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Celebrity couple Rihanna and Chris Brown are back together again, three weeks after Brown hit her during an altercation that left her with visible injuries. However, the case against Brown may not be dropped, despite Rihanna’s decision to forgive her man. In a criminal case like this, the police has the power to press charges against someone even if the alleged victim refuses to testify.

Now Rihanna is probably dumb to get back with someone who hit her. However she certainly has the right to make that decision and I strongly believe that if she does not want to press charges against him, the law should leave them alone.

It all boils down to consent. Theft is a crime only because it is involves takings without permission. If I take my friend’s car keys and go for a spin without asking him and he later finds out about it and gets mad, he has every right to demand legal redress. However if he is perfectly ok with my disappearing act, it would be laughable to suggest that the law should override his wishes and punish me.

Rape is prosecuted not because it involves force or sex but because one of the parties has not consented to the act. Many birthday parties in India involve birthday bumps, where the special person is hoisted in the air and roundly smacked around. It is a violent act, but all good-natured and fun. However if you give bumps to a person despite his protests and he later goes and complains to the police, you will surely be charged with at least a misdemeanour assault.

For there to be a crime, there has to be a victim. The fundamental premise of libertarian jurisprudence is that there are no victimless crimes. And it is consent  alone that determines if there is a victim. Undoubtedly, in cases like murder where the victim can no longer testify, or cases involving abuse of children or the mentally disabled, the law is perfectly justified in presuming their victim-hood. However, when two adults are involved, their is no need for the law to make such value judgements. 

What people consent to is their business. When society imposes its fiat on such a matter, it infantilizes the parties involved.

For most couples, occasional verbal fights are a perfectly normal part of the relationship. However, if a couple happens to think that it is also ok sometimes to slap each other, what right does society have to use the force of law to stop them?

One of the arguments advanced for treating assaults and other violent crimes not as torts but as crimes against society is that if the victim is allowed to drop the case, many will be intimidated to do so. Even if that were true, surely the obvious solution is to protect the victim from intimidation or reprisal! Laws that provide strong deterrence and efficient justice in the case of a violation, a system where it is easy to file cases, obtain no-contact orders and get police protection, where the victims know that the police is fighting for them, not against their wishes — will provide far more security from intimidation than one where the victim’s wishes are not respected.

In the end, it is a simple affair: if Rihanna is ok with Brown hitting her and does not want any charges filed against him, it her private matter. If the police still go ahead and prosecute him, it means that they are prosecuting a victimless crime. Not uncommon and not unsurprising but an affront to liberty nevertheless.

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