Home > Gender, Sexuality and the Law, Legislation and Law Reform, Mental Health Law and Disability Law > Combating Hate Crimes Perpetrated Against LGBT Persons and Persons with Disabilities

Combating Hate Crimes Perpetrated Against LGBT Persons and Persons with Disabilities

The Commencement Order for the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009 was issued last week bringing the Act into force.  The legislation creates new statutory offences that protect victims who are attacked on the basis of their disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity in Scotland.   Specifically section 1 of the Act makes provision for offences aggravated by prejudice relating to disability (or presumed disability).  Section 2 of the Act makes provision for offences aggravated by prejudice relating to sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) or transgender (or presumed transgender) identity.  Under the Act where it is proven that an offence was motivated by malice or ill will towards a victim on the basis of their identity the court is required to take that motivation into consideration when determining the sentence to be imposed.   This legislation builds upon Scottish law on hate crimes carried out on the basis of race and religion or belief under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.  Similar legislation is in force in England and Wales.

The broadening of hate crime legislation is a positive development in combating violent crime perpetrated against  persons on the basis of their identity.   However, a legislative response is not the only action required and an effort to address the offending behaviour and rehabilitate offenders is also clearly needed.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been critical of the lack of national programmes in the UK that seek to rehabilitate the perpetrators of hate crimes.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission two thirds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Scotland report being verbally abused or threatened.  Over a third report being physically attacked on the basis of their presumed sexual orientation.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission last year published a Report entitled Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled People, which revealed that many persons with disabilities in the UK are subject to a significant amount of violence and hostility in many areas of every day life.  Some of the findings of the Commission’s Report included:

  • Persons with disabilities are 4 times more likely to be the victim of a crime than non-disabled persons and are 2 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime.
  • Persons with disabilities are at higher risk of violence and experience greater levels of targeted violence when compared to non-disabled persons.
  • Persons with learning disabilities and persons with impaired mental health experience higher levels of targeted violence within the disabled category.
  • Children with disabilities, young persons, disabled women and particularly those with learning disabilities are at greater risk.
  • Geographic concentration combined with multiple sets of “minoritised identities” can increase risk.
  • Abuse mostly takes the form of: physical incidents, verbal incidents, sexual incidents, targeted anti-social behaviour, damage to property/theft, school bullying, incidents perpetrated by statutory agency staff, and cyber bullying.
  • Targeted violence very often happens on the street and in and around home-based settings, institutional settings, in schools, colleges and at work, and on public transport.

In addition to this work the Commission is now undertaking a ”Formal Inquiry Into Disability Related Harassment”.  This inquiry will assess how public authorities are responding to disability related harassment.  The EHRC is currently undertaking a consultation on the terms of reference for its inquiry – the terms of reference should be published by May 2010.

  1. March 31, 2010 at 5:42 am

    Charles, thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. I was not aware of it. The lack of hate crime legislation in Ireland is a matter of serious concern. I am not aware of the figure re: offences against people with disabilities in this jurisdiction, but I do know that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople and intersexed individuals continue to victimised, abused and assaulted on a daily basis simply because of gender or sexual identity. Unfortunately I am not sure that there is an enormous amount of willingness in the political arena to move forward with hate crimes legislation, but the appointment of a new Minister for Equality & Human Rights (Mary White) might offer some optimism in this context.

  2. vconway
    March 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    You both might be interested in the work of Marian Duggan, a recent PhD graduate from Queen’s who work focused on the lived experiences of homophobia in Northern Ireland: http://www.shu.ac.uk/justice/staff/duggan.html

  3. charlesomahony
    March 31, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks Vicky. I completely agree with you Fiona in relation to putting the issue on the agenda. It would be unfortunate if we had to wait until we have some high profile hate crime cases before there is some movement on the issue here. The ongoing research from the NDA might help drive the issue from the disability perspective. I know that the Freedom Rights Agency have done a European wide research project on homophobia for the EU and I think that there was a review of Ireland as part of that. Although I am unsure if the research is publicly available.

  4. Tim
    March 31, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    The broading of hate crime legislation does little or nothing to prevent violent crime towards vulnerable persons. Where is the evidence that is does?
    Sadly, “hate crime” laws where they exist, in Canada for example, tend to result less in longer sentences for violent acts, but more in the persecution of journalists and others for supposed ‘hate speech’.
    Thankfully Ireland has not gone down this path.

    As I write, a comedian – Guy Earle- has been dragged before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for making a joke, and several high profile writers have been targeted (Ann Coulter recently, as well as Mark Steyn and Evra Levant.)

    Once we allow the law or any other body to judge a person’s motivation (i.e. what is inside their head) for a crime which is punishable by law in any case, the law goes too far. A perpetrator’s state of mind may be relevant in determining guilt or innocence, but as an aggravating factor this is far too much like ‘thought crime’.

    Of course violence resulting from discrimination should be taken seriously, but no less or more seriously than any other violent crime. The report mentioned above states that persons with disabilities are 4 times more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled persons. Does anybody believe this is a result of “hate”? Or does it not rather arise from the assumption they cannot fight back?

  5. charlesomahony
    April 2, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks Tim for your comment. While there is a lot of debate around the utility of hate crimes I think that these laws serve a legitimate purpose. Beyond the affect that a violent crime of this nature has on the victim, it also negatively impacts upon other members of the victims group. As such I think it is important to address the motivation of the crime at the sentencing stage. I agree with you that the perceived vulnerability of persons with disabilities may contribute to the higher rates of violent crime targeted at them. That is why such crimes now in the UK fall into the category of hates crimes as the motivation for the violence is based on the identity of the victim.

  6. Tim
    April 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks Charlesom. The utility of hate crimes legislation notwithstanding -and there may be an argument to suggest that certain types of thugs MAY think twice before heckling minorities, but this seems unlikely given their nature- but in this case the cure is worse than the disease.

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