Legal Dictionary

victimless crime

Definition of victimless crime


victimless crime (plural victimless crimes)

  1. (crime) An act or behavior which is prohibited by law, yet which neither directly harms nor violates the rights of any specific person, although some people may claim it harms society as a whole. This concept typically applies to adults.

Related terms

Further reading

The term victimless crime refers to infractions of criminal law without any identifiable evidence of an individual that has suffered damage in the infraction. Typically included are traffic citations and violations of laws concerning public decency, and include public drunkenness, illicit drug use, vagrancy, speeding and public nudity. These laws (concerning public decency) are based on the Offence principle, as opposed to laws based on the Harm principle.

The term is not used in jurisprudence. It is rather a political term, used by lobbyists with the implication that the law in question should be abolished. In a constitutional state, the legislature, a body in turn elected by the sovereign, defines criminal law. A crime (as opposed to a civil wrong or tort) is an infraction of a law, and will not always have an identifiable individual or group of individuals as its victims, but may also, for example, consist of the preparations that did not result in any damage (mens rea in the absence of actus reus), such as attempted murder, offenses against legal persons as opposed to individuals or natural persons, or directed against communal goods such as social order or a social contract or the state itself, as in tax avoidance and tax evasion, treason, or, in non-secular systems, the supernatural (infractions of religious law).

Victimless crimes are a proposition of liberalism and anarchism, as 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.

In a democratic society, wide agreement on a given law as punishing a "victimless crime" will eventually lead to that law's abolishment, as has been the case with most laws regarding homosexuality or sodomy law, abolished in most democratic countries in the later 20th century. More limited are legalizations of euthanasia (legal in Japan, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Albania, Oregon and Washington) and cannabis use (see legality of cannabis by country).

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. For example, in the United Kingdom 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.

Prohibition of alcohol was repealed in the United States, and there are efforts to legalize cannabis and other illegal drugs in many countries.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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