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Stonewall: scaring us straight

Craig Fairnington

Topics Politics

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Gay-rights group Stonewall announced its latest report, Homophobic Hate Crime: The Gay British Crime Survey 2013, with a grim headline: ‘Three in four gay people still don’t report hate crime to police.’ Describing the stats as ‘deeply disturbing’, Stonewall’s deputy chief executive Ruth Hunt said they showed the ‘the scale of the challenge facing our criminal justice system’.

Luckily for Britain’s gay, lesbian and bisexual people, the horrifying picture Stonewall paints isn’t quite supported by its statistics. For a start, that headline might lead you to think that three quarters of gay people in the UK actually had a hate crime to report to the police. But the truth is that 83 per cent of gay people surveyed had experienced no hate crime of any kind.

Of the unlucky minority who did experience some kind of homophobic incident, the most common reason given for not talking to the police was that the individual involved didn’t think that what happened to them was serious enough. Far from being disturbing, this suggests that the majority of incidents were minor, and that the people experiencing them were content to deal with it themselves, or to move on without having to involve the police.

Most of the reported incidences fell under the very broad category ‘insulted, pestered, intimidated or harassed’, which might suggest why respondents didn’t take what happened to them seriously – it may include situations which could cause genuine fear and alarm, but also covers a huge range of relatively minor incidents, including being called names by a bitchy colleague.

Homophobic violence is thankfully rare. Of the 17 per cent of gay people reporting any kind of homophobic incident, just 10 per cent had been physically assaulted – a little less than two per cent of gay people. To put this into context, the 2011 British Crime Survey put the general risk of being a victim of violence at 3.1 per cent.

Of course, these crimes should be taken seriously by the police and gay people shouldn’t have to experience violence or intimidation as they go about their daily lives. But the Stonewall survey actually shows that the vast majority don’t have such experiences – and this is good news.

In August, a different Stonewall report showed that gay people were still largely fearful of being discriminated against because of their sexuality. For the casual observer, the way Stonewall has chosen to report its survey might fuel further fear – both of discrimination and of physical attack – when the truth is far less terrifying. You would think Stonewall was trying to scare us straight.

Craig Fairnington is online resources manager of the Institute of Ideas. Follow him on Twitter: @craigfair

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Topics Politics

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