Why we do not support hate crime laws - a statement from the Bent Bars Collective

April 17, 2021

As LGBTQ people who have directly experienced hate-motivated violence and harassment, we are acutely aware of the devastating effects of homophobic and transphobic attacks. We know that any form of verbal or physical attack can be traumatic, but what makes hate-motivated violence especially distressing is the sense that we are targeted simply because of who or what we are perceived to be. Such attacks strike at the heart of our sense of self and can shatter our feelings of safety and well-being. The impacts are felt not only by those of us who are directly attacked but also within our communities more broadly.

The Bent Bars Project is especially concerned about this issue because many LGBTQ prisoners experience high levels of hate-motivated violence before, during and after they come into contact with the criminal justice system, including while  incarcerated.

We believe that more effort needs to be made to recognise and address the harms of violence wherever it occurs – on the streets, in homes or shelters, schools, workplaces, hospitals or prisons. However, we reject the idea that this should take the form of more criminal legislation, increased police powers and harsher punishments. We see these strategies as flawed because we know that hate crime legislation is an empty promise. These laws don’t provide the safety and protection they claim to offer. More broadly, we believe that a focus on punishment leads us down a dangerous and misleading path because it creates further inequalities and prevents our communities from addressing violence in meaningful and effective ways.

These are some reasons why we do not support hate crime legislation.

Hate crime laws do not make us safer.

Many people think that hate crime laws are preventative, but in actual fact, hate crime laws largely function by giving harsher sentences after a harm has occurred. However, there is no clear evidence that longer sentences deter people from violence. Even the Law Commission acknowledged in its recent hate crime consultation guidance that “there is limited evidence that higher sentences deter hate crime offenders and it is very difficult to measure whether the message communicated by higher hate crime sentences provides an educative function.” 

Hate crime laws will make some of us less safe.

The criminal justice system disproportionately targets poor and working class people, people of colour, people with disabilities and mental health issues, LGBTQ people, sex workers and immigrants. Many of these groups are the same communities that hate crime legislation claims to protect. But instead of protecting people, hate crime legislation simply gives more power to the state to lock up people for longer periods of time. 

The criminal justice system is itself violent, homophobic and transphobic. Those who come in contact with the system—whether during stop and search, arrest, court proceedings or incarceration—often experience violence, discrimination and dehumanisation from state authorities. Any legislation which expands the state’s power to put people in prison exposes our communities to more institutional violence.

Hate crime legislation fails to address the needs of victims/survivors.

Hate crime legislation is often framed as a measure to meet victims’ needs, but most hate crime laws actually offer nothing for victims in terms of increased support. It is wrongly assumed that harsher punishments will heal the harm of violence, but this is rarely the case. Many survivors simply want access to resources in order to heal, and an acknowledgement of the harm they have experienced. Conventional court proceedings and longer prison sentences usually do not enable this to happen.

Hate crime legislation locates the problem and solution in the wrong place; it focuses on individual perpetrators rather than social causes and collective responsibility.

Hate crime laws focus on punishing individuals while largely ignoring the root causes of violence. Locking people up doesn’t solve the problem because prisons cannot address systemic level causes of discrimination and harm. Sending someone to prison doesn’t mean that they will be accountable to the individuals and communities they have harmed. 

Prison, or the threat of imprisonment, actually interferes with a person’s ability to make amends or take responsibility for their actions. Using one form of violence to respond to another continues rather than breaks cycles of violence.

Hate crime legislation distracts us from developing more effective strategies to address violence and inequality.

Hate crime laws create a false sense of confidence that violence is being addressed, when in reality these laws do nothing to fix the wider conditions that allow hate and discrimination to flourish. Addressing the underlying issues, such as discriminatory laws, economic inequality, and cultures of discrimination, require strategies that involve much deeper change. 

Communities facing discrimination don’t need more people in prison. We need to prevent violence from happening in the first place. We need to end poverty. We need to provide support and care to everyone in our communities. We need access to resources, like affordable housing, education, non-punitive mental health support and accessible healthcare. 

April 2021


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