September 27, 2006

Call The Cops? Many Don’t

Posted at 7:10 am (Pacific Time)

On Monday, three men convicted of brutally attacking 6 gay men last July during San Diego’s gay pride festival were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 32 months to 11 years. A fourth participant in the attacks pled guilty and will be sentenced next month, according to a report.

The San Diego attacks resembled many other antigay hate crimes in various ways. They were perpetrated by a gang of young males, targeted isolated victims, and included antigay epithets.

But they were not so typical in an important respect: They were reported to the police.

There are many reasons why victims, regardless of their sexual orientation, don’t report a crime. For example, they don’t expect the police to catch the perpetrator or they simply want to put the whole experience behind them.

Sexual minority victims have those same reasons and others as well. For example, they are often afraid their sexual orientation will be publicly revealed (which can result in ostracism and discrimination) or they expect abuse when the police find out they’re not heterosexual.

Data collected by the US Census Bureau and published in November of 2005 reveal that nearly half of antigay hate crimes go completely unreported. In my own research in the Sacramento (CA) area, I found that sexual minority adults were substantially more likely to report a “routine” crime to the police than a hate crime.

Thus, the convictions in San Diego are important, not only because they punish the men responsible for that specific rampage, but also because they send a general message that reporting an antigay hate crime can lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. Nevertheless, many sexual minority victims will remain reluctant to report a crime to the police so long as they fear discrimination, ostracism, and further victimization as a consequence of doing so.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.


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