Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Hate Crime- What Do Trans People Think About It?: A UK Analysis

Compassion is one of the buzzwords I have been using rather a lot during my blog's existence. It's one of the qualities I look for in a Bessie buddy, work colleague or employer. More often than not we are wrapped up in trying to satisfy our own egos that we forget to demonstrate compassion to our opponents/enemies as well as to our friends. It can be difficult to be level headed when someone hurls a "you look like Mrs Brown but in Norwegian troll form" insult down the local bar but how you respond I believe shows your true nature. Yes, most people wouldn't batter an eyelid if you only heard this insult once in your life, being uttered by an ill dressed stranger who's probably on his way to get absolutely bladdered to try and forget his own reprobate life back home. Yet what happens if you suffer from daily systematic bursts of name-calling from your so-called "friendly" neighbours? What happens if the name-calling leads to vicious emails, deliberate social media trolling and shaming, veiled death threats or wild paedophilic accusations? Heaven forbid, what would happen if that name calling that you ignored from neighbours lead to actual physical and sexual abuse, such as oral rape by those neighbours concerned? If you had only spoken up and reported the name-calling to the police, surely it would have put the local beat PCSO/PC on notice to check up on you to make sure you were alright and warn the neighbours about their poisonous, vile behaviour? You'd think any rational police officer/PCSO would do this for any of his/her/their residents? After all his/her/their duty is to "protect and serve" the local population. So why are so many trans people afraid to report hate incidents? Why don't they understand the nature of hate crime means some hate incidents will be classified as an actual crime? Why don't PCSOs encourage more trans people to report hate incidents/crimes?

What IS the difference between a hate incident and a hate crime?
Luckily for "hate crime" deniers there is a common, relatively easy to understand set of definitions that have been agreed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and UK Policing bodies:

Hate incidents:
Something is a hate incident if the victim or anyone else thinks it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on one of these characteristics:
  • disability
  • race
  • religion
  • transgender identity (as opposed to Gender Reassignment protected characteristic in the Equality Act)
  • sexual orientation.
If you feel that something is a hate incident it must be recorded as such by the person you are speaking to. All police forces report hate crime based on these five characteristics.

Hate Crimes:
Any incident which leads to breaking the law which has been motivated by prejudice/discrimination based on one or more of the five characteristics stated above will be classified as a hate crime.

Here's a simplified table to show some links between hate incidents and hate crimes:

Type of Hate Offence
Can it be recorded as a Hate Incident?
Can it be recorded as a Hate Crime?
Verbal abuse- e.g. name calling
Harassment (as defined under the Equality Act – see my post on HR- trans people protected under transsexual label within Gender Reassignment protected characteristic)
Bullying/Intimidation in public- (e.g. Section 4-Fear or Provocation of Violence, Public Order Act, 1988)
Physical Abuse-hitting/punching/spitting
(e.g. Section 3, Affray under Public Order Act, 1988)
Sexual assault
Damage to home/car- e.g. transphobic graffiti
Hate Mail (as defined under the Malicious Communications Act, 1988)
Online Trolling/Abuse- e.g. on Twitter/Facebook social media platforms
Coercion and Control by a partner because of trans status (covered under the new DVA regulations which came into effect from Dec, 2015)

There are no specific transphobic crimes currently identified under the law, but certain incidents will be considered hate crimes if they break an existing law- e.g. if there is a sustained level of verbal abuse by a number of individuals who are local to you (neighbours) and they do not desist from these activities when asked to do so by the police, they could be given an ASBO (Anti Social Behaviour Order) where they have to abide by a set of rules for 2 years or face a fine of £1,000 if they are a young offender or up to £5,000 and 5 years in prison if they are an adult offender).
or end up being prosecuted under the Public Order Act, 1988 or for breaching the Equality Act, 2010, dependent on the nature of the offence and evidence provided by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As well as reporting the abuse to the police, you can get your local authority/landlord to take action against the neighbours concerned using their anti-social behaviour powers. You can also take the perpetrators to civil court to be compensated for your experience and to get them to desist from carrying on their behaviour using the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997 (which can led to ASBOs being awarded too).

