|I was fortunate to have recently attended a workshop
on May 12 sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the County of Los Angeles District
Attorney's Office on the Victim-Witness Assistance Program, which assists people who are
victims of hate crimes, including anti-gay hate crimes. This topic is particularly timely in
the wake of the brutal murders in the past year of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, Billy Jack
Gaither in Alabama, and others that have been just as brutally attacked but less publicized.
The therapists in LAGPA's membership may be called upon by the clients they serve to assist
gay victims of bias crime. Herewith is some of the information provided at the workshop.
Carla Arranaga, JD, is the Deputy in Charge of the LA
County District Attorney's Office, Hate Crimes Division, and was the key speaker at the
workshop. Hate Crimes are defined by the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act as "a crime
that manifests evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation,
or ethnicity" (sexual orientation was finally included in the list of categories only
after long Congressional floor debate and strong opposition from Senator Jesse Helms, R-North
Carolina). In her remarks at the workshop, Arranaga offered a unique perspective on how the
clinical presentation of the hate crime victim meets the legal issues -- where the therapist
meets the lawyer. The crisis of victimization is defined as "a sudden, arbitrary,
unpredictable event that is threatening to the self and produces a disruption in the emotions
and behaviors of the threatened person", and is characterized by reactions such as anger,
paranoia, humiliation, inferiority, superiority, helplessness, depression, revenge, and
resentment, among others. The types of trauma experienced can include physical, financial
(loss of wages or loss of property), and psychological."
Arranaga explained how hate crimes affect
people, highlighting that hate/bias crime affects an entire community. Usually, the community
is embarrassed, can become polarized, spirit is diminished tensions are increased, and law
enforcement is at more risk. The impact of hate crimes is unique in that there may be
additional fear because victims were chosen as a target for a specific purpose. Terror may be
exacerbated because society may be slow to respond to a bias crime (particularly in even less
gay-friendly conservative communities), and grief may be more intense because victims may lose
their sense of community or feel betrayed by the American justice system. Victims may
experience a deep personal crisis because the basis for their attack is their identity -- not
merely to steal some-one's belongings; hatred is less easy to explain or forgive than a crime
motivated by economics. This can cause the victim to feel stress and vulnerability that is
heightened or prolonged, and can cause the victim to reject the aspect of themselves that was
the target of the their attack. The victim's assumptions about the world (as a safe, normal
place) may be shattered. Victims of bias crimes may feel vulnerable to repeat attack (similar
to hypervigilance seen in PTSD).
Fortunately, federal and state statutes
protect individuals from bias crimes and provide a basis for prosecution. However, political
influences affect which categories are considered protected. While many states have hate
crimes laws which introduce some sentence enhancement for categories such as religion or race,
not all states include sexual orientation in their list of protected categories. Opponents of
hate crimes legislation usually claim "special rights" by groups or infringement on
free speech, but American law is plentiful with technical sentence enhancements for
"special circumstances" that increase the severity, impact, and subsequent
punishment of a crime.
According to Arranaga, the reasons hate
crimes occur can include local economic stress (layoffs, unemployment, poverty), pervasive
stereotypes that are exacerbated by citizens not objecting when even casual bias jokes or
comments are told in their presence, racial divisions, the higher visibility of gay men (which
threatens the antigay forces), lack of social preparedness for demographic changes in a
community, and antipathy toward immigrants. Factors which help reduce these elements can
include diversity awareness and appreciation programs that need to be introduced early in a
child's development to counter common societal biases. In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II,
classic Broadway lyricist, "you have to be carefully taught to hate and fear."
