Victimless Crimes?: Prostitution, Drugs, Homosexuality, Abortion

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Mixing the moral and political is often perilous in the American political and legal scene. In the last two decades moral questions such as abortion and illegal drug use have been incendiary in political discussions. Current mixed political and moral issues include "partial-birth abortion" and physician-assisted suicide. Meier and Geis' main thesis identifies parameters of "victimless crime" in four areas—prostitution, drugs, homosexuality, and abortion—and recognizes that law can solve and create societal problems. The authors believe that "'victimless' crimes must be seen in the context in which there is no consensus regarding the wrongfulness of such acts nor any consequences from them being against any criminal law." (p. 187). Victimless crimes or crimes without victims are then placed in the context of whether the behavior produces harmful consequences for innocent people (p. 19). They recognize that it is difficult to reach a consensus on a single denotation for these disparate behaviors. This book poses the question of what meaningful choices society can take concerning policies about behaviors, such as drug use and homosexuality, about which different members hold contrasting moral beliefs.

Law and society studies consider as central issues which problems are deemed appropriate for legal intervention and to what extent criminal law should enforce moral positions which may lack societal consensus. Beliefs about morality and about harm to innocent individuals interact to form societal decisions in victimless crimes or crimes without victims. The authors raise questions about how society deals with unpopular behavior without invoking criminal or other legal processes. A broader issue than those considered in this book is to what extent government should regulate public morals in the interest of the public good.

Meier and Geis provide historical background to current "problem definitions" in the United States for each of the four victimless crimes. For...
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