All sociopaths lie. Their objective in just about every social interaction is to exploit and manipulate whoever is in front of them. Yet even though their behavior is atrocious, unethical and immoral, sociopathy is not illegal. People aren’t arrested because they have a personality disorder. So when we’ve been wronged by someone whom we believe is disordered, how do we deal with it?
Sociopaths definitely cause harm, but some harm is “actionable,” to use a legal term, and some isn’t. What that means is some behavior can be subjected to legal consequences, and other behavior cannot. When we’ve been wronged by a sociopath, we need to evaluate what response is possible, and what is in our own best interest.
Who are we talking about?
First of all, some definitions. The word “sociopathy” is no longer an official clinical diagnosis. I use it on Lovefraud to describe multiple disorders in which social relations are disturbed. This is exactly what the word originally meant when it was coined in 1930. On Lovefraud, “sociopathy” is an umbrella term for psychopathic, antisocial, narcissistic, borderline and histrionic personality disorders. My reason for talking about these disorders as a group is because they frequently overlap, and they are all harmful to the rest of us.
People who have these disorders are deficient in their ability to authentically love, which means they may find it easy, even rewarding, to manipulate and exploit others. However, it is not illegal to be a sociopath. Whether their actions break any laws depends on what, exactly, they do.
Sociopaths engage in plenty of harmful behavior that cannot be prosecuted. For example, lying is not illegal, except if someone is testifying in court or on a legal document. It’s not illegal for someone to manipulate you into marrying them, such as by getting pregnant. It’s not illegal for your romantic partner to cheat on you.
Sociopaths frequently lie about their identity, skills or assets in order to convince you to sleep with them — this isn’t illegal either. A Lovefraud reader, Joyce Short, advocated for “rape by deception” to be criminalized, but she wasn’t able to get much traction for the idea.
Still, plenty of sociopaths commit crimes for which they could be arrested and prosecuted — such as assault, unlawful imprisonment, harassment, stalking, menacing, child endangerment and more. All of these crimes have precise definitions, and in order for sociopaths to be arrested and prosecuted, their behavior must meet the definitions.
If you believe someone who abused you has committed crimes, when you go to the police to report it, you want to present the best possible case. To learn how to do it, check out this Lovefraud webinar presented by a former New York City cop:
How to report your abuser’s crimes so the police take you seriously
You may decide that you need to file a civil lawsuit against a sociopath due to breach of contract, fraud, property disputes or some other reason. If you want to end a marriage with a sociopathic spouse, you’ll end up in family court for your divorce and possibly a child custody battle.
Many Lovefraud readers ask about getting their opponent professionally evaluated to prove that he or she is disordered. I usually advise that they don’t bother.
Why? Because just like all of us before we encountered a sociopath, judges don’t know what a sociopath is. Judges may believe that sociopaths are deranged serial killers. So if you claim that your opponent is a sociopath, and this person hasn’t killed anyone, the judge may think you’re exaggerating.
Even in child custody cases, judges don’t understand that sociopaths are terrible parents. So proving that your ex is a sociopath may not accomplish anything. You may come off as an angry and bitter person who doesn’t want to co-parent.
It is much better to prove the sociopath’s behavior. What exactly did you ex do, and how did it harm the children? You may have a much better chance of winning if you take this approach.
It’s best, of course, to avoid getting involved with sociopaths in the first place. Sometimes you have no choice, such as when the sociopath is your parent or another family member. But often, we get entangled with sociopaths through our own free will.
Most of us have an intuition early in the involvement that something is wrong with the person or the relationship. Unfortunately, we don’t listen to ourselves. Instead of running away from the person, we stay.
Why? Often it’s because we follow a legal model — we feel like we need evidence. We’re uncomfortable, but we don’t have proof that the person is doing anything wrong. We feel like we shouldn’t reject a person based on a gut feeling.
This is a mistake. Yes, evidence is required to prove a crime. But evidence is not required for us to decide that somebody is bad news and we should get them out of our lives.
Sociopathy is not illegal. But remember, our intuition developed over millennia to protect us from predators. Sociopaths are human predators. So if your intuition is telling you that someone is dangerous, even if you have no proof, it’s the best warning you’ll ever get. Pay attention and take action.
Learn more: How to report your abuser’s crimes so the police take you seriously