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The Third Dimension of Victimization

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Mary Leary


The Third Dimension of Victimization


New social values emerge as society evolves, as do novel methods of victimizing people. Ideally, the criminal law identifies these new forms of victimization and, if they compromise a socially valuable interest, the law condemns such behavior as criminal. At times, this evolution has been the result of changed social values. For example, prohibition, the criminalization of adultery, and the non-criminalization of marital rape reflect formerly held social values that are no longer prevalent in modern society. However, criminal law does not change only because of evolving social values. The criminal law must also respond to more structural changes in society that lead to innovative forms of victimization. While such structural changes are not commonplace, they demand significant shifts in the criminal law to protect the community and socially valued interests that emerge.

The time has come for such a shift. Traditionally, when addressing individual victims, the criminal law functions in two dimensions: crimes against the person and crimes against property. This modality is outdated. With the advent of the Internet, electronic commerce, and numerous digital platforms at the very core of modern American existence, modern American criminal law must recognize a third dimension of victimization of individuals: crimes against the digital extension of the person.

This article advocates for consideration of a restructuring of criminal laws at a basic level. It argues for the recognition of a third dimension of victimization. States must review criminal codes and restructure them to recognize the many new forms of victimization that are achieved digitally. Because of the uniquely pernicious harms of digital victimization, current criminal codes are insufficient. They fail to capture both the social value being protected and the harms accomplished through these digital victimizations. This article argues that one’s digital presence can, in fact, be an extension of oneself. As such, one’s digital self can be harmed in ways that are distinct from our current understanding of personal or property crimes. This form of victimization should be recognized by the criminal law, and the social interests in protecting individuals in this dimension should be reflected in the criminal law. Thus, the article calls for a recognition of a third dimension of criminal victimization: the victimization of the digital self.


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