Safety and hate crimes
Anti-GLBT hate crimes are those in which victims are chosen because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Hate crimes are also committed based on religion, disability, race, ethnicity and national origin.
Hate crimes may include property crimes (like robbery), threats, intimidation or actual acts of physical violence. Hate crimes are unique because they send messages to entire groups - as well as to their families and other supporters - that they are unwelcome and unsafe in particular communities. Most anti-GLBT hate crimes are committed by otherwise law-abiding young people who often believe that they have societal permission to engage in anti-gay violence.
"It is the policy of your police department to investigate by all means possible all reports of anti-gay malicious harassment. This department will commit the necessary resources to investigate anti-gay malicious harassment crimes. Anti-gay malicious harassment has no place in our community."
~ Seattle Police Department
What is the difference between a hate crime and any other crime?
What sets hate crimes apart from other acts of violence is the psychological damage that they leave behind. Although any type of victimization carries with it psychological consequences, certain types of emotional reactions are more frequent among survivors of hate crimes. These feelings include depression, anxiety, fear, stress and anger. The American Psychological Association has determined that victims of hate crimes suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress for up to five years, in comparison to two years for victims of non-bias-related crimes.
Hate crime laws are laws that enhance the penalties imposed by the courts for individuals convicted of acts of bias-related violence. These laws, although controversial, are designed to act as a deterrent by punishing hate crime perpetrators more severely than those who commit similar types of violent acts that are not motivated by hatred. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have laws against hate crimes. Of those, 21 include sexual orientation in categories protected. Washington State law protects victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation.
Finally, survivors of hate crimes are less likely than victims of other types of violence to report attacks against them to the police. It has been estimated that up to 80% of bias-crimes are never reported to the authorities. There are many reasons for this. Minority groups, including GLBT communities, have historically had strained relations with law enforcement and fear that crimes against them will not be taken seriously or that the police reaction will be unsympathetic or hostile.
In addition, survivors of anti-GLBT hate crimes may also be concerned that reporting attacks against them may expose them to increased risk by being "outed" to families and communities as a sexual minority. In many parts of the country (though not in King County, WA), individuals can be fired from jobs or evicted from their rental homes just for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Many hate crime survivors suffer the trauma of victimization in silence rather than to expose themselves to these forms of "secondary victimization."
What to do if you are the victim
Almost any reaction to being a hate crime victim should be considered normal. Emotional reactions can include denial or trying to forget that the crime ever happened. Anger, fear, depression, and anxiety are also common. Survivors of violent crime may also experience physical problems that seem unrelated to an assault. Such symptoms can include headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, change in appetite, irritability, withdrawal and sexual difficulties.
The most important thing to do is to find someone safe you can tell about the incident. Talking about the experience to supportive friends, family members and loved ones can help you to begin the process of understanding what happened to you and recovering from the assault.
Remember that being a hate crime victim is NEVER your fault. Members of the GLBT community have every right to be who they are, wherever they want, whenever they want.
Other important things to do if you are the victim of a hate crime include:
- Get medical attention. If you were attacked, go to a health care provider or hospital emergency room, even if you do not believe that you have been seriously injured. Do this as soon after an assault as possible. If you were raped as part of the crime (and rape is a common form of hate crime), make sure that emergency room staff know this and collect the appropriate evidence.
- Document the incident. Write down everything that was said and done by the perpetrators, including the time and location of the incident. If you are harassed over the telephone or email, keep a log of harassing phone calls and copies of voice mail messages or emails, if available. Document physical injuries with photographs. (Remember that bruises often will not appear until several days after an attack.) Keep any notes or other written harassment.
Reporting harassment and violence at school to school staff
If you are verbally or physically attacked at school, or you are threatened or otherwise harassed, you may want to report it to staff. If you do, choose the person you expect to be the most respectful, whether that is a security guard, a particular teacher, or another adult you trust.
Schools can and should make changes to protect you from harassment. Some changes that schools have made, and which you can request, include:
- for an adult to be assigned to the particular place and time of day when and where the harassment is worst
- to be allowed to use a faculty bathroom, because the student bathroom is unsafe
- for the offenders' class to be changed (the class you share)
- for the offenders to be barred from finishing the season (if they are your teammates)
- for the teachers to have an in-service workshop to learn how to intervene
- for Mr. or Ms. X (the staff person who has witnessed the bullying in silence) to be warned that if they don't intervene, they will be disciplined
- to be allowed to drop the class in which the bullying is happening or to be given home-study assignments so you can finish it safely.
If the adult to whom you go is not supportive, or if they don't take action, consider involving your parent or guardian or another trusted adult from outside the school.
Reporting crimes to the police
There is no requirement that you report a crime to the police. This decision is yours as the survivor of a crime.
There are some good reasons to consider reporting the hate crime against you to local law enforcement authorities. In the eyes of the law, an unreported crime is a crime that never occurred. Reporting incidents against you may not only help you feel better, but may also result in the identification, arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. Hate crime reports can also help the police to identify patterns of crimes that are targeting the GLBT communities.
If possible, take someone with you when you go to the police to provide support and to help communicate the specific details of the crime. Be prepared emotionally for the possibility of an unsupportive or hostile response by the police. Despite what some unsympathetic law enforcement officers may say to you, remember that the crime against you was not your fault.
If you decide to report the crime, here are some tips:
- Stress that the crime was motivated by hate based on perceived sexual orientation. You do not have to reveal your sexual orientation to report the crime and you should not be asked to. It is the perpetrator's perception that matters. Whether or not the perception is correct is irrelevant under the law.
- Describe in detail the hate or prejudice that was expressed and what caused you to fear harm. Examples:
- "They approached in a menacing manner, called me 'Faggot!' in an angry voice, and then threatened to kill me."
- "They drove by us as we walked down the sidewalk, shouted 'Dykes!' out the window and hurled a beer bottle at us."
- If you have any physical pain at all, insist that it be recorded on the police report. By law, this is required of the officer even if you decline medical attention at the scene.
- Get the incident number from the responding officer.
- Ask how to get a copy of the police report.
- Get the officer's name and badge number.
Violence and harassment against the GLBT community is real. Not every attack can be prevented, and it is never your fault if you are attacked or harassed. There are things you can do reduce your risk. Your primary consideration should be your personal survival.
- Stay alert. Awareness is your best self-defense; know what is happening around you. Be especially careful if you are alone or have been drinking. Watch where you are going and what is going on around you.
- Plan a safe walking route. Use well-lit, busy streets. Keep a safe distance between you and others, and always have an out (somewhere you can turn to run if you feel threatened).
- Walk with friends or a group. When you are out late at night, have a friend accompany you - don't go alone. If you feel uneasy, trust your instincts and go directly to a place where there are other people.
- Project confidence. Walk as if you know where you're going. Stand tall. Walk in a confident manner, and hold your head up.
- Carry a whistle. If you feel threatened, blow your whistle, bang garbage cans, honk your horn, or shout to attract attention. Noise may be your most effective defense.
- Take action if you feel threatened. Cross the street, change direction, run to a place where there are other people, or walk closer to traffic. Step out in the street on the other side of parked cars.
- If you are being followed in a car, turn around and walk quickly in the opposite direction. Get the license plate number and a description, if possible.
- If you are being followed on foot, turn around to let the person know that you have seen them. Immediately cross the street or run toward a place where a number of people will be.
- If you decide to bring someone home, introduce him or her to a friend, acquaintance or bartender so that someone knows who you left with. Let your date know you spread the word about him or her.