The FBI’s Hate Crimes Report Ignores Crimes Against Women
The FBI just released its annual hate crime report for the year 2007, and just as it has always done, it ignores victims targeted because of their sex/gender. Last year, thousands of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation reported a total of 7,624 hate crimes to the Department of Justice, resulting in 9,535 victims, yet not even one of them was logged as having been motivated by prejudice against women or girls. Curiously, law enforcement agencies examine whether forcible rape and simple assault are used as criminal weapons, but not whether the perpetrators purposely target women. Although this seems illogical, there is a rationale.
The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 empowered the US Attorney General – the FBI’s overseer – to collect statistics “about crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” Later, the law was amended also to include crimes against people with physical and mental disabilities. Yet to date, the FBI still is not authorized to collect statistics about bias-motivated crimes against females, so they go unreported.
One would think that hate crimes against women and girls would be at the forefront of statistical collection, especially because they arguably are targeted for violence more than any other group. Women and girls are raped, pimped, harassed, intimidated, and assaulted every day by men who abuse them without concern or guilt. In domestic violence situations where women are beaten because they “do not know their place,” you can bet the crime is motivated by discrimination. Often at the core of such violence is a fundamental bias against women because of what they are, not what they have done, thereby exemplifying the essence of a hate crime. So why the dearth of statistics?
If the FBI were instructed to collect data about bias-motivated criminal behavior against females, and if law enforcement examined causes of certain crimes against women in terms of prejudice (including some, but not all, cases of domestic violence), one can only imagine what the FBI’s hate crimes report would actually look like. The numbers would probably be quite high, and, in turn, might provide ammunition for anyone seeking to misinterpret the data to conclude that US municipalities are unfriendly toward women – something many local and national representatives understandably do not want. Clearly there is a problem to be addressed, but politicians are faced with a conundrum — how to report hate crimes accurately without allowing them to be misinterpreted about local and national safety.
Whereas it is true that women suffer from hate crimes daily, nobody should try to paint the United States as a generally unsafe society. Women have more opportunity, more access, and are systematically treated better in this country than ever before; and when evaluating human rights and social development, this must be factored into the equation. Clearly women thrive in this nation and are not merely victims. Therefore, a balance must be struck to provide an accurate accounting of the data. Legitimate statistics coupled with solid explanations would help guide policy and education that would minimize the reality of crimes against women, while also showing that social health flourishes here. A truthful explanation of the data is a far better policy than head-in-the-sand ignorance.
In a world where healthy women are crucial to foster socioeconomic development, improving protections for them is central to elevate public safety and encourage investment, including in our own country. The United States could be more productive as a world leader in the cultivation of democratic institutions abroad by providing a local, and global, context where we simultaneously work to empower women while suppressing criminal manifestations of bias against them, which must include data collection. Therefore, let us hope that national law soon is amended to make the FBI’s hate crimes report become more inclusive … for everyone’s sake.
Matthew Rosenthal is President of PREVENT HATE