Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The effects of hate crime

"We need to ensure that all groups vulnerable to hate crime can have their experiences recognised" says Peter Dunn, Chair of London's LGBT anti-violence charity Galop .

Last week Sarah from Same Difference drew our attention towards the shocking news that therapies to "cure" homosexuality are still being used in the UK. Coercive eugenics in 21st century Britain should be front page news material. However, word that "one in six psychiatrists" (most of whom on the NHS) have tried "therapies" that include electric shock to "turn gay men straight" was widely under reported.

Alas, that's not all. Last week also showed the staggering degree of indifference towards the brutal homophobic killing of 18-year-old Michael Causer in Liverpool, as well as the disturbing hostility towards proposals for the extention of anti-hate legislation in a way that would place homophobia on a par with racism or religious hatred.

Homophobia in Britain is still worringly present. The Crown Prosecution Service recently suggested violent crimes against LGBT individuals are on the rise again. And yet, a superficial look at the telly or Heat magazine may suggest growing levels of mainstream acceptance.

Peter Dunn, Chair of London's LGBT anti-violence charity Galop, is currently involved in a research project on the effects of homophobic victimisation on gay men (have a look at his website).

Here is what he told Hagley Road to Ladywood.

- What prompted your research on homophobic crime and homophobic incidents?

At the time I started my PhD research in 2005 I was employed by Victim Support's National Office as their Head of Research and Development. We were trying to improve services to victims of homophobic crime but there was quite a lot of resistance around - homophobic crime always seemed to be the lowest priority. I thought we needed more research on its extent and effects.

As a gay man who has been out since 16 I have been on the receiving end of homophobic violence several times: most recently in 2005 on a train from Sheffield to London when I asked a group of BNP supporters to stop making racist comments about the train staff. Their response was "what are you some kind of nigger-loving poofter?" and then the homophobic abuse, which included a bit of hitting and kicking, started.

The train staff (who I had originally been trying to help!) did nothing to intervene and all the police did was get them ejected from the train. It was striking how quickly the offenders switched from racism to homophobia. Most of the existing research about homophobic crime is quantitative, in other words it measures how many people have experienced homophobia, which doesn't tell us much about how people are affected by it and what they want in terms of policing responses and support. I wanted to explore the effects of homophobic crime, to fill that gap in the existing research, and that is what my PhD research has done.

I also wanted to understand more about the effects of the interaction of homophobic and racist crime, and how Black gay men experience it, as there is very little research on that.

- Campaigners say that nearly eight out of 10 homophobic offences still go unreported. In the wake of your study, what can you tell us about it and what can be done to reverse the trend?

The police now make great efforts to persuade LGBT people to report homophobic crime, but most of the 26 gay men I interviewed had very negative experiences of the police, being passed around from one unit to another, with witnesses not interviewed, and no tangible outcomes. Some were blamed by police officers for their own victimisation. Other people get to hear about these experiences. People won't report unless they think there will be a positive outcome and in many instances, there is no positive outcome.

People can accept that it might not be possible for the police to catch the offender, but they can't and should not have to accept being treated with insensitivity or being ignored by bureaucractic police processes.

Having said that, two or three people had a really excellent experience of the police when they reported a homophobic crime - which shows that the police are capable of getting it right - but the ones that were glad they reported were in a minority.

- 18-year-old Michael Causer's brutal killing was met by a shocking lack of media interest. Most national newspapers failed to report any news related to it. How do you explain that?

Gay men (and probably, lesbians too) are still not seen as 'innocent' victims in the way that other victims of crime are. Therefore, there is a covert attitude that if we are victimised we have probably brought it upon ourselves somehow - though that is not often openly expressed now - and that is why it is not reported, as that makes homophobic crime un-newsworthy. Also, the most newsworthy news is where a 'family' is affected, and gay men do not usually produce families (even though we all come from one!), so we are ignored.

- In May 2008, the Commons passed new legal protections against incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (later halted by the House of Lords). Can this make a difference?

It may make a very small difference as it sends out a clear statement that this type of incitement is unacceptable. Legislation of this kind is probably more effective at making the criminal justice system take homophobic crime more seriously than it is at actually securing convictions, as this means that police officers, CPS staff etc might get training, or follow new standards. The difficulty at the moment seems to be the House of Lords, who as usual are blocking the legislation's implementation. The House of Lords has always resisted legislation designed to help LGBT people.

- It's now over five years since Section 28 was scrapped. It feels almost impossible to believe that Britain had adopted such a horrible and backward piece of legislation. But how can we say that society's attitudes are changing if there are still such high levels of homophobic incidents?

Society's attitudes are undoubtedly changing but there is still a sizeable minority that are intolerant of same sex relationships. Some parts of the Church and other religions promote intolerance and / or hatred of gay people in a way that would never be tolerated if it was directed at a different minority group. Until they can be helped to change, there will never be complete equality for LGBT people. This is one reason why we need that law on incitement of homophobic hatred to be implemented.

- Recently the Independent dubbed homophobia "the forgotten hate crime".

Well it's not forgotten because as the reporting of Michael Causer's killing illustrates, it has never been fully recognised in the first place! But the same could be said of other hate crimes. Groups that represent gypsies and travellers would say the same about hate crime directed against them. We need to ensure that all groups vulnerable to hate crime can have their experiences recognised.

The current Attorney General has tried to do this by establishing a declaration that all criminal justice agencies sign stating that they will treat all hate crimes seriously. Yet, many state agencies fail to comply with this. For example, local authorities, who will often ignore cases where people are homophobically harassing their neighbours.

A sole focus on one single type of hate crime, most often race, can cause other forms of hate crime to be given lower priority. As well as being discriminatory to LGBT people, this means that Black LGBT people's experiences are doubly ignored in that they have to deal with homophobia in Black communities and racism in LGBT communities. I think they are the truly forgotten people in all this: for some Black lesbians, gay men and transgender people, nowhere is safe.

Click here to find out more about Peter Dunn's research.


Anonymous said...

how did you know they were BNP supporters

the BNP does not want homosexuality being promoted that’s all, I have been to many BNP meetings and homosexuality is never mentioned

Have you read our policies, if not please do, for its not the BNP that is your enemy, we certainly don’t want to kill you as do the foreign friends of this parliament

claude said...

"we certainly don’t want to kill you"
Thank you very much. That's some mercy.

how did you know they were BNP supporters
At least have the courage of your conviction. BNP supporters are extremely homophobic.

Paul said...

The fact of the matter is the BNP are largely composed of bigots. They are much less overt than at one time they were. However when it comes to homophobia, they are certainly not calling for gays to be 'thrown off a cliff'. The latter quote was from a Salafist Islamic preacher exposed on Channel four's dispatches in 2007. They are far less vicious than the assorted Islamist groupings that always seem to get a free ride from the left. Just look at Ken Livingstone cozying up to Qaradawi etc.

Stan Moss said...

Totally agree with Paul on the disgusting homophobia routinely spurted by several Islamist group.
However, our Sheffield Nationalist's quip ("we certainly don’t want to kill you"...) speaks volume.

The thing is, these days the BNP would even deny that they're racist!