When your love becomes a crime

By Kouz Wael & Lebreton Anne

September this year, in Copenhagen the story of a trans-woman victim of a hammer attack got attention. In October, other attacks against LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual) people made headlines too. Yet, other attacks are not on the media’s radar and the responsibility of not reporting falls on the shoulders of many different sides: The Media, Police and Victims.

A victim’s story:

On the quiet dark roads of Aalborg, Denmark, Emily and Anthony ages 19 and 17, were biking back home after a long night of partying. When suddenly, a cab driver parks the car in front of them and runs toward Anthony to end up choking him and punching him. (Please note that Emily and Anthony are not their real names, and we are using those names to protect their privacy and keep them anonymous.)

Gay life in "Gbar" in Aarhus, Denmark    Credits: KOUZ Wael

Gay life in “Gbar” in Aarhus, Denmark                     Credits: KOUZ Wael

This was not an attempt to steal money or hijack some bikes. Those actions were actions of a criminal hating on Anthony for being a homosexual.

When we met Emily, it was not the first time she discloses their story. The first time was in court where Anthony was found guilty and had to pay a fine because he was not able to express the truth in court. Even after all these years, Emily still feels emotional just by remembering what they went through.

“Everything happened in fractions” explains Emily when she did not know how to start. She starts by introducing Anthony’s background “he first came out to his parents telling them he is bisexual and they threatened that if he did not change and become straight they are going to leave the country because of shame and take away everything from him.” Now, Anthony leads a double life where he has to hide his sexual orientation from his parents out of fear of rejection.

Emily explains how afraid she was when she saw the cab driver running towards Anthony to kick him off his bike. After dropping Anthony on the ground, the cab driver does not stop there, but locks Anthony’s neck in a headlock. Emily emphasizes that then the cab driver was “punching him, kicking him, and at the same time insulting him by repeating the word Bøsserøv, which means faggot in Danish.” Faggot is a word usually used to insult homosexuals.

Emily, with Anthony’s life at risk, offers the cab driver money, but her offer goes ignored. Anthony was finally able to set himself free by biting the cab driver’s arm. Emily remembers “he bit him so hard that the cab driver had to let him go”. In shock and panic, Emily and Anthony start running away, climbing fences, hiding and jumping from garden to garden to stay out of sight. They were afraid of being followed by the cab driver or any person that might have been involved by the cab driver.

After they made it back to Emily’s place safe, Anthony had a cut lip, was bleeding, and his clothes were ripped all over. Emily states “it was like he was paralyzed, he then sat down and started crying.” But like 37% of the respondents from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey, Anthony did not want to file a report of the incident because he knew that he would have to reveal his sexual orientation to his family. Over 93 079 people took part in the FRA’s survey. The European Agency FRA aims to protect everyone’s fundamental rights.

To their surprise, the next morning was not a new day to forget all that happened yesterday. The police were at their doorsteps, which was fully unexpected by them since the cab driver started the whole fight. The case was taken to court, where both the cab driver and Anthony did not mention the fact that Anthony was gay. After hiding many truths, Anthony was found guilty for leaving a bloody bite on the cab driver’s arm and the case was dismissed as a hate crime.

Today, it is no surprise that Anthony lives with fear from such an incident to happen again. This fear had led Anthony to take precautions in case someone else attacks him. Emily tells us “he is getting smarter every day on how to act around people”, which is a must if he wants to hide his sexual orientation.

Anthony is not alone when it comes to hiding his sexual identity for the sake of fear. According to an FRA survey over half of the respondents feel that they have to hide their sexual orientation in public places for fear of assault, abuse or discrimination.

Respondents who had “always” or “often” hidden or disguised being LGBT  during their schooling  before the age of 18, by country and by LGBT subgroup (%)    Credits: FRA

Respondents who had “always” or “often” hidden or disguised being LGBT during their schooling before the age of 18, by country and by LGBT subgroup (%)        Credits: FRA

Emily adds “it is not easy to be gay in Denmark, definitely not because you are still seen as ‘this gay guy’ or ‘this lesbian girl’”; which means that people do not see homosexuals for who they are, but for what their sexual preferences are and judge them based on that. She concludes by saying “I insist that newspapers should cover those stories more often”.

The Media’s Confession:

“Yes, I can make that confession” says the news editor from The Copenhagen Post Newspaper, “A lot of it is just following the Danish news, if they do not cover something we won’t cover it frankly”.

“It is a subject that is not covered very much probably because of the fear from increasing the problem instead of solving the problem” says professor Roger Buch, head of research in the Danish School of Media and Journalism. He continues “ some media would think that if we give a lot of attention to this problem they will give other people the idea to intensify their hate or campaign towards different groups”.

Abuse is not only physical:

According to FRA survey, other reasons occur to why LGBT people do not report hate crimes. One of them is distrust in what police forces would do. “I felt like a fool afterwards, I could not believe that my tax money was going to waste” says Morten who does not want to disclose his last name for anonymity.