The types of people committing these crimes
fall generally into five conceptual categories. These include Thrill Seekers, who go outside
of their home area to another neighborhood populated largely by their target group (such as
"gay" neighborhoods like West Hollywood or Silverlake), who are motivated by excess
energy, boredom, and a sense of superiority that is stoked by common jokes, family
"traditions," biased teachers, religious leaders, and media portrayals against
certain groups. These can include the roving bands of late adolescent/early 20's men often
involved in antigay hate crimes. Another group is the Reactive group; people motivated by a
perceived threat to their racial superiority due to the increased visibility of another racial
group in a community. The Fear of the Unknown group, which acts out hostility in fear of a
perceived threat of jobs by an immigrant group or other group. Another are those who fight
against a group because they are see themselves as Mission Offenders, people who "fight
for a cause" such as white supremacy, which are particularly dangerous because of
fanatical devotion. They consider it an "honor" to be arrested and have access to
organization information via the Internet or organized rallies. This can also include males
who"protect against crimes against the gender" of malehood by attacking gay men or
male-to-female transgendered persons, "enforcing" the roles of manhood against
"offenders" who threaten or alter preconceived gender stereotypes.
All of this can be helpful in helping a
clinician assist a victim of hate crime to fight back on many different levels, from the
psychological to the financial, and to aid empowerment and decrease victimization and its
related symptoms. One of the most important factors in this is the community of providers
being aware that these services exist so that they may make appropriate referrals in the
judicial system, if necessary. This process was reviewed by Kevin "Kip" Lowe, Ph.D,
Assistant Deputy Director for the California Youth Authority, to seek "restorative
justice", a process reviewed at the workshop, in which the victim can force an offender
to make amends in a meaningful way. This could include financial restitution and personal
indebtedness to the victim. Processing the trauma with a therapist can reduce PTSD or acute
stress symptoms either in individual or group treatment to promote healing and recovery.
Through the various governmental programs,
victims can receive reimbursement for medical expenses, hospital bills, loss of wages or
support, job retraining and rehabilitation expenses up to $46,000. They can also receive
funeral/burial expense reimbursement up to $5,000 and legal fees for applications up to $500.
These payments can include the victim, family members, or dependents of the victim.
Applications may be obtained from the Victim Center, State Board of Control, PO Box 3036,
Sacramento, CA 95812-3036. Other resources include the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's
Antiviolence Project at 323-993-7400 and the California Federal Victim/Witness Coordinators
office, which for LA, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and San Luis
Obispo counties is: Debbie Deem, US Attorney's Office, Central District, 312 N. Spring Street,
Room 1312, Los Angeles, CA 90012; 213-894-6786 or 888-228-0315.
Other services such as crisis intervention
counseling, court escort services, property return, restraining order assistance, emergency
financial assistance and emergency legal assistance referrals are available from the Los
Angeles County Victim-Witness Assistance Program at 213-974-7499 or 800-773-7574.
The City of Los Angeles also has a Victim
Assistance Program through the office of the City Attorney, Central Office, Maria Elena Reyes
Building, 312 S. Hill Street, second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90013, 213-485-6976.
Fortunately, there are ways for a victim to
fight back through a variety of local, state, and federal programs. A victim should always
report a hate crime so that law enforcement and politicians can be aware of the problem and
direct resources (money, police, time, educational campaigns, victim services) accordingly.
Also, the victim can participate with law enforcement and the client presentation.
Politically, as more victims of hate crimes and their advocates hold offenders and the
community at large accountable for these crimes, by reporting, documenting, prosecuting, and
educating about the unique nature of bias crime, the more effective resources can be developed
and devoted to fostering a climate where these crimes can be reduced.
Pride is Power.
-- Ken Howard, LCSW is on the Board of
Directors of LAGPA and is in private practice in Beverly Hills. He also works for LA County
Dept. of Mental Health, where he has worked with numerous victims of hate crimes along sexual
orientation, gender, and racial lines. He was the victim of a mild hate crime in Silverlake in
spring 1998 (motorists throwing eggs outside a well known gay bar). His subsequent experience
reporting the crime to an unsympathetic Los Angeles Police Department officer led to a
significant investigation of the LAPD's sensitivity and response to hate crime reports.