It's interesting to note that according to the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB website, "when someone is charged with a homophobic or transphobic hate crime, the judge can impose a tougher sentence on the offender under the Criminal Justice Act 2003." However, regardless of how the incident may look within the prism of LGBT hostility/prejudice/discrimination, the offence may still be seen as a crime even if it was not motivated by your transgender identity.

With so much legislation and guidance in place, why have there been so few public prosecutions reported by the mainstream media? Why do victims who report hate crime feel unsupported?

My Survey:
According to The Independent article written by Peter Yeung in July 2016,
there has been a 170% rise in transphobic hate crimes being reported to police, yet there were only 582 offences reported in total in the year and reports only came from 26/45 UK police forces. Yeung concluded that the "low prosecution rates  (19 in 2015, falling from 22 in 2014 according to 15/26 UK forces) and "lack of police training on trans issues" were to blame for such low levels of reporting.

So I wanted to see how a small group of trans respondents (not assorted by gender or sexuality preference) reacted to a series of hate offences being offered as potential hate crimes to see whether they would report such crimes to the local police force if they became a victim themselves of that crime. I carried out a poll with Facebook Trans-Rights group to see what trans people thought about denotations of hate crime. Some examples I gave are currently perceived as hate incidents whilst others are firm examples of hate crime. I reprint the poll results below: (conducted 13-14th September 2016).

Which of the following would you say needs to be reported to your local police force as a hate crime? (feel free to add any suggestions- no suggestions were added):

Type of Hate Offence
Number of respondents
Receiving daily targeted, hate emails/letters from a TERF (a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)
Being called "tranny" or "shemale" in the street by a stranger
Being told you cannot use the bathroom that corresponds to your chosen gender
Distribution of discriminatory trans literature by a Christian group- e.g. Westboro Baptist Church
Having a drink thrown over you in a (cisgender) nightclub
Trans on Trans Insults -e.g. lookism/passability related.

Most respondents believed hate emails/letters from feminists who identify openly as being anti-trans should be classified as a hate crime, along with stranger verbal abuse and employers/colleagues/strangers blocking bathroom access. The high response rate tallies with common views espoused by the trans community irrespective of transition status, gender preference or sexual orientation.

However trans-on-trans insults/verbal abuse doesn't seem to figure as a hate crime towards trans people, which is rather shocking considering the recent Body Positive and anti-lookism movements within transfeminism aimed at helping trans people be proud of their bodies and appearance. With this being such a contentious issue and needs covering in its own right (after further investigation) I shall deal with it in my next blogpost.

It came to my attention that some respondents felt the current police quality standards system were ineffective. For example, Colin, a trans- guy in Guildford, Surrey contacted me to say that he'd reported more than 20 examples of hate crime to his local police station but received no responses; they had "disappeared into silent bureaucracy". Strangely, Colin was only following advice given on the Citizen's Advice Bureau (CAB) page to report all hate crime/incidents in an attempt to prevent them escalating into more serious incidents. It transpired that he'd met with the local chief of police to discuss his experiences, yet nothing actually changed as a result of that meeting. All buzzwords and compliments but no concrete action to address the direct concerns that he had outlined in the hate crime reports that he had submitted. The fact no action had been taken has led to him deciding not to "go out" anymore. We often forget that victims of hate crime can become reclusive as a result of receiving sustained abuse from local residents. Colin even linked his experience to that of social class: "I have a saying about surrey ive lived here most of my life born here its a saying 'the poorer you are the more acid is going to be thrown at you' seems true around here!" This seems to have been compounded by the fact that Colin informed me that there had been no LAGLO (Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officer who is designated by a force to help LGBTQIA people) representation at Croydon Pride; you see them in abundance in Manchester and at the main London pride events so I shall be seeing whether a Lincs LAGLO turns up to Lincoln Pride on the 24th September so I can ask them specifically about hate crime prevention and prosecution in Lincolnshire.

Joanne, a trans lady told me she was so afraid of the police as a result of her experience of hate crime that she can't bring herself to report it (she has now been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is now recovering slowly). Ryan, a trans male teenager told me he gets called "tranny" on a daily basis by his neighbours but he feels there is no point reporting them to the police because his concerns wouldn't get taken seriously. His family are equally unsupportive so he can't wait to move out and attend college where he hopes he will be valued and treated with compassion.

