I’ve written about hate crimes and the need for legislation once before for this magazine. In that article, I said I would use the term ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’ to refer to a person who was targeted in a Hate Crime. The word victim suggests weakness and helplessness and fails to grasp the resilience and active role of the person in overcoming the consequences of the aggression. And I stand by that today, too. But there is one problem with the term survivor that I didn’t take into account at the time: not everyone who is targeted in a hate crime survives.
Last April, the entire Irish LGBTQ+ community was shaken by the brutal murders of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee in Sligo. Queer people all over the country mourned the two lives lost to homophobic violence, which were only the peak of a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ attacks throughout the island. Episodes of homophobia and transphobia seem to keep populating the news and with the increase in victims and survivors, the fear also builds. Because every single one of these incidents generates those nagging questions in our minds: what if the next article I read is about someone I know? What if next time it’s someone I care about? What if it’s my partner? What if it’s my friend? What if it’s family? What if it’s me?
It is the reason why Hate Crimes are called ‘message crimes’. Their dynamics don’t involve only victim and perpetrator, they also send a message to the entire community to which the victim belongs. The message that they are not safe, that they are not welcome, that they could be the next target.
This is the focus of the Hate Crimes Hurt Us All campaign launched by the Coalition Against Hate Crimes (CAHC), which aims at raising awareness about why we need legislation against Hate Crimes and incitement to hatred and violence and demands a specific action plan from the government. As part of the campaign, the CAHC presented findings from a survey participated in by over 400 individuals who are members of minority communities in Ireland. It revealed that 43 percent of them had personally experienced an incident of Hate Crime and that 70 percent had heard or read about at least one where the survivor was a member of their community.
According to the statistics gathered by An Garda Síochána, last year there were 448 Hate Crimes and haterelated incidents recorded in Ireland. Sexual orientation was the second most targeted characteristic by perpetrators of hate violence, right after race. Hate crimes are a problem that impact too many citizens and having the State do nothing about it is simply not acceptable anymore. We need this Bill to become law and we need it soon. We need the State to send the message that hate will not be tolerated in Ireland anymore.
I caught up with the chair of the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, Luna Lara Liboni, to get better insight into the new Bill and what needs to be done to tackle haterelated incidents in an effective way. Speaking about the CAHC, she said that they are a group of organisations representing different marginalised communities whose “purpose is to be a common, joint, unified voice in ensuring that policies and legislation move in a direction to effectively tackle hate crimes”.
Because “different communities experience hate crimes in different ways,” with some being more likely to experience physical attacks, while others might be subject to verbal abuse, theft or fraud, the aim of the Coalition is to ensure that “everyone has a seat to have a voice for their own community” in the conversation around Hate Crimes and incitement to hatred.
The CAHC has worked closely with lawmakers to advance the Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences Bill and to ensure that the law meets the real needs of the communities it seeks to protect. If the Bill in its current state is passed, it will introduce “aggravated” versions of existing criminal offences in cases in which such offences are motivated by hatred against a victim’s “protected characteristics”. The list of such characteristics included in the law has been expanded and is now fully LGBTQ+ inclusive. In fact, the law is set to protect people who are targeted due to their perceived sexual orientation, gender - which includes gender identity and gender expression - and sex characteristics, a term included to ensure the protection of intersex people. In addition, the list contains race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origin, descent and disability.
The Bill will also expand the hate speech legislation in Ireland by criminalising any intentional or reckless communication and behaviour that is likely to incite hatred or violence towards a person based on one of the protected characteristics.
“Hate speech can be seen as a pyramid,” says Liboni. “There are different forms of hate speech. What this legislation does is address incitement to hatred, which is among the most extreme forms of hate speech.” While Ireland already has a law that prohibits hate speech, the Coalition has stressed how that legislation is not enough to effectively protect marginalised groups because, as Liboni explains, “it potentially creates a loophole for those who wish to harm, but do it in the context of academic, political and, something that has now been introduced, religious discourse. And we find this quite dangerous.”
While the Coalition has been advocating for years for hate crime legislation, they have also advocated for even more- highlighting how a law is only the first step to tackle a much more complex issue. “We need to step outside of seeing the legislation as the end of this process,” says Liboni.
The Hate Crimes Hurt Us All campaign calls on the government to commit to a national action plan against the crimes, which would go beyond criminal law and present a more comprehensive and multi-faceted response to the issue. “The most effective way of tackling Hate Crime is preventing Hate Crime from happening,” says the Chair of the Coalition. Education and training are paramount, because these incidents are an extension of the racism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of prejudice that pervade Irish society. What we need is to challenge the specific beliefs and attitudes that underlie such crimes in order to stop them before they even happen.
Another problem that is widely acknowledged by experts is that Hate Crimes are massively underreported. There are several reasons why this is so widespread, one of which is “fear of secondary victimisation”. The term refers to a worry survivors might have of being further discriminated against and mistreated by police authorities because they think there’s a chance they’d share their attacker’s discriminatory attitudes. As for the LGBTQ+ community in particular, some members might be reluctant to report crimes because they are not out and thus they fear disclosing their queer identity. We need Gardai to have special training on the issue because we need survivors to be able to trust them enough to seek justice. Not to mention that the problem of underreporting leads us to having a distorted picture of how vast the phenomenon is. “How can we do more about something when we don’t have an understanding of what that something is?” asks Liboni.
Improving victim support is also fundamental especially in a context like the Irish one, where the majority of the responsibility for it, as well as for the rest of the work around tackling Hate Crime, currently falls on civil society, often with substantive financial shortages. “Civil society is already doing a huge amount of work as victim support providers and is already supporting the communities in a huge way. Some of the burden should be removed from them, and there should be a systemic, steady, state-led response,” says Liboni.
A comprehensive national action plan should address all aspects of this complicated problem, which is why we need the State to go beyond legislation. “That’s what we’re calling for,” says Liboni. “We’re saying, we absolutely welcome this legislation that we need to get right and to be the best legislation possible for everyone. But this is the beginning. This is one of the steps to tackle Hate Crime and incidents of extreme speech and hate speech effectively.”