Morten is an average Danish citizen who was verbally harassed at his workplace. He starts “I was working at a grocery store when I started receiving some phone-calls. A guy with the store number would call more than ten times to irritate me”. He explains that it was not an ordinary prank because the abuser was calling him a faggot and other gay-related insults.

After warning the abuser that the police will be informed if he does not stop, the calls kept on coming, which left Morten no choice. Morten states “ After my shift, I went to the police, and they called him over the phone to tell him he should not act in this manner. Why didn’t they prosecute him for harassment? I don’t know … they could have, and they could have added hate crime as well.”

According to ILGA Europe, a European NGO that deals with Equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in Europe, Hate speech is public expressions which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred, discrimination or hostility towards a specific group. It is also taken as a form of abuse by Danish authorities.

We contacted the Danish police to ask them on their opinion when it came to our victims’ stories and allegations, but we did not get a reply.

Hate Crime gets its own TV show:

Many other reasons exist to why people might not report a hate crime. Bubber explains on his TV show Danmark ifølge Bubber – Hate crimes against Homosexuals why so few hate crimes are being reported on that basis, he says “ it is simply too hard to prove that any attack is actually based on sexual orientation”.

Reasons for not reporting the most recent incident of discrimination in 2012 - 2013 partly or completely because they were perceived to be LGBT (%) Credits: FRA

Reasons for not reporting the most recent incident of discrimination in 2012 – 2013 partly or completely because they were perceived to be LGBT (%) Credits: FRA

Bubber states on his show that he thought hate crimes was something that only appeared in foreign countries, which is a statement that many Danish citizens believe in. The idea of Denmark not being tolerant and free-

minded shocks Danish citizens, Bubber thinks “it is very far from the open and tolerant Denmark”.

After coming to the conclusion that victims of hate crimes do not feel like they are being taken seriously by the police, Bubber asks why Denmark does not have a special unit to deal with hate crimes such like other countries have. The Minister of Justice Morten Bødskov expressed his sorrow and says that they are strengthening each police district to be able to deal with hate crimes better.

Psychological impacts:

All victims of crimes are at risk of distress, but when it comes to hate crimes the problems associated with it appears to last longer according to a Research done by University of California Davis psychologist Dr. Herek.

He states that hate crime victims continue to have higher levels of depression, stress, and anger for as long as five years after their victimization occurred, compared to two years when it comes to other crimes.

Many of the problems observed by the study result from the victims’ feelings of personal danger and vulnerability associated with their identity as a gay man or lesbian. All victims are likely to perceive the world as more dangerous and hostile.

Date from Dr.Herek suggests that hate crimes link this sense of vulnerability and powerlessness to their gay or lesbian identity.

Nothing is Being Done:

The coverage is not the only one problem; the legislation is also an issue. On the press release, from the 12th of November, Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Home affairs insists:

“The problem of hate crime is not limited to a few EU Member States. It is one that affects us all, no matter where we are from or where we live and work. The EU therefore has an important role to play in addressing it.”

Louisa Klingvall, a policy officer from the fundamental rights and rights of the child’s unit at the European Commission says the main objective is “to insure that all EU legislations are conform to the Charter”. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights contains a prohibition on discrimination of any ground, including sexual orientation. However, when it comes to hate crime Louisa explains “In this particular area we don’t have an EU competence”.  This is why Louisa claims that “to propose a legislation is not a priority”.

She first insisted on the fact that all EU legislation have to have a legal basis in the treaty, so when it comes to legislation in the field of criminal law, there’s no real legal basis that would enable us to put forward a proposal to criminalize hate crime.  The first step to EU legislation on hate crimes “require unanimity amongst all the member states” says Louisa.

NGO Efforts and Visions:

According to LGBT Danmark, Denmark has seen a 30% increase in hate crimes: around 2 700 hate crimes in 2012 against 4 038 hates crimes this year. Danish authorities spend a lot of money in order for the policemen “to get the knowledge about how to treat a hate crime how to react, how to try, and to act normal. The authorities also extend the sentence if the case is perceived as a hate crime.

Kenneth Engberg, a board member of the LGBT  Danmark gives his opinion about this “It is good that they have done this. However, for good behaviour you get out after half the sentence. So, the time you spend in jail is actually the same”. Kenneth and LGBT Danmark are not fighting for higher punishment, but for better punishment. Kenneth says “to put someone in jail does not help him as there’s no contact with normal people in jail.” He believes a better punishment would be “to do something meaningful, like helping old people do their gardens, or get their groceries”.

Even with the increasing number of hate crimes, Denmark is still leading a way to full equality and full respect. LGBT Danmark thinks that it has a lot to do with “how we do it here in Denmark”. To take action and raise awareness is more efficient than to have strong laws, “in Denmark we do not make the law first, we do it on [an educational] level” says Kenneth.