Campaign against Hate Crimes Wins Widespread Support

Article excerpt

After pressing for over a decade, NOW scored a victory in its campaign to expand the federal hate crimes law to include hate crimes based on sex, sexual orientation and disability. When the Clinton administration in November backed those changes, activists garnered both political and tactical support for a campaign that now moves to Congress.

The administration's announcement came during a day-long White House Conference on Hate Crimes Nov. 11, which NOW President Patricia Ireland attended and local activists viewed via satellite downlinks. It was held days after top NOW leaders met with Attorney General Janet Reno to stress the importance of expanding not only the prosecution, but also the documentation of these crimes. During the meeting, Attorney General Reno said she had been stymied when preparing a speech on violence against women because she could not find reliable statistics, according to NOW President Patricia Ireland. "When the attorney general of the United States herself cannot get reliable data, we know we have a serious problem," Ireland said.

Bonnie Campbell, director of the Office of Violence Against Women at the Justice Department, said at the same meeting that the largest number of complaints her office receives are from women who find state and local authorities fail or refuse to enforce the law, especially restraining orders. Campbell said her office is also concerned about complaints that law enforcement personnel cover up hate crimes against women, citing cases in which police evidence and reports disappear before the women can bring their claims.

During the White House hate crimes conference, several speakers countered concerns that it is not practical for federal agents to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on sex and sexual orientation.

"One thing I know we'll see when Conress comes to debate these laws is a question about hierarchy of the categories and whether or not it makes sense to incide gays and lesbians, for instance ... or when we talk about gender and people say rape is not commited on the basis of hate you'd have to go, `Oh yeah? …