This week is National Hate Crime Awareness week and Jon Garland and Neil Chakraborti, authors of Responding to Hate Crime, share their thoughts on how understanding Hate Crime is developing in the UK…
The broadcasting by BBC Television of Simon Armitage’s play Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster in early October 2015 will do much to raise awareness of the targeted victimisation of members of alternative subcultures.
The play, about the circumstances surrounding the horrific murder of ‘goth’ Sophie Lancaster in 2007, had already been broadcast on BBC radio and enjoyed a successful theatre run, and won a number of awards. It tells Sophie’s story, and that of her mother Sylvia, in a very touching and moving way, and highlights the devastating effects of such brutal assaults upon the families of victims.
An interesting facet of public discussions about attacks like that on Sophie Lancaster is that they are often described as ‘mindless’ or ‘senseless’, as if they have little or no real motivation behind them.
Much of the discussion of the Fiona Pilkington case, for example, also contained such sentiments (Fiona and her family were the subject of disablist bullying and harassment by some members of their local community for a number of years before Fiona, in despair at the lack of help she had received from the police and local authorities, killed herself and her daughter Frankie in 2007).
“By deeming them to be merely ‘mindless thuggery’…the hate element of the incident is overlooked”
It seems as if some politicians and police officers are unable, for whatever reason, to comprehend or acknowledge that such attacks do have motives and that these motives are often characterised by hostility towards the identity of the victim.
By deeming them to be merely ‘mindless thuggery’ or ‘anti-social behaviour’ the hate element of the incident is overlooked, meaning that the opportunity to learn valuable lessons and to put appropriate preventative measures in place is lost, placing future victims in a more vulnerable situation.
In the case of the targeting of alternative subcultures, there is a growing body of evidence (which is summarised in our book Responding to Hate Crime: the Case for Connecting Policy and Research) which suggests that such groups – whether they be goths, emos, metallers or punks– are the subjects of verbal abuse and physical violence simply due to the perpetrators of such harassment being angered, disturbed or somehow even revolted by their physical appearance or way of life.
Research conducted by the Leicester Hate Crime Project found that those in such subcultures were routinely described as being dirty or unkempt by their abusers, and were frequently labelled as ‘grebs’ (a derogatory term for alternatives) or ‘freaks’.
Some were subject to sustained bullying while others were, thankfully less commonly, the targets of brutal beatings. Such harassment and violence had a profound impact on victims, causing them to suffer psychological trauma and to change their patterns of behaviour in order to avoid future incidents.
What this evidence means is that there is substance to the claims of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation (a charitable, campaigning organisation set up by Sylvia Lancaster in the wake of her daughter’s murder) that this type of harassment bears all the hallmarks of the officially recognised hate crimes, and thus should be understood and treated as such by the criminal justice system – indeed, a handful of police forces (following Greater Manchester Police’s 2013 lead) are already doing just that.
” …in their eyes it trivialises the concept of hate crime and renders it almost meaningless…”
However, there is a degree of opposition to this standpoint, not least from those who feel that comparing the situation of members of alternative subcultures with that of, for example, minority ethnic communities, belittles the latter’s long history of discrimination, marginalisation and racist victimisation. In their eyes it also therefore trivialises the concept of hate crime and renders it almost meaningless.
Whilst these points are very important it should also be acknowledged that the pain, hurt and suffering caused by being targeted because of who you are does appear to be similar in substance, both at the individual and wider community levels, whether you are from a ‘traditionally’ recognised hate crime victim group or from what could be termed a ‘new and emerging’ one, like alternative subcultures.
It will be fascinating to see how this debate eventually resolves itself. In the meantime, it is worth exploring the work of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and seeing Black Roses, a play which may, in time, bear the distinction of being not only an award-winning piece of theatre but also one which helped shape the future of how we understand hate crime victimisation.
Responding to Hate Crime is out now in paperback and is available to purchase here from the Policy Press website. Remember that Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – if you’re not a member of our community why not sign up here today?
Want to know more about the Sophie Lancaster story? Listen here to the BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Simon Armitage’s play Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster ortake a look at the Sophie Lancaster Foundation website.
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