In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Victimless Crime

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Criminology Victimless Crime
Robin Fletcher
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0272


There is no real definition of a “victimless crime” because crimes of this nature do not really exist. There are however a number of statutory offenses that if engaged in, may not have an obvious victim. The dichotomy of these statements is that the word “victimless” can be interpreted as widely or as narrowly as one wishes. The traditional view is that laws are created to protect social standards and are derived from moral and ethical values. Some of these offenses are of a minor nature and impact individuals rather than society in general and include illegal drug taking; prostitution; drunkenness; pornography; gambling; and various sexual acts. There is a debate that argues offenses of this nature are invariably committed by consenting actors; there are no injuries to non-participants; the offense is against the state rather than society; and only police officers make the complaint. While the act may be illegal, there is no obvious victim. In these circumstances it is easy to see how a crime could be considered “victimless.” There are however other circumstances where victims of crime are not aware of their victimhood and their ignorance of the fact is perceived to be an acceptance of their victimhood. The victimlessness in these circumstances therefore lies on the perception of the perpetrator who ignores culpability because of a lack of complaint or where there is a complaint, a denial of the facts. Because the victim is oblivious of these circumstances it is easy to see how such deviant business practices can be accepted as victimless. To counter this perception there is an assumption that corporations act with integrity and do not knowingly provide flawed goods or services, or at the very least will rectify the situation without fuss. However, in the competitive world of business, organizations continually seek ways to maximize profit sometimes at the expense of the oblivious customer. Within the business world, entrepreneurs seek innovative ways to improve their business and increase profit by bending or even breaking rules in a manner that could be considered reckless or even bordering on illegal. A third form of “victimlessness” is the non-payment of taxes, required by the state to support the infrastructures necessary for social welfare, whose lack will negatively impact sections of society.

General Overviews

The disparate nature of “victimless crime” is such that there are no seminal works that address the broad range of “crimes” purporting to be “victimless.” Instead there are numerous texts that deal with single aspects of this phrase. Hughes 2015 succinctly identifies the issues of dealing with “conscious victims” engaging in consensual crime. Buchhandler-Raphael 2013 similarly criticizes the overcriminalization of consensual crimes. Slapper and Tombs 1999, Gorbert and Punch 2003, and Minkes and Minkes 2008 are all seminal texts on the impact of corporate crime as a “victimless” act. Brown and Jackson 1990 is a widely read undergraduate textbook which explores taxation and public expenditure.

  • Brown, C. V., and P. Mc. Jackson. 1990. Public sector economics. 4th ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

    This book explains the relationship between government income through taxation and its ability to finance services and its relationship to taxpayers whether they are individuals, householders, or corporate entities.

  • Buchhandler-Raphael, M. 2013. Drugs, dignity, and the danger: Human dignity as a constitutional constraint to limit overcriminalization. Tennessee Law Review 80.2: 291–345.

    The article questions the justification for continuing criminalization of behaviors that either inflict harm on self or on other consenting adults. It also advocates consent as an acceptable form of defense.

  • Gorbert, J., and M. Punch. 2003. Rethinking corporate crime. London: Butterworths.

    This is a critical examination of current criminal law as applied to business practice. It considers the ability of the legal system to control corporate criminality through a multi-disciplined approach. This book is suitable for both undergraduate and postgraduate study.

  • Hughes, B. T. 2015. Strictly taboo: Cultural anthropology’s insights into mass incarceration and victimless crime. New England Journal on Criminal & Civil Confinement 41.1: 49–84.

    This article undertakes an anthropological review of utilitarian social contract with respect to imprisonment for crimes that are not considered to be harmful to individuals or society.

  • Minkes, J., and L. Minkes, eds. 2008. Corporate and white collar crime. London: SAGE.

    This book is an edited volume aimed at both undergraduate and postgraduate students within the disciplines of criminology, criminal justice, and business and management studies. It provides a comprehensive review of both white-collar and corporate crime through a collection of case studies.

  • Slapper, G., and S. Tombs. 1999. Corporate crime. Harlow, UK: Longman.

    This book is suitable for undergraduate students. It provides a good introduction to the theoretical aspects of corporate crime and discusses its regulation and the punishment of transgressors.

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