The number of reports of hate crimes against members of the LGBT community has risen by almost a quarter. According to Scottish Government figures, 890 crimes based on the victim’s sexuality were reported last year, up 22% from the 729 last year. Meanwhile, reports of crime against transgender people rose from 14 to 25.
What do these figures mean? Commentators are split. Some claim that Scotland has seen a surge in intolerance, with others arguing that the increase is due to LGBT people feeling increasingly confident in reporting abuse to police.
This new century has seen some landmark legislation for Scotland’s LGBT community. Firstly, the discriminatory Section 28 was scrapped in 2000; then the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice Scotland) Act 2009 created a series of statutory offences protecting individuals targeted on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender identity; and finally the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill made same-sex marriage legal earlier this year.
Even the Scottish Conservative party, which has a historic record of opposing pro-gay legislation, has softened to LGBT rights. Indeed, their leader, Ruth Davidson, is a lesbian who ‘cried deep sobbing tears of relief,’ when the same-sex marriage bill passed.
Some have suggested that the rise in hate crime is a reaction to the increased visibility and confidence of homosexual people. Indeed, it seems something of a worldwide trend that homophobic attacks increase with the passing of a major pro-gay legislation. Following the introduction of same-sex marriage to France, for example, there was a 78% spike in discriminatory abuse against the LGBT community. Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC voiced his worry about these latest stats: ‘I am concerned about the increases in offences motivated by prejudice against sexual orientation’. His comment seems to suggest that attacks are indeed on the increase, but he was optimistic that Scotland is nevertheless ‘heading in the right direction’
‘A Positive Development’
Many commentators claim this year-on-year increase in reporting was to be expected after the passing of the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009. Commentators from within the community attest that it’s only reports of abuse, not abuse itself, that has risen.
In fact, smaller numbers of reports are more likely to worry the LGBT community, as it means that discrimination is going unreported. Colin Macfarlane, director of Stonewall Scotland, said: ‘this increase suggests that more LGBT people feel able to report these crimes to the police. This is a positive development.’
Equalities Secretary Shona Robison concurred: ‘We are not becoming more intolerant as a society, but we are becoming less tolerant of those who hold prejudiced beliefs’. She also pointed out that £60m has been pledged to combat hate crime between 2012 and 2015.
On the other hand, Macfarlane cautioned that ‘Stonewall Scotland’s research shows, however, that more than a third of LGBT people still don’t feel confident in reporting such incidents to the police.’ Others are worried by the relatively low number of crime reported against transgender people, suggesting that crime is going unreported.
While football-related, sectarian hate-crimes have fallen sharply, as we discussed in our previous blogpost, the Scottish Government statistics also show a 12% jump in hate crimes against disabled people and a 3% hike in racially-motivated crime, which accounts for the about 69% of hate-crime charges in Scotland.
If you have been charged under the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009, you could face a much harsher penalty than you would for, say, a regular assault charge. It is imperative that you hire the best legal help available. Give us a call for a free consultation on 0141 226 8825.