Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Hate Crime Victimization: Identity Politics or Identity Risk?

By Dunbar, Edward | Violence and Victims, June 2006 | Go to article overview
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Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Hate Crime Victimization: Identity Politics or Identity Risk?

Dunbar, Edward, Violence and Victims

This study examined the impact of hate crimes upon gay and lesbian victims, reviewing 1,538 hate crimes committed in Los Angeles County. Differences between sexual orientation and other hate crime categories were considered for offense severity, reportage to law enforcement, and victim impact. The type of offense varied between crimes classified for sexual orientation (n = 551) and other bias-motivated crimes (n = 987). Assault, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and stalking were predictive of sexual orientation hate crimes. Sexual orientation bias crimes evidenced greater severity of violence to the person and impact upon victim level of functioning. More violent forms of aggression were predictive of gay and lesbian victim's underreportage to law enforcement. For sexual orientation offenses, victim gender and race/ethnicity differences were predictive of the base rates of crime reportage as well. These findings are considered in terms of a group-risk hypothesis, encountered by multiple outgroup persons, that influences help-seeking behavior and ingroup identity.

Keywords: hate crimes; victimization; gay; lesbian

Hate crimes are an important social problem in contemporary U.S. society. It has been argued that hate crimes substantially impact the lives of the individual victims and the larger social context in which they occur (Herek & Berrill, 1992; Levin & McDevitt, 1993). As Bell (2003) has observed, bias-motivated aggression constitutes a "public health risk." Accordingly, there has been a concerted effort by community organizations and law enforcement to respond to persons of diverse cultural backgrounds who are the victims of sexual orientation hate crimes. As part of this initiative, the current study sought to identify what characteristics, if any, distinguished sexual orientation hate crimes from other bias-motivated hate crimes, as well as to determine whether the victim's gender and race/ethnicity influenced reportage of the offense to law enforcement.


Research addressing the experiences of gay and lesbian hate crime victims is of concern to researchers, clinicians, and policy makers. At the same time, what is actually known about hate crimes targeting gay men and lesbians is compromised in part by the opposition of political conservatives to the inclusion of sexual orientation as a category under the federal hate crimes law. Likewise, sexual orientation continues to be excluded from many state hate crime statutes as well. Inclusion of sexual orientation in the federal hate crime law was rejected by the U.S. Senate in the late 1990s, even while hate crimes targeting gays and lesbians increased during this same period (Akiyama & Nolan, 1999).

Research on gay and lesbian hate crime victimization has focused upon qualitative and self-report methods. These studies, while important, have not examined hate crimes against gays and lesbians in comparison with similar offenses motivated by racial/ethnic or religious bias. In addition, discerning the trends and characteristics of hate crime victimization

from Federal crime data is problematic. Akiyama and Nolan (1999) have cautioned against relying upon the U.S. Uniform Crime Report data in detecting patterns of crime victimization. The limited utility of hate crime statistics underscores how little can be inferred about the issue of underreportage (Watts, M., personal communication, August 23, 2001). It would therefore be useful to include data collected by community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve hate crime victims. Comparing law enforcement and CBO data can provide a more complete examination of the patterns of intergroup violence and magnitude of harm experienced by the victims of hate crimes.

There is little information on how demographic differences influence risk for hate crime victimization. As Berk, Boyd, and Hammer (1992) have noted:

Very little is known about risk factors for hate-motivated crimes.

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Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Hate Crime Victimization: Identity Politics or Identity Risk?


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