The current political and societal climate has raised the awareness of pervasive problems encountered by America’s marginalized people. Simultaneously, those who subscribe to hate have become emboldened in their ability to perpetuate their beliefs. The increase of hate crimes targeted at the LGBT community has been steady and, sadly, deadly. The impact of this disturbing trend has led to the most vulnerable of the community, the transgender population, to vastly under-report hate crimes.
While the core problem is the existence and prevalence of hate crimes toward the transgender community, a larger discussion among community leaders and policymakers needs to begin with how to properly address issues surrounding the reporting of the crimes or acts. The reasoning behind targeting the reporting gap of hate crimes is the critical role accurate and effective reporting plays in ending the current proliferation of hate crimes. In short, we cannot adequately address the crime itself if the crime or act is not reported.
Increase in hate crimes toward sexual minorities
A bit of background: The 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act was seen as foundational federal legislation to protect sexual minorities from crimes or acts of bias or hate. However, hate crimes toward sexual minorities and, especially, the transgender community have increased nationally at an alarming rate since 2010. Furthermore, the 5 percent increase hardly scratches the surface when it comes to understanding how widely prevalent and pervasive the problem really is. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 5,850 hate crime incidents in 2015. However, a survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated the actual number is closer to 200,000. The complexity grows with estimating hate crime incidents toward the LGBT community. In addition, states are not required to report hate crime data to the FBI, which compounds the difficulty for the creation of accurate national statistics that can inform policymakers.
Transgender victims are likely to underreport hate crimes for a large variety of reasons. Policies need to be implemented to address the following reasons for underreporting: retribution or the potential of instigating another attack if they go after their attacker, exposing their sexual orientation and/or preferred identity to family or employers, the lack of time or social capacity to respond to repeated attacks, and the apathetic policing culture that fails to evaluate or contextualize the attacks as hate motivated.
The troubled history between the transgender community and law enforcement is still a barrier that has puzzled policymakers in efforts to reverse this trend. The history of police discrimination and toxic masculinity that has embedded itself in the police community has led to a distrust by the transgender community in regard to reporting a hate crime to get justice. Under-reporting is not unique to the LGBT community; hate crimes committed against other marginalized communities that intersect with religion, race or disabilities are also under-reported. However, an LGBT person is more likely to be a victim of hate and at a substantially higher rate if he or she identifies as transgender.
The state of Minnesota contains comprehensive hate crime legislation, compared to many other states. State hate crime laws vary greatly, and currently 45 states have some form of hate crime legislation in place. However, many of these states only include race, religion or national origin as relevant contributing factors in hate crime classification. Along with these classification factors Minnesota also includes sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability as motivating factors for hate crimes.
Minnesota’s inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity means that if the mechanisms and procedures of hate crime investigations are corrected, then transgender victims in Minnesota will be better protected by the existing legislation.
The most important stakeholder group is transgender victims of hate crimes. The victims bear financial, emotional and social costs when reporting a hate crime. One paradoxical example of the complexity of the victim stakeholder is hate crime media coverage. The increase in public awareness is critical for influencing policymakers. However, victims are often uncomfortable with having their experience publicized in ways that make them relive them or attract unwanted attention towards them.
Government and law enforcement entities are other crucial stakeholders. Minnesota’s hate crime laws are supposed to protect both sexual orientation and sexual identity. However, these laws are currently not reaching the constituents who most need them, as evident in the documented under-reporting. Government and law enforcement are the most important stakeholders when it comes to either helping or hurting hate crime reporting.
A third important stakeholder includes the entire society and citizenry of Minnesota. Similar to many other systemic issues impacting marginalized communities, these policies address problems and lead to solutions that will benefit everyone. Societal trust in our institutions is central to combating hate with the full resources and backing of an effective government. If groups of people do not report crimes committed against them for reasons of fear, then our laws lose all meaning and purpose.
Policies that could help
The enactment of just a few new policies could help change the current dynamic of under-reporting.
First, the creation of a hate-crime-focused department in law enforcement that has numerous LGBT liaison positions representative of both sexual orientation and sexual identity would help to combat feelings of intimidation or fear. These officers or victim advocates would primarily act as a crisis intervention team that would both be formally trained in hate crime crisis intervention and would act as the victim liaison. These officers would work within a specific Hate Crimes Department that would focus their entire efforts on investigating both reported and unreported hate crimes.
The creation of representative LGBT liaison positions that act as a crisis interventionist within a larger Hate Crimes Department has seen success in cities such as Washington, D.C, Los Angeles and New York City. The implementation of this policy would provide victim advocates within the law enforcement infrastructure knowledge of how hate crimes are investigated — thus empowering the victims, who may be struggling with fear or uncertainty of the situation. Additionally, the creation of these departments have provided protection and support to a segment of the population that is often routinely discriminated against — LGBT police officers. The creation of hate crime officers would lead to properly trained officers who would work in tandem with liaison advocacy specialists for victims. This would decrease the overall number of cases that fail to qualify due to procedural or competency failures, thus increasing the pool of cases that will be correctly documented as hate motivated.
Second: Create an advisory council that consists of community leaders from law enforcement, nonprofit and community leaders. This council would focus on the evaluation of best practices and coordination with transgender businesses. The businesses should be transgender-owned or commonly employ members of the trans community.
The evaluation of best practices in coordination with transgender businesses would provide several intangible outcomes that move the issue forward — the first being the opportunity for stakeholder oversight in regard to creating a community that is accountable at all levels. The council would act as a platform where different stakeholders could voice perspectives and perceived challenges. The diverse range of leaders that would participate in and provide relevant discussions with real tangible policy implications at stake.
Third: Legal protection must be given to transgender victims who report or experience a hate crime while working in the sex trade broader sex industry. Because of discrimination, transgender people have become limited in their ability to find employment. This has resulted in many being forced into the sex trade or other illegal activities to survive. This legal protection would help to alleviate fear of being prosecuted for or blamed for the situation in which the hate crime was committed.
This is the most direct policy recommendation in regard to targeting the underreporting of hate crimes by the transgender community. The preferred outcome would be a measurable increase in the number of reports or crimes being investigated as hate motivated. Protection would not only alleviate fear within sex trade but could also provide an increase in reporting across the entire sex trade regardless of race or sexual identity.
The Minnesota Hate Crimes Statute and Federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act were milestones in attempting to protect transgender and sexual identity minorities from discrimination or acts of hate. However, hate crimes legislation is only effective when victims of the crimes are willing and able to report such experiences. The policy shifts suggested here would help encourage and embolden Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens to report these crimes.
Adam Wilson is a graduate of the Master of Public Policy program at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
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