Violence against the LGBT community was up in 2008. So says the 2008 Hate Violence Report released June 16th by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP). A 2% national increase follows a 24% spike in violence reported in 2007. While that single-digit statistic might not appear ominous on the surface, a look inside the report is scarier than a Steven King horror film.
The LGBT community of the upper Midwest had been particularly victimized during 2008. Reports of violence in Milwaukee jumped 64%. Minnesota and Chicago increases were 48% and 42%, respectively. Serious injuries requiring medical assistance were up 46% nationwide in 2008 while 29 murders were reported, the highest number since NDCVP began tracking hate crime statistics in 1999.
The 2008 Hate Violence Report reveals the emergence of an alarming trend: multiple crimes. 2008 witnessed more repeat crime on the same individual perpetrated by more assailants. Many of these are repeat offenders. Kelly Costello of the Colorado Anti Violence Program said there were "168 offenders for 131 survivors" statewide.
Hate crime has an ugly face with deep roots. Costello remarked that there is often an increase in LGBT harassment and violence that accompanies an economic downturn such as the current recession. "There's a general belief that it's okay to target the LBGT community and it's rooted in social prejudice," adding "anti-LGBT sentiment is alive and well."
The newly-released report has coalition members demanding reform on both state and federal levels. Jason Cianciotto, Executive Director of Wingspan Anti-Violence Project in Tucson, Arizona said that change must come in the form of hate crime education and prevention programs. "We're tax payers, too. We should be represented with education and outreach". Ciaciotto's comment references the fact only 20 states currently have anti-violence programs, leaving more than half of the U.S. unprotected without a hate crimes project resource.
The report raises several equally disturbing questions. Without an LGBT anti-violence program in every state, how is a victim to find justice without fearing ridicule, lack of understanding or recrimination? How does the tide of public opinion shift if there isn't a watchdog organization to tell the victim's story, educate the public on brutality of bias motivated hate crime and hold law enforcement accountable?
LGBTer's won't reach out to the long arm of the law unless they feel safe, according to Cianciotto. But how do we get there? The 2008 Hate Violence Report reveals a 150% increase in physical abuse at the hand of law enforcement. Frightening statistics like these won't do anything to improve grossly under-reported LGBT violent crime statistics or community relations, much less get the victim the medical and legal care they deserve as a basic human right. Nor will it get the criminal off the streets, unable to assault again as a repeat offender. Cianciotto concluded, "We're taxpayers and we should be represented with education and outreach in all 50 states."
Other regional facts of note emerged during a recent NCAVP Hate Violence Report conference call:
"Giovan", a young adult artist from Brooklyn, NY recounted his horrific ordeal as a 2008 victim of hate crime. Asking strangers only for directions to a local night club, he was instead ridiculed and taunted with homophobic slurs. Before he could walk away he was punched and then savagely beaten bloody by a group of attackers. He was accosted a second time when one of his assailants saw him dialing 911 for help. The NYPD finally arrived, but it took almost 9 hours for the hate crimes task force to begin their investigation. During this time Giovan was denied hospital access, medical attention and rest. His case remains pending almost a year later.
Sharon Stapel, Executive Director of the NYC Anti-Violence Project noted that police-documented murders rose 66% while sexual assaults skyrocketed 171%. Stapel strongly advocates that inequality not be tolerated within the LGBT community. "Until we have the same access to equal rights we should expect to continue to see this disparate treatment in violence."
Meighan Bentz of the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and Anti-Violence Project revealed that a 64% increase in reported local violent crime reflects only crimes resulting in injury, a tip of the iceberg allusion to the fact that far more crime and harassment lie just beneath the surface. Sexual assault was reported on the rise in Milwaukee as well. Bentz noted that the majority of the violent incidents reported to the Milwaukee LGBT Anti-Violence Project weren't reported to the police "out of fear."
Melissa Pope of the Triangle Foundation in Detroit said that the organization's mission is to provide direct service to victims of LGBT violence and sexual assault. Pope indicated homicides locally increased 100% in 2008. Intimidation, up 66%, is only reported if a physical threat is made under intimidation. Pope remarked that the LGBT community will "only be free from intimidation and violence when respect and equality flourish."
Rebecca Kleok of OutFront Minnesota expressed deep concern with the 48% statewide increase in hate-related crime. She illustrated the changing face of crime by referencing a staggering 225% increase in criminals with 4 or more offenses. Kleok also noted an increase in sexual assault, crime against people with disability and a low 18% reporting rate to law enforcement, saying "victims have too much training to do of law enforcement."
The 35 NCAVP member organizations nationwide have made a number of recommendations based on the 2008 Hate Violence Report. Creating a climate of respect that shuns violence by fostering public awareness and supporting school-based LGBT initiatives and inclusive curricula tops the list. The committee encourages new federal and state legislation that expands protected classes to include sexual orientation and gender identity to existing statutes and authorizes the US Attorney General to investigate and prosecute bias crimes.
Additional resources are recommended for enhanced law enforcement agencies as part of any federal hate crimes legislation. These resources would be dedicated to increasing criminal justice personnel, community education, training and assistance programs for actively addressing hate crimes. Statewide pubic awareness campaigns should mandate safe schools and require state-sponsored anti-violence campaigns to specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity.
NCAVP also recommends increased local, state and federal funding for anti-violence work, rehabilitation of criminals and alternatives to incarceration, improvement in the efficacy of law enforcement, funding research and mandating statistical reporting of LGBT hate violence.
The conclusion of the NCAVP committee sums it up. "The need for education and prevention measures has never been clearer."