The crimeless victim

chaz-ballThe concept of a victimless crime is pervasive in popular culture. And while every offense, from littering to trespassing to drug crimes has some extended consequence to others in society, many believe that at least some crimes can be victimless. People argue certain offenses should not be crimes, or at least should be subject to considerably reduced consequences because no one was hurt by the act.

More recently, however, a number of stories have been publicized, discussed and scrutinized that address the inverse issue, that of the crimeless victim.

The crimeless victim is a person who experiences physical, psychological, or economic injury as a result of actions of another that fall short of being criminal. Often, that absence of criminality is a result of a lack of intent to injure on the part of the perpetrator. The events discussed in the recent babe.net article about Aziz Ansari and his reaction to the publication of the article, assuming the truth in recounting events by both parties, fits perfectly into the notion of a crimeless victim.

In the article, a woman’s date experience with Ansari is recounted. The woman, identified only as “Grace,” details a date she had with Ansari during which she was pressured into sexual acts. Grace said her non-verbal cues should have indicated to Ansari her discomfort and her lack of consent in participating in the sexual acts. Ansari, after the article was published, said he was surprised and concerned by her experience and took her words to heart, while maintaining that he believed the entire encounter to be consensual.

Since the publication of the article and response, the reactions from people, publications and shows, including Saturday Night Live, have expressed a range of opinions, with some wrongfully shaming Grace and others arguing that Ansari is responsible for a sexual assault. The reality, however, is probably both more clear and more murky; it’s very possible the experiences of Grace and Ansari both happened.

Unlike other offenses rendered less-than-criminal because of mistake of fact or intent, for one party these events can be deeply traumatizing. But the solution does not come in moving the goalpost on what is considered criminal or criticizing either side, but the opposite — encouraging communication.

When communication across gender, race, disability or sexuality is able to take place, we are all able to respect and understand one another better. As a student at the University of Maryland at College Park, I took a couple of intergroup dialogue courses. They were composed of students from different backgrounds who would be given the opportunity in the class to read articles and publications, write about and discuss experiences of particular group identities. In my classes, the number of white students was nearly even with the number of students of color, and the number of men nearly even with the number of women.

So in these classes, the students had an opportunity to understand the perspective from the other side by — get this — actually talking to people and reading about their perspective instead of just saying the other side was wrong. And the communication was able to travel both ways because — get this — neither side would be insulted for not immediately understanding. People grow though such communication because it allows understanding, and through understanding sympathy, and through sympathy, better treatment.

All communication has potential variance between how it is intended and how it is understood. Non-verbal communication is especially susceptible to that variance understanding. But it is important not to be dismissive of either the conveyer or the recipient. To understand the intended meaning within words, the meaning behind words and what is being conveyed without words, a listener must appreciate and pay close attention to the speaker. And the speaker must be cognizant that the listener may not always fully understand and may need a more direct message. Paradoxically, the ability to effectively communicate requires that we first communicate.

We can all agree that nobody should ever be made to feel like a victim. But for the aspiration to meet the goal requires all of us to communicate, understand, sympathize and treat one another better. If we fail to do so, as a society we are responsible for leading to continued and repeated victimization, even when no actual crimes take place.

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