Difference Between Deviance and Crime

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 28, 2023


Difference Between Deviance and Crime

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Crime and deviation go against social norms and laws, respectively. Although they are frequently confused, these two ideas are quite different. They may cross paths occasionally. For instance, criminal behavior might be associated with deviant behavior, and the reversal is occasionally possible. Deviance refers to an act that violates societal norms and standards, whereas criminality refers to an act that violates the rules of society as legislated by the government. The main distinctions between crime and deviance are highlighted in this article.

Deviance vs Crime

Deviance may or may not be a crime, and crimes are always subject to punishment. In contrast to criminal offenses, which are punishable by law as decided by the court system, deviance is governed by community standards and lacks the coercive authority to penalize those who violate them. The perpetrators are being arrested by the police.

Deviance includes actions like wandering around indiscreetly, hiring or receiving prostitutes, dressing up for funerals in red outfits, and getting married before the age of consent. Crime examples include homicide, rape, burglary, stealing, and prostitution. The overlap and differences between deviant and criminal infractions vary depending on the society, as has already been stated. For instance, marriage between minors may be commonplace in some African nations but it is illegal in the United States.

Difference Between Deviance and Crime (In Tabular Form)

Meaning When there is a non-conformity about established social and cultural norms and values, that behavior is considered to be deviant.Any unlawful act or omission that constitutes a violation of the law and is thus punishable by law is considered a crime.
DocumentationNot written or recordedProperly cited and documented
SeverityNot much seriousMainly severe
ControlSocial groupings and organization.Justice and the Police.
OffenderThe offender is demonized.May face legal repercussions.
ChangeThe norms of many cultures vary.All societies have the same laws. The punishment, however, varies depending on the crime.

What is deviance?

Deviance is more difficult to define than the idea of crime. Criminal and non-criminal behaviors are both seen to be acts of deviation, although it can be challenging to determine what members of any culture or group genuinely consider to be a deviation. According to Downes and Rock (2007), rule-breaking typically involves ambiguity since people are frequently confused about whether a specific episode is deviant or what deviance is. Their assessment will be based on the situation, the individual, what they know about them, and any potential motivations.

Deviation from recognized social norms and standards can be seen as a form of deviation. It is a behavior that society’s members define as “abnormal”. Any form of behavior that elicits the social penalty, which can range from a simple reprimand to the death penalty, is covered by this clause.

To put it another way, how people perceive and categorize an act or behavior has a significant impact on whether or not that act or behavior is seen to be deviant. In essence, the deviation is determined by the social environment or context in which it occurs. One instance of transgression is smoking in public.

Using the ideas of societal deviance and situational deviance, Plummer (1979) addresses two aspects of defining deviance:

  • Societal Deviance: Generally speaking, murder, rape, child abuse, and driving while intoxicated in the UK fall under the category of societal deviance, which is defined as kinds of deviance that the majority of individuals of a society view as deviant because they have similar notions about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.
  • Situational Deviance: Situational deviance describes how the environment or setting of an act determines whether it is seen to be deviant or not.

These two definitions of deviation imply that, while some behaviors may be universally regarded as deviant in one society, the definition of what constitutes deviance will differ between social groupings within that society.

Whether the act is observed as deviant depends on:

  • Historical period: In the same society that sees changes in acceptable behavior standards, definitions of deviance also evolve throughout time. For example, smoking nowadays is considered to be common but historically it was not.
  • The place or context: In public, nudity is frequently viewed as deviant (even though it is never wrong in and of itself), but rarely in private.
  • The social group: In small groups, something that could be considered inappropriate on a social level might be considered acceptable.

Societies choose to abide by specific codes of conduct to create a peaceful living environment and control people’s behaviors. These dates back to early societies and are still in place today. Social norms are not codified, in contrast to laws. Instead, it is expected that everyone is aware of their place in a certain society.

Social norm violations are rarely subject to legal sanctions unless they also constitute criminal offenses. For instance, prostitution is prohibited and viewed as a social vice in various nations. So the law can run its course. Leaders of society can apply pressure on the offender in cases when the behavior is exclusively deemed abnormal and control abnormal behaviors, but they lack the coercive ability to punish. Deviant behaviors can also be controlled by the fear of God’s curse.

Deviance is highly associated with going against norms. Norms are the guidelines that inform society’s members of what to do and what should never be done in a specific circumstance. Deviance is the term for any departure from these standards. Norms come in varieties:

  • Formal Norms: This includes laws and regulations, which specify the formal norms that must be followed in a certain situation. The consequences for deviations (if any) are specified.
  • Informal Norms: Informal norms vary from group to group, and there is no set punishment for violations.

Depending on the society or area where one lives, examples of deviant behaviors include prostitution, wandering the streets naked, breaking into houses, cross-dressing, being transsexual or transgender, and many more. For instance, in a nudist setting, it might be okay to scroll the streets in your undies, and wearing a suit while doing so might be seen as odd. Another illustration involves African nations where female genital mutilation is acceptable for circumcision yet it could be deemed abnormal in America.