Jacqueline told me that she was trying to find out who had send hate mail to her estranged parents about her because of her transgender status. The perpetrator was successfully prosecuted but she never found out who they were because her parents refused to tell her (despite "taking great delight" in revealing the contents of the letter) and the police refused to tell her, citing "confidentiality" as the main reason. This shows that trans hate crimes may end up with a perpetrator being prosecuted but without the intended victim ever finding out about it. Could this be considered a miscarriage of justice?

Finally there were trans people who wanted to reduce the hate crime label down to specific areas. Sophie suggested that most of the verbal abuse reports would be "petty", including any relating to trans-trans insulting. Toilet/bathroom wise Sophie said it depended on "whether they were public or private"; I'd say most respondents were thinking about being barred from public bathroom use but if their parents/siblings prevented them from using a bathroom in the house once they reveal their transgender status it could be perceived as a form of abuse and thus a hate crime. Interestingly Sophie didn't mention malicious communication, which could indicate either non-interest or unsure of her answer. With this mix of understanding on what constitutes hate offences, hate crimes and whether to report them, it is clear to see the police, LGBT charities and support services have a lot more to do raise awareness. But why would some trans people think even reporting an act of physical abuse as a trans hate crime might be a "waste of time"? 

Some suggestions offered as to why transgender hate crime legislation seems so ineffective:
  • Belief that there is "no such thing as hate crime"- that it has been created by "Luvvie Lefties" to hamper freedom of speech using "Political Correctness" banner. (That may be true when it comes to verbal abuse/online abuse but what about intimidation/sustained harassment/physical violence?)
  • Lack of education within the police force about hate incidents and hate crime generally-e.g. police and victims may not even see any hate incidents as "crimes", especially if they involve online abuse through emails/social media or is perpetrated by parents/siblings/family members.
  • Lack of awareness of how hate crime legislation can be seen through the transgender identity prism.
  • Is a PCSO equipped to deal with resolving hate crime alone? Should there always be a PC or senior PCSO with them to make sure they record the crime thoroughly and classify it correctly?
  • Innate prejudice of police officers/support services derived from environmental factors-e.g. religious preference/sexual orientation/political ideologies. Has the police officer/PCSO ever spoken to a trans person for any length of time before? Do they know how to handle a case sensitively-e.g. making sure to use correct pronouns, talk in an appropriate tone, be reassuring?
  • Not enough resources to deal with resolving hate crimes; police departments are overstretched due to budget cuts being implemented by Whitehall so there may be reductions in specialist front-line staff who are trained in dealing with LGBTQIA community issues.
  • Do the CPS ultimately believe they can take the perpetrator to court to be charged in the first place?
  • Will the CPS be able to secure any level of prosecution for the victim; if only 22 people were convicted under hate crime legislation, is it effective enough?
  • What if one person views it as hate crime even after a successful prosecution but 99 others don't- who will the public end up believing Will they ever believe the hate crime victim?
At first glance, it appears that transphobic hate crimes are starting to be taken seriously by the police.  Peter Yeung's article has shown reporting rates have increased, especially among trans female victims. There appears to be a commitment from senior political and policing figures such as Angela Rayner, Shadow Women and Equalities Sec and Jane Sawyers, the National Police Chiefs lead for LGBT issues to increase training opportunities for police officers to give them the knowledge to "challenge hate and reduce the harm that it causes". However, as my survey and personal responses to hate incidents being categorised as transphobic hate crime have shown, public confidence in the police to deal with trans hate crime is dented at grassroots level. Successful criminal prosecutions have fallen,  hate crime reports are knowingly being filed under "cannot be bothered to investigate" and trans awareness of hate incidents and hate crime hasn't necessarily led to an increase in reporting amongst trans men. The progress has been satisfactory but there is no gold rosette in sight yet. I look forward to exploring ways of improving the reporting experience for trans people, talking to individuals such as my local LAGLO about what they believe will help reduce offending rates and increase reporting rates and working with charities such as Gender Free DV to address links between trans hate crime and trans domestic violence.