Running through hurdles: New report on access to justice for victims of anti-LGBTI hate crime

New report documenting barriers faced by victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the access to justice was launched at the international conference “Breaking the barriers” held on 20-21 September 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The report, covering the situation in 10 EU countries, was prepared by a consortium of 13 organizations led by University of Brescia and Lambda Warsaw. Key findings include: lack of official definitions of hate crime, inadequate training of professionals, inaccessibility of reporting centre and victim support services and ignoring victims’ rights in the criminal justice process.  

“Across the European Union, LGBTI people face discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics. Most incidents are not reported, which impedes the possibility to investigate hate crimes and prosecute offenders,” wrote the report editors Dr Piotr Godzisz from Lambda Warsaw and Dr Giacomo Viggiani from the University of Brescia. According to them, “the lack of reports renders the problem of anti-LGBTI hate crimes invisible to the public and may prevent authorities from acknowledging and addressing the problem. As a result, victims often suffer in silence and their rights may not be fully respected.”

The report, titled “Running through Hurdles: Obstacles in the Access to Justice for Victims of Anti-LGBTI Hate Crimes”, covers the legal framework, understanding of hate crime by professionals, training, reporting, recording, victims’ rights and support services. “These are key areas where we have identified major deficiencies in responding to anti-LGBTI hate crimes,” said Godzisz. “While some countries took steps to address anti-LGBTI violence, there is no country that does it right. Victims are let down everywhere.”

Legal Framework

There are many different ways in which countries treat violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. Some define this kind of hate crime in the law, while others do not recognize anti-LGBTI motivation as an aggravating circumstance. Sexual orientation is most often included in the law, while sex characteristics appear as protected grounds only in a handful of countries. – This is because there’s still very little recognition of the violence targeting intersex people because of how their bodies are built and how they express their gender. Addition of sex characteristics in hate crime laws is a new standard, but we should ensure that no one attacked because of who their are should be left without protection,” said Godzisz.

While the inclusion of SOGIESC among victim categories helps to police and prosecute hate crimes, results of the research show that simply enacting the law is not sufficient. “Laws are not always put to work. In countries such as Lithuania, Croatia, Greece or Hungary, few cases are detected and prosecuted, despite laws being present on the books,” said Viggiani. “The legal protection there is often illusory,” he adds.

Victims’ Rights

All countries in the sample have formally transposed the Victims’ Rights Directive. In practice, however, the transposition has improved the situation of anti-LGBTI hate crime victims only minimally or it has been altogether insensitive to the support and protection needs of LGBTI people, the report finds. As a result, victims of anti-LGBTI hate crimes still face numerous obstacles in accessing justice, particularly in relation to reporting, investigation and lack of support in the criminal justice process; furthermore, they are seldom referred to LGBT-inclusive support services. - In some countries, police officers do not perceive LGBTI victims as someone who may be vulnerable because of their SOGIESC, because of experiencing a hate crime or because of past victimization. They seldom think that LGBTI victims may need specific support and protection needs,” explained Godzisz. “This is connected with low reporting. In countries only the most determined people, with an activist mindset, report. Others suffer in silence”.

 Even in the UK, where the goverment response to hate crimes is often better than in other countires, the situation is not perfect. “Some measures are framed in a manner that makes them difficult to enforce. Guidelines for avoiding secondary victimization are still lacking. Any initiative being left to the personal sensitivity and expertise of individual law enforcement professionals,” said Viggiani. 

Professionals and Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes

In many countries, interviewed professionals had difficulties defining hate crime. In some cases, e.g. in Lithuania, there is a confusion between hate speech and hate crime. Among law enforcement officers and prosecutors there is a clear tendency to favour a narrow, legalistic definition of hate crime, as opposed to a broader definition used by NGOs. For example, in Poland some organizations simply speak of violence or “hate” leaving out bias motivation or the base offence. Only a few countries, particularly Croatia and the UK have official definitions of hate crime.

In most countries surveyed there are no guidelines on dealing with anti-LGBTI hate crimes for police or prosecutors. Hate crime training is often organized and funded by NGOs, which makes it unsustainable. Only in some countries hate crime training is provided by police and prosecutors’ schools as part of basic or specialist training. There is also only a few countries where there are designated hate crime prosecutors (e.g. Spain) and police officers (e.g. the UK). It was also noted that Poland and Hungary have recently set up hate crime coordinators’ networks within their police forces.

