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Why we need a law on HATE CRIME

I am from Italy and last year members of the Senate cheered loudly and applauded as if they were in a stadium when a law that would protect queer people from discrimination and violence was tanked. The rage that learning about it caused is something I can still experience while writing this piece. The LGBTQ+ community in Italy have been waiting for such legislation for decades. The first attempt at introducing it was made in 2002 and now, 20 years later, my country still has no law that recognises a discriminatory motive for hate crimes perpetrated against queer folks.

I believe that the lack of such legislation is simply not acceptable anymore, in either of our countries. Because refusing to recognise a hate motive for these crimes is disregarding completely their core element, the very reason why they happen in the first place.

According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), there are two elements that make a hate crime: an act that constitutes criminal offence and a bias motive. This second element is what distinguishes a hate crime from any other crime, because it means that the perpetrator chooses the survivor based on the prejudice they have against them. I use the term ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’ because the latter has negative connotations associated with weakness, helplessness and passivity and thus fails to grasp the resilience and the active role of a person who has suffered violence in overcoming the consequences of the aggression.

Portrait by Stefano Pappalardo.

The survivor is thus chosen because the perpetrator perceives them as belonging to a certain social group. Hate crimes are usually directed against members of groups who are already marginalised in society, and they are used as a mechanism of oppression. They are the consequence of a political culture that grants rights and privileges on the basis of people’s social characteristics. As such, hate crimes are an extension of the racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia that are already present in our society. This is the very reason why they cannot and should not be considered as isolated incidents to be dealt with separately. This is why we need a system to recognise them and to combat them as a whole phenomenon. This is why we need appropriate legislation.

Not having such laws means that survivors of hate crimes will not be able to access justice or the appropriate support they need after their experiences. It has been demonstrated that the lack of legislation leads survivors to perceive reporting the crime to the police as inconsequential. Moreover, studies have found that crimes with a hate motive are more debilitating than other crimes and often impair survivors from taking further action.

The lack of a law also means not being able to monitor the scope of the phenomenon, as no comprehensive data on hate crimes are currently available, since most of them are not recognised as such. And finally, it means not having an effective strategy to combat a problem that goes beyond a single survivor and attacker. The entire community the survivor belongs to is impacted by the violence and the message that lies behind it. The dynamics of a hate crime involve the creation of sentiments of fear and suspicion in the targeted community.

By adopting proper legislation, the State would send a message that such aggressions will not be tolerated, that perpetrators will be punished and that LGBTQ+ people will be protected.

And that is the kind of message we need.

This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN