23 June 2013

Why Crimes Against LGBT (Especially T) People Are Under-Reported

Whenever the number of assualts and other crimes against LGBT people increases--as it did for several years in the first decade of this century-- some observers minimize it by attributing it to "greater willingness to report" such crimes to the police.  However, when there is a decrease, as was reported from 2011 to 2012, the same reason is often given:  Increased reporting, it is said, leads to greater awareness and prevention.

While either, or even both, of these explanations may be plasible, the National Association of Anti-Violence Projects points out that LGBT people are disproportionately targeted for discrimination and violence.  The risk of experiencing everything from slurs to slaying increases exponentially if you are transgendered (especially MTF) or of color.  

Whether the rate is increasing or not, and whatever factors may be in play, it's still difficult not to think that crimes against LGBT people--especially trans women and those of color--are grossly underreported.  Some are mis-categorized--as, most famously, the death of Marsha P. Johnson was ruled a suicide while evidence indicates that she may have met her fate at the hands of one or more haters on the old Christoper Street pier, where someone saw her body floating in the Hudson River.

Recently, I have volunteered as an outreach worker for the Anti-Violence Project here in New York.  My own impetus to do so came from my own experience.  I did not experience physical violence in a relationship in which I was involved; however, my now-ex beau used my identity as a trans person to spread false rumors and outright lies about me.  He threatened more of the same if I didn't let him back into my life.  In doing so, he also exposed me to the threat of physical violence from others:  Too many people are willing to believe that trans people are committing all manner of sexual crimes, and more than a few are willing to kill us over such notions.  

I mention my experience not only to show that violence and abuse need not be physical in order to cause harm, or even death, to a trans person. Yet the very notions too many people--including the ex--have are one reason why many of us are reluctant to report the abuse and other crimes we experience.  Too many people--including many police officers, including all except one I encountered in my local precinct--believe that we "had it coming" to us for being who we are.  And some of us even experience harassment from police officers, as I did the first time I went to the local precinct.

I had to go to that precinct three times before anyone would even take a report from me--and they did that only after I went to the court and a counselor advised me on what to do.  (That counselor was also very sympathetic and supportive.  She is black; I wonder whether she also experienced threats and other abuse.)  And, to give more credit where it's due, the court clerks and officers were very helpful to me. Still, I can't help but to wonder, though, how many other trans women--and other LGBT people--had experiences like mine, and whether any gave up after experiencing such official hostility only once.  Even more to the point, I wonder how many people simply didn't report abuse, assaults or worse because they'd heard horror stories like mine about dealing with the police.

Whatever the year-to-year statistical fluctations are in anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, I believe that such violations will be under-reported for many years to come. Only after changes in training law enforcement officials and societal attitudes have influenced a generation or two of people will more of us feel confident that we can report the offenses against us without having to worry about experiencing more prejudice and even violence from those to whom we report those crimes.