By Jessica Hodge
Approximately two years ago, I wrote a blog entry on the same issue I am writing about today – the gender category of hate crime law. In the blog entry I wrote two years ago , I shared how I was anxiously waiting for the FBI to publish their most recent version of the Hate Crime Statistics report. This report, published by the FBI each year, is a compilation of crime statistics submitted by police agencies across the country.  The report provides details on the number of hate crimes committed across the country and in each state, what types of offenses were committed (e.g., murder, assault, vandalism, etc.), and which types of biases were present within the offenses (e.g., anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jewish, etc.). While there are certainly flaws with this report, I am always curious to review it as the report provides the only national indicator of hate crime offenders and victims that we have in this country.
Two years ago, I eagerly waited for the report to come out because it had been two years at that time since the gender category had been included within the Matthew Shephard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). With the passage of this Act in 2009, police agencies were required to gather statistics on gender-motivated violence, similar to how they gathered statistics on other types of hate crimes. As someone who has studied gender-motivated hate crimes for over a decade, I was anxious to see how the inclusion of the gender category within the federal law would change how these types of crimes were handled by law enforcement officials. Since it was two years after the passage of the HCPA, I was ready to finally see how gender-motivated hate crimes compared to other types of hate crimes across the country. So what did I learn when the report was published that year? I learned that I was going to have to continue to wait….and wait….and wait. Now, four years after the passage of the HCPA, and two years since my previous blog entry on this issue, I still wait. In fact, I find myself in the same position as I did two years ago – waiting to see whether the gender category will finally be included within the FBI’s annual report.
Why is it taking so long for the gender category to be included within the FBI’s report? There are a few possible explanations. Although it has been four years since the passage of the HCPA, sometimes agencies are slow to implement a new policy if they are not fully supportive of the change, they do not have the proper resources to fully implement it, or they need to develop and provide training to the appropriate staff so that the change can be executed correctly and efficiently. In other words, sometimes it takes time for a new law or policy to be put into place.
Despite the frustration of having to wait the past four years for the changes to take place, I have been reminded of something recently – I can remain frustrated and wait, or I can work to make changes. Although I might not be able to change how quickly (or not) the gender category is included within the FBI’s annual report, I can work to change how gender-motivated violence is perceived by law enforcement officials, how news reporters cover gender-motivated crimes, and perhaps most importantly, how society views offenses committed against persons simply because of their gender. When we ignore how crimes motivated by someone’s gender are similar to other types of hate crimes, we send a message to the victims, the offenders, and to society that gender is not important – that crimes motivated by a victim’s gender are not as serious or as harmful as crimes that are motivated because of one of the other types of bias. This needs to change, and I do not have to wait for some report to work on these changes.
I hope that in two years I will have a very different story to share.
Jessica Hodge, Assistant Professor
Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, UMKC