Reporting Anti-LGBT Hate Crime

The research found that many reasons of underreporting provided by professionals are similar to those documented in victimization surveys. In some contexts, low rates of reporting are said to be an effect of the lack of anti-hate crime legislation, which leads victims to perceive reporting as ineffective or pointless. However, even in countries such as Belgium, where hate crime laws are in force, substantial levels of underreporting remain. “This suggests that reasons for not reporting are varied and not limited to the legal framework as such, but range from distrust of the police to internalized homophobia/transphobia or fear of secondary victimization,” explained Viggiani. Lack of confidentiality and secure pathways to report are also an issue highlighted by some respondents, while online and third-party reporting is rarely possible.

Recording Anti-LGBT Hate Crime

Most countries do not provide reliable statistics on the number of anti-LGBTI hate crimes committed or reported. In Poland, despite lack of adequate laws, some official figures are published, but they contain only a handful of cases per year. In Italy, the data on anti-LGBTI victimization communicated to ODIHR are not based on case records, but on the results of media monitoring.

 The UK stands out as a country that records more hate crime cases than all other countries combine. This is due to the “perception-based” recording, which follows the perception of the reporting party (e.g. a victim or a witness), rather than the police officer. “This allows the UK police to throw a wider net and make sure that the possible bias motivation is considered as often as possible. It is better to do so this way than to miss the bias motive because the police didn’t see it in the beginning,” said Godzisz. Other countries, however, are yet to follow this example.

 Apart from official recording, in many countres hate crime cases are also dicumented by NGOs. In the UK, Galop UK has a special status as a third party reporting centre. In other states, like Hungary and Poland, NGOs record cases as an alternative to low numbers detected by the police. In Italy, none of the LGBT organizations involved in research collected meaningful data on hate crime cases.

Victim Support

The report found that state-sponsored support services for crime victims are rarely LGBTI-inclusive. For example, in Hungary there is a relatively well-developed victim support system. However, victim care officers in courts or other professionals have no protocols or training on anti-LGBTI hate crimes. A similar situation is observed in Poland. “Many of these people have not yet had a chance to work with a victim of hate crime or a victim who identifies as LGBTI. The problem starts when a person shows up and you need to help them. For example, it may be difficult to find a place in an emergency shelter for someone who’s transitioning, because rooms are usually either for men or for women,” explains Viggiani. “A transgender victim of violence may receive abuse both from other people in the shelter and from staff. This should not be happening”.

Specific support services for anti-LGBT hate crime victims are mainly provided by NGOs, often without the support of public funding and limited to big towns. Options are usually limited to legal assistance and referrals. Dedicated emergency housing for LGBTI victims is rare. According to the interviewed professionals, the awareness of existing services among members of the LGBTI community is generally low and not everyone knows what kind of assistance is available.

Research first, training second

The report is based on 195 interviews conducted with professionals – police officers, prosecutors, victim support service personnel and NGOs – in 10 countries. The research is a core activity of the two-year project Come Forward: Empowering and Supporting Victims of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes, co- financed by the European Com- mission’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship (2014-2020) programme. The project aims to increase reporting of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes through building the capacity of civil society and official partners and empowering victim communities. By the end of 2018, over 1000 professionals, including police officers and social services, will have been trained using a tailored approach. Handbooks for professionals and infopacks for victims have also been developed and printed in 10 languages. 

The project is implemented by the consortium encompassing 23 partners: University of Brescia (Italy), Lambda Warsaw (Poland), Çavaria (Belgium), Bilitis (Bulgaria), GLAS (Bulgaria), Zagreb Pride (Croatia), Praksis (Greece), Colour Youth (Greece), Háttér (Hungary), LGL (Lithuania), GES (Spain), University of Girona (Spain), Galop (United Kingdom), Avvocatura per i Diritti LGBTI (Italy), TGEU (international), ILGA Europe (international), Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Poland), Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (Belgium), Human Rights House (Croatia), Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania), Greek Ombudsman (Greece), Bulgarian Lawyers for Human Rights (Bulgaria), and Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities (Belgium) and the International Network for Hate Studies.

The Report “Running through Hurdles: Obstacles in the Access to Justice for Victims of Anti-LGBTI Hate Crimes”, can be downloaded by everyone from the website