lunes, 4 de abril de 2011

Victims of Hate Crimes

In hate crimes, victims are intentionally selected for objects of intolerance. They are subjected to immeasurable physical and emotional damage, the society as a whole is terrorized, and the security of all citizens is threatened. Acknowledgement of its existence implies noting that a hate crime may be against individuals, social groups, and/or their property when the victim, property, or the target of the crime have been selected due to bias or hostility to their social condition. This can include association, affiliation, or relationship with a social group defined by: their national, ethnic or racial origin; language; color; religion; identity; gender; age; mental or physical disability; sexual orientation; homelessness; disease; or any other hetero-phobic factor. These crimes send all members of the group to which the victim belongs a forceful message of threat and intolerance.
Christian Strohal, the Director of ODIHR, expresses that “hate crimes represent the most insidious manifestation of intolerance and discrimination based on race, sex, language, religion, creed, national or social origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other similar foundations. Violent expression of this bias can take the form of aggression, murder, threats, or property damage, including fire, desecration, or vandalism. The term is used here to cover the violent manifestations of intolerance and discrimination that harm individuals, property, and the group with which they identify themselves, whether Muslim, Jewish, African or Arab immigrants, Roma, gay or lesbian, or members of any other group.”
The victim of a hate crime, especially violence, has uniquely suffered a significant abandonment. No doubt they get a fair trial, but after the possible notoriety of the case, if there is any, the victim suffers more than simply societal abandonment to their fate. The victim will often suffer stigmatization or labeling – justifying their misery, loneliness, and lack of psychological support – or misinformation about the process regarding the crime. The victim is subjected to many pressures, not only by the offense itself, but even during the trial and the reliving of the crime.
We understand the logical demand for a positive intervention by the State, whose subsidiary responsibility in a democratic society is clearly to be restorative, curative, or at least palliative. What we cannot understand is that although the victims of terrorism and domestic violence have had advances, which are commendable, meanwhile the victims of hate crime and discrimination lack any specific attention. Perhaps this will be one of the unresolved matters the Socialist government needs to resolve with the promised Equal Treatment Law.
The victim of a hate crime is chosen by his or her assailant by appearance (being black or wearing dreadlocks for example), by ideology or beliefs (such as anti-fascist, Muslim, or Jew), national origin (being an immigrant or refugee), sexual orientation (as in the case of gay, lesbian, or transgendered individuals), poverty status (the homeless), illness or disability, or any other condition or circumstance that causes the intolerant aggressor to deny the dignity and rights of these people, and even to consider that they are “worthless lives” in the purest Nazi interpretation of human existence, leading to a desire to kill or severely assault. The victim is usually unaware that he or she is in danger when in front of the assailant. Victims usually do not defend themselves. They may not exchange a single word with the attacker. The victim is not aware of being in the presence of predators.
After the attack, if it is not fatally irreversible, the victim enters a state of shock at the inexplicable assault and searches for the cause of it. They may internalize a feeling of guilt or helplessness caused by the inability to change the color of their skin, immigrant origin, beliefs, sexual orientation, or whatever social condition has made them a target for bigotry. They tend to be left all alone, without anyone to help explain why they suffered such a brutal attack — a circumstance we are mitigating from the Offices of Assistance to the victims of hatred and discrimination, promoted by various NGOs with additional support from the National Council for Equal Treatment and other government departments. Then follows a real ordeal and a deep mark: the fear of being attacked again. The fear of the victim, their family, their friends, and their social group, and the powerlessness before the sudden, surprising and seemingly irrational attack. But this is not the case; these attacks obey a very deliberate logic and are profoundly damaging to the victim, as well as damaging to democratic societies — by the destructive power against coexistence, in addition to the distrust created toward the democratic institutions for not handling these attacks. Hate crimes do not directly attack the state; they attack the most vulnerable members of society, its weakest people, and indirectly attack the democratic institutions for their lack of action or efficiency in resolving the issue.
The victim and his or her family are left disoriented. Under special circumstances, such as an immigrant without papers it is very difficult to file a complaint of assault, even when it is advisable; the distrust of the police and the fear of being deported or admitted to a CIES (Center for Special Internment) for not having papers contribute to the victim´s refusal to formally report, and the injured party will probably say he or she has suffered an accident. It happens as well, although on a smaller scale, with those who have papers. A person who is attacked for their sexual orientation is also prone to distrust, because he or she will have to “come out” and this is not a viable option to all because it shatters the victim´s privacy. The same applies to the homeless, as some have expressed to journalists when interviewed, because after reporting a crime and returning to the streets, they are attacked by “skinheads” at night. There are many victims who do not report: transgendered, Muslim, anyone who may believe that reporting the crime involves further risk to their safety. Personally, in my work in victim assistance, I have experienced this casuistry; some come to us to report for them because they say they cannot do it themselves. It cannot be forgotten that fear of retaliation is always present, because attackers threaten it and, if they can, carry it into practice. Many victims have withdrawn their complaint after going to the police due to such threats. Still others have left the country.
From a humanitarian and democratic perspective, the claims are openly considered: more and better assistance from public authorities to the direct victims and their families, higher procedural safeguards to prevent the neglect and abuse, and the assumption of State responsibilities to improve the indemnity coverage, without discriminating against other groups — something which could be possible with the future Law on Equal Treatment and that should, in justice, extend to all victims of violent crime and overcome this significant abandonment of the victim of hatred and violence with all the strength, dignity and protection of the law in a democratic, social and legal State.
Esteban Ibarra
President of the Movement against Intolerance

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