Hate Crimes against WomenOctober 06, 2009
Last week I attended a presentation by Patrice O’Neill, the executive producer of Not in Our Town). Not in Our Town is a documentary that aired on PBS in 1994 and highlighted how the community of Billings, Montana came together to protest hate crimes that were threatening their community in 1993.
After the home of a Native American family was desecrated with painted swastikas, community members showed up en masse to paint over the offending images. And when a brick was thrown through a window displaying a menorah for Hanukkah, the community responded by hanging menorahs in their windows. The Not in Our Town documentary and the actions of the Billings community have spurred other communities to speak out about hate crimes happening in their own towns.
The terrifying thing about hate crimes is that they impact a whole community: Any member of the target group is also a potential victim. For example, if one gay boy is strung up on a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming, the rest of the gay population in that community and beyond fears what might happen to them.
During the presentation, Patrice showed short videos illustrating actions taken by different communities around the United States to stand up against hate crimes. Examples included a Long Island community’s response to the murder of a local immigrant man and a community that banded together in the pouring rain to don headscarves after a Muslim woman was shot and killed while walking home after taking her daughter to school.
One thing I noticed that was missing from these examples and other videos on the site were hate crimes committed against women. According to Patrice, crimes against gender are classified by law as hate crimes by some states; in general, however, communities don’t generally rise up against such crimes. This made me stop and wonder: Did anyone rise up in outrage when George Sodini opened fire on a woman’s aerobics class in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania? In August 2009 Bob Herbert wrote a column for the New York Times pointing out the recent trends of violence in the United States against women.
While it is important to recognize that not all crimes against women are hate crimes, it is true that some crimes against women are committed with hatred against women as a motivation. Another high profile example of misogynist violence was the massacre in the Amish school house that took place in 2006 in Pennsylvania, where only the girls were lined up and shot. But gender is not currently recognized as a group protected under federal hate crime prevention laws. For this reason AAUW has been strongly supporting legislation such as the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Mathew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would strengthen the federal response to hate crimes to include gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.
Maybe it’s time the media, policy-makers, and even communities begin to see these crimes against women for what they really are: hate crimes. As it is now, many times when this type of violence occurs, it is viewed as an individual act of insanity by a lone crazy person. But if these crimes against women could be understood as violence motivated by misogyny, perhaps real steps could be taken to address the issue on a broader scale.