the uninsured motorist gets in an accident.

Public drunkenness and vagrancy are moral crimes without victims.
Public drunkenness and vagrancy are moral crimes without victims.

Moral crimes include activities classified as criminal for social or moral reasons; many nations, for example, historically barred sodomy between consenting adults on the grounds that it was an offense to common decency. Activities like vagrancy, public drunkenness, and loitering might also be social crimes. Many juvenile offenses fall under this category; society in general feels an obligation to care for juveniles and passes laws to protect them by requiring them to maintain beneficial behaviors like attending school. Breaking these laws does not actively harm anyone, but may not be desirable to other members of society.

Crimes against the state may also be considered victimless crimes, even though the state can end up paying damages or suffering harm. Tax fraud might be considered such a crime under this rubric, even though it costs the government money, because the government itself cannot be considered a victim. Conversely, crimes like rape are prosecuted as crimes against the state, but clearly have an identifiable victim.

Drug use, failing to exercise safety precautions, prostitution, gambling, and other activities that could place people in danger are also victimless crimes in the sense that they expose the victim to risk, but not anyone else. Some advocates propose taking these crimes out of the law books because they involve legislating personal behavior. These are among the most contentious victimless crimes, as some clearly do cause social harms; drug use, for example, can contribute to the development of violence as well as situations like driving under the influence and putting other people in danger. Likewise, prostitution may involve human trafficking and other harmful activities.

Prostitution -- if not forced -- can be considered a victimless crime.
Prostitution -- if not forced -- can be considered a victimless crime.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I live in an area of internal conflict where people are fighting each other. There are a lot of crimes that arise, considering his kind of conflict, what is the best classification that should be made? Any advice is highly appreciated.


I actually always thought a victimless crime definition might be something like jaywalking, where nothing bad actually happens most of the time when someone jay walks, but it's possible that it might happen and that's why it's illegal.

Because, to me, even if the crime has to be paid for by all of society, that just makes all of society the victims.

I can see how you'd need to make a distinction between a crime with a specific individual victim and a crime with more general consequences for court though.


@ZsaZsa56 - That's what always stayed my hand when I got depressed as a teenager. No matter how worthless you feel, or how much you think your friends and family don't care for you, suicide is such a terrible thing, it will cause severe pain in others, possibly ruin their whole lives.

Even if I absolutely despised someone, if they committed suicide it would harm me as well. So, to me suicide is the opposite of a victim-less crime, and more like a hate crime, even if you don't consider yourself to be the victim.


I can remember hearing that shoplifting is a victimless crime from some of my punk friends in high school but even back then that didn't make any sense to me. These were mostly good kids but they had the idea that stealing from a big store was not the same as stealing from friends or family. They thought you weren't really doing anything wrong, you were just kind of scamming a system.

But that theft mattered to someone. Maybe it was the frazzled manager who is in danger of losing his job. Maybe it was the penny pinching old lady who suddenly had to pay more for her shopping because costs have gone up in response to shoplifting. Even the corporation itself is made up of people. You can't just steal things and think that it doesn't matter. What is to keep people from stealing from you?


Is suicide really a victimless crime? I don't want to believe that it is. No matter how hopeless a life gets, it still must matter to someone out there in the world. Someone must mourn the loss of that person.

It is hard to define a victimless crime. Some crimes do not effect another person directly like a drug user who uses heroin, but the effects of that drug use do have effects on others. It effects their frineds and family, it effects their neighbors. It might lead to other crimes which have distinct victims. So even if the heroin use itself only affects the victim, the circumstances surrounding the crime can reverberate out into a community.
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