Victimless crimes and their consequences Print
Youth Column
Written by Erick Rommel, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

I have a confession to make. I am a criminal. I broke the law. I only reveal my transgression now because I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has expired.

My life of criminality began when I had to drive during a significant snowstorm. Most people were safely inside, but I had worked late and had to travel home during the worst of the weather. I reached an intersection with a red light. No other vehicles were visible.

I waited for the light to turn green. I waited some more. For five minutes, I waited. The light never changed.

The snow was falling rapidly and I had to make a decision. After looking both ways, I drove through the red light.

Running a red light is a crime, but with no one around and little chance of an accident, it's what's called a victimless crime. It's an activity that's illegal but has no direct victim. Most people probably have committed a victimless crime at some point. Speeding tickets are often the result of a victimless crime. Walking across someone else's property as a shortcut is trespassing and it's also a victimless crime.

But, are all victimless crimes truly victimless?

If you ask Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan, the answer is clear: absolutely not. Their story begins with a victimless crime reportedly committed by Elvan Abeylegesse. Abeylegesse is a Turkish athlete. In 2007, she received the silver medal in the women's 10,000-meter run at the world championships. In 2008, she also received a silver medal in the same race at the Beijing Summer Olympics.

Goucher and Flanagan earned the bronze medal at each event.

Recently, the International Association of Athletics Federations retested urine samples taken at those events. New results indicate that Abeylegesse is guilty of doping. When looking at lists of victimless crimes, drug use is usually on the list. Those who place it there say any resulting harm only affects the drug user; therefore, the user is the only victim. They are wrong. Ask those of us whose lives have been affected by others taking drugs. Altered behaviors create victims. Driving under the influence creates victims. Lives claimed too soon create victims. So do stolen opportunities. In the case of Goucher and Flanagan, Abeylegesse's victimless crime cost them their reward for an outstanding performance.

Abeylegesse is appealing the results of the recent retests. If the results are the same, she'll be stripped of her medals. If that occurs, Goucher and Flanagan will receive the recognition they earned in her place.

Think of Goucher and Flanagan the next time you think of a victimless crime. Driving without a seat belt, cheating on a test, or participating in a football pool could affect no one else but you, except you never truly know. Imagine what could have happened if another car drove through that intersection as I ran that red light. I would have learned just how thin the line between victimless and victim can truly be.

Erick Rommel is head staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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