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What Prosecutors and the Police Should Do About Underreporting of Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crime

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Abstract

Introduction

Vast discrepancies between official hate crime statistics and victim reports of hate crimes reveal that a large proportion of hate crimes go uncharged. LGBTQ individuals may be disinclined to report hate crimes because of safety concerns and perceived hostility from law enforcement, and law enforcement may be reluctant to pursue them because of discomfort interacting with LGBTQ people and lack of clear guidance in building hate crime cases.

Methods and Analytical Approach

To address the problem of anti-LGBTQ hate crime underreporting, quantitative and qualitative data were collected in the Miami-Dade area including (a) prosecutorial case files from 2005 to 2019 and (b) semi-structured interviews with law enforcement practitioners (n = 10) and (c) structured interviews with LGBTQ crime victims (n = 400), carried out in 2018–2019.

Findings and Recommendations for Policy and Practice

Triangulated findings reveal that police and prosecutors lack the capacity to detect hate crimes and to engage with the LGBTQ community and crime victims. Victims and community members worried about retaliation and discounted some victim experiences as hate crimes. Responding to the research findings, a working group of 23 local stakeholders representing Miami’s LGBTQ community, advocacy groups, police, and prosecutor’s office produced seven recommendations addressing: (1) hate crime detection, (2) interagency coordination, (3) victim engagement, (4) communication and awareness building, (5) training of law enforcement practitioners, (6) data and research, and (7) changes to the hate crime statute.

Conclusion

These recommendations offer a path forward for a more effective detection and prosecution of hate crimes.

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Data Availability

Data will be available late summer 2021 via ISPCR.

Code Availability

Quantitative syntax is available upon request.

Notes

  1. We use “LGBTQ” in this article unless the research cited clearly included, referenced, or intended a narrower population. We also note that terminology is constantly evolving; our use of LGBTQ is broad in its inclusion of sexual and gender diversity.

  2. The term “Latine” uses a gender-neutral e, which replaces the gendered endings a and o (Latina/Latino), similar to Latinx. This term is increasingly used within the Latine LGBTQ community.

  3. Florida law only provides hate crime protections on the basis of sexual orientation, but it is likely that many of these crimes also have targeted nonconforming gender identity/expression.

  4. In other words, instead of creating new offenses based on prejudice against the victim, the Florida law provides stiffer penalties—so-called sentence enhancers—for a conviction when an underlying offense is motivated by prejudice.

  5. In addition to the absence of protections for gender identity/expression in Florida law, we also note the inability of this exclusive categorization to reflect the intersectional nature of hate crime perpetration. For instance, nonconforming gender/sexuality may be more apt to be targeted if also understood to violate expectations of religious adherence or if race/ethnicity differs between perpetrator and victim.

  6. Respondents were selected using a three-stage venue-based sampling. In stage 1, a list of events and venues associated with Miami’s LGBTQ community was constructed based on an online search and with help from 20 key informants reflecting the socioeconomic, cultural, and “outness” diversity in this community. This process led to the identification of 58 venues and 17 upcoming events. In the second stage, the venues were confirmed by ethnographic observations; research teams visited each venue at preset hours to count the number of individuals entering the venue, the times when most individuals enter, and individuals’ observable characteristics. Data from stage two were used to determine which venues had sufficient numbers of persons attending the venue to make data collection feasible. In stage 3, a calendar of data collection dates at events and venues was constructed.

  7. To recruit the respondents, the study relied on the screener with six conditional questions. Specifically, only the respondents who (a) are 18 and older, (b) reside in Miami, (c) are Latine, (d) identify themselves as LGBTQ, (e) experienced victimization, and (f) have not had more than two drinks (as per the Institutional Review Board requirement) were selected for the full interview.

  8. As noted earlier, although Florida law only protects against hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, it is likely that gender identity/expression may have been a factor in the perpetration of the crimes as well.

  9. Note that these 10 instances of subpoena compliance are higher than the three subpoenas referenced earlier with regard to case file review. The discrepancy results because victims who participated in interviews overwhelmingly did not have their cases processed as hate crimes; the interviews were conducted from October 2018 to December 2019, whereas the case file period covered 2005 through 2019.

  10. This list currently includes race, color, ancestry, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, homeless status, or advanced age of the victim.

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Funding

This project was supported by Award No. [redacted] by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

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Dr. Kutateladze is the PI for the study and oversaw data collection and analysis. Dr. Palmer wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and both authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Neal A. Palmer.

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Palmer, N.A., Kutateladze, B.L. What Prosecutors and the Police Should Do About Underreporting of Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crime. Sex Res Soc Policy 19, 1190–1204 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-021-00596-5

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