In today's modern world, we would like to think that bullying someone because of their sexual orientation, or their race, is a thing of the past - but sadly, it is not. Despite significant changes to the law over the past few years, plus the legalisation of same-sex marriage in March 2014, homophobic and discriminatory crimes are still rife, amounting to 10 per cent of all reported hate crime in the UK between 2013 and 2014. This is part of a five per cent overall increase in hate crime reported by The Home Office. In total, that equates to 4,622 accounts of criminal discrimination against a person because of their sexual orientation.
The 44,480 reported hate crimes in the UK between 2013 and 2014 were divided into sexual orientation at 10 per cent, racial (84 per cent), religious (five per cent), disability (four per cent) and transgender (one percent), with the extra 4 per cent indicating crimes within multiple areas of discrimination. The most shocking statistics were for anti-transgender crimes, with a 54 per cent increase from the previous year.
While these numbers are deplorable, the percentage increases actually indicate an improved awareness from police and that more victims are coming forward, as well as knowing what to report, rather than an increase in hate crime itself. According to a report from The Guardian in November last year, the number of incidents regarding homophobic crimes reported to the police is no where near the 39,000 that the government estimates happen every year.
With the statistical rise in police reports, it would seem promising that there is becoming such an increased awareness of such crimes. It is exactly this public consciousness towards anti-LGBT hate crime that the 2013 Homophobic Hate Crime: The Gay British Crime Survey, written by April Guasp from Stonewall, and Anne Gammon and Gavin Ellison from YouGov, aimed to achieve.
The YouGov and Stonewall survey of 2,500 LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people across Britain found that one in six LGBT people, equal to 630,000 individuals, have experienced a "homophobic hate crime or incident over the last three years [2010 to 2013]." This could be verbal abuse, physical injury or feelings of intimidation, although, as Ben Summerskill, Chief Executive of Stonewall wrote in his introduction to the report, "most victims don't report abuse and, if they do turn to the police, they have low expectations that anyone will listen or act."
In fact, two thirds of those experiencing hate crime in the report did not make a statement about it to anyone. The survey also found that a large proportion of those committing these hate crimes were under 25 years of age and, alongside the attacks from strangers, three in 10 victims knew the perpetrator, which could be a family member, work colleague or neighbour.
Out of the research, YouGov and Stonewall launched materials detailing what counts as a hate crime and to encourage people to report incidents, as well as compiling the document Protecting Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People: a Practical Guide for Police Forces. As the guide explains, one in five LGBT people "expect to be treated worse than heterosexual people when reporting a crime." Acknowledging the expectation of discrimination, the document reports that "there are all sorts of reasons why victims may feel uncomfortable talking to the police about an incident they've experienced. Being lesbian, gay or bisexual can create yet more barriers to coming forward."
Although the walk to equality seems to be dragging its feet lately, the biggest issues we face as a society are people's categorisation and the associative stereotypes - the "barriers" that the police guide suggests. People and their individuality are instead being replaced by categories - straight, gay, lesbian, white, black, Muslim, Christian, male, female, young, old – and while these may be aspects of who we are or how we identify ourselves, we do not all fit neatly into such defined tick boxes.
When reading in The Daily Mail this March that a lesbian tortured and killed her daughter, I couldn't help but wonder why the fact that she was a lesbian had anything to do with her actions? Is the fact that she's a lesbian to blame? Of course not. But for some reason The Daily Mail thought it was important for us to know and even made it part of the headline. It read: “The Lesbian Lover Who Brainwashed The ‘Perfect Mum’ Into Killing Her Daughter”. Just think – how often do you read about a violent attack and the headline makes reference to them being straight? How will we ever start to break down these barriers if the media continues to amplify them?
While the 2013 survey was significant in bringing to light a lot of previously unreported statistics and clearly kick-started the important issue of reporting such violence and abuse, I can't help but feel that the segregation of hate-crime into defined categories is condescending, dangerous and, like many of the recent reports of discrimination-fuelled crime, it perpetuates the stigma already surrounding issues of race, religion and sexual orientation. Ultimately, it divides us.
If we continue to categorise hate crime, to offer perpetrators a recognisable reason on which to blame their hatred and subsequent actions, it perpetuates the 'minority' culture in which we live - acknowledging that some individuals are more 'individual' than others. A hate crime should be defined as one person hurting another person in any way. Nothing else. And there is no excuse for that.
Words: Martin Brown and Katie Aske
Image Source: Albert Kennedy Trust