What is Crime?

Any unlawful act or carelessness that causes someone physical or psychological injury is referred to as a crime and is frequently prohibited and sanctioned by the law. Because it jeopardizes public welfare or state interests, the state prosecutes those who engage in it. A fine, incarceration or a combination of the two may be imposed as punishment for a crime.

The commission of a crime involves four stages:

  • Intention to do the crime: The offender must have the intention to cause harm or commit the crime. It is the most crucial stage of the crime and should always be present to commit the crime.
  • Planning to commit the crime: The offender must prepare and manage the resources needed to commit the crime.
  • Attempt to commit the crime: The offender must attempt or take a move forward toward the commission of the crime.
  • Successful commission of the crime: The offense must have taken place and should have successfully fulfilled the motive of the offender to commit the crime.

Crime is offensive conduct that violates the law, and society strongly disapproves of it. Examples of common crimes include murder, rape, robbery, theft, burglary, child abuse, antisocial behavior, domestic violence, sexual harassment, terrorism, cybercrime, hate crimes, fraud, etc.

Although each country has its understanding of what constitutes a crime, some behaviors are illegal everywhere in the world.

Causes of Crime

Everyone is aware that no one is a criminal by nature. The surroundings and circumstances are what lead him or her to commit a crime that is against the law. These factors can be biological, psychological, social, or economic. These are covered in the following:

  • Social Motives
  • An unorganized family
  • Education of the individual
  • Poor education
  • Hype produced by the media
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Unhappily wed couples and the dowry system
  • Disorganization in society
  • Economical Causes
  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Industrialization and Urbanization
  • Psychiatric Causes
  • Intellectual mediocrity
  • Mental illness
  • Behavioral traits of personality
  • Unstable emotional state
  • Biological origin
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Type of body

Elements of Crime

There are four elements of the crime, which are as follows:

  • Individual: The most crucial component of a crime is a person who desires to commit it and is prepared to do so.
  • Mens Reus: It alludes to the “guilty mind”. A criminal act frequently serves as a support for the crime.
  • Actus Reus:  This phrase means “guilty act”. A criminal act frequently serves as a support for the crime.
  • Injury: It frequently comes with some kind of harm, whether it be material, mental, or both.

Both minor and major crimes exist. The less serious offenses include murder, grand theft auto, and sexual harassment, while the more serious ones include simple shoplifting or assault. Without laws preventing criminal activity, communities would be in utter chaos with people breaking into homes, killing people on purpose, and plundering financial institutions. The legal system and law enforcement agencies are crucial in making sure that everyone is held accountable for the crimes committed. Similar to criminal offenses, they vary from society to society. For instance, certain communities may tolerate marijuana use while others outlaw it.

Criminal offenses can also be divided into two broad categories: personal offenses and property offenses. Other types of crimes fall into the victimless and organized crime categories, as well as white-collar offenses, which are perpetrated by people with high social positions. Organized crime is defined as offenses done by organized organizations engaging in illicit activity while operating legally. Tax fraud and white-collar crimes are examples of victimized crimes and organized crimes, respectively.

Police and the legal system will be required to use their coercive authority to enforce the criminal violations once they have been documented. The severity of the penalty or punishment meted out to an offender will be decided by the courts. In contrast, if an individual violates societal norms, society has no authority to penalize or punish them.

Main Differences Between Deviance and Crime (In Points)

  • Deviance refers to behavior that deviates from societal standards and values, if it is identified, could lead to undesirable consequences. On the other hand, crime refers to the deliberate performance or omission of an act that is deemed to be legally prohibited, socially detrimental, or dangerous.
  • In contrast to crimes and their various varieties, which are well-written or documented in the criminal code, deviant behaviors are not written about or documented anywhere.
  • Deviance is less severe than crime when it comes to severity.
  • Social organizations and communities frequently regulate deviance. Contrarily, the role of the police and the judiciary is to reduce crime in society by punishing offenders.
  • Negative consequences follow deviation, and those who do not uphold societal norms and values are frequently criticized. Crime, on the other hand, results in punishment, which may include both a life sentence and a fine.
  • When someone behaves deviant, they are stigmatized, or condemned by society. On the other hand, if someone commits a crime, they may face legal repercussions.
  • Because norms change between cultures, we can conclude that just because an act is considered deviant in one culture does not mean that it is also deviant in another. In contrast, laws are essentially the same around the world, albeit the punishment for a crime may vary.


In conclusion, the deviation is the act of something breaching social, cultural, and/or contextual norms and standards. Crime, on the other hand, refers to an offense that is against the law. Since deviant behaviors frequently lead to criminal behaviors, there is frequently an overlap between crime and deviance. Deviance varies from society to society, whereas crime is frequently universal but receives a variety of penalties. The primary distinction between crime and deviance is that although deviance involves breaking societal norms and rules, criminality involves breaking the law.



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"Difference Between Deviance and Crime." Diffzy.com, 2024. Mon. 10 Jun. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-deviance-and-crime>.

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