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In order for a crime to exist, a victim or potential victim must exist. Thus, the Model Penal Code states that a defendant's conduct must 1) inflict or threaten 2) substantial harm to individual or public interests. Failure to prove either of these elements is often referred to as a de minimis defense.
The harm is often the clearest when the victim is an individual. The second class, "public interests", is often less tangible, more politically charged and are often subject to attack. Public interest crimes are sometimes called "victimless crimes." Proponents of "public interest crimes" will often hold that crimes are not victimless at all but that the spillover effects of these activities result in real harm to individuals.
Prior to the 19th century, many criminal cases were privately prosecuted by the victim. This model slowly fell out of favor as the state replaced a private prosecution model with a centralized, state-based model of public prosecution.
International Approach to Victim's Rights
The concern that many states either did not have the resources to prosecute criminals, or willfully failed to prosecute criminals resulted in the founding of the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. This court of last resort provides victim's a final opportunity to seek justice when no other venue exists.
Victim's Bill of Rights
The last twenty years have seen increased legislative attention to victim's of crimes. As a result, victims now have more rights in a criminal case than ever before. These rights may be codified separately or in some cases, collected into one Victim's Bill of Rights.