An organisation is taking steps towards documenting LGBT hate crimes in South Africa for the first time. It’s a move that will hopefully finally allow activists and officials to begin to understand the scale of the problem.
Unlike in some countries, under South African law, hate crimes – those perpetrated against people due to their identity (or perceived identity) or because they are part of a particular group – are not recognised as unique crimes in themselves.
Therefore, when a gay or lesbian is, for example, murdered because of their sexual orientation, this is simply recorded by the authorities as a murder; no different from one perpetrated in a robbery or a domestic dispute.
Many hate crimes also go unreported to the police because victims may wish to avoid embarrassment and stigma or fear being further victimised by the authorities. These incidents might be reported to community organisations but never taken further.
As a result of this, we have no statistical information as to the scale and nature of hate crimes in the country. Without this kind of information it’s difficult to assess the problem and to pressure government to take firmer action.
Last week, the Hate Crimes Working Group (HCWG) – a network of civil society organisations set up to spearhead advocacy and reform initiatives relating to hate crimes – initiated a process to change this landscape.
The network, which is unrelated to the currently stagnant Hate Crimes Task Team set up by the government last year, not only looks at hate crimes against the LGBT community but all hate crimes against any group, including those on the basis of xenophobia, religion or disability.
“Hate crimes are anti-democracy and anti-free society and this is why they should be prioritised…”
At a meeting in Johannesburg – one of various planned across the country – the HCWG said that hate crimes should be recognised and legislated against because they can disrupt communities and society at large.
“Hate crimes go beyond the individual but extend to the community and others in a group” said Professor Juan Nel, who is focusing on LGBT-related hate crimes for the HCWG. “Hate crimes are anti-democracy and anti-free society and this is why they should be prioritised,” he added.
At the meeting, attended by various NGOs, the HCWG revealed its “Hate & Bias Crime Monitoring Form”, a standardised form that aims to capture all relevant information about a hate crime which can then be analysed and assessed.
The comprehensive form focuses on the victim and tries to record the nature of the hate crime, the location, what may have motivated it, access to medical assistance, and if the incident was reported, how this was handled by the authorities.
The form will be used in a trial run by NGOs in a number of provinces over the rest of the year to record past and new hate crimes to ensure that it is able to record what needs to be recorded. The aim is to eventually see a similar form or variation of it being used as a matter of course not only by community organisations but also in police stations, clinics and anywhere else where hate crimes may be reported.
Although the HCWG is in discussions with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, Nel admits that these ambitions are still some way off.
In the meantime, the information that will be captured by the form will allow activists and groups to present real evidence of what is happening in the streets and townships of South Africa.
“In the long term we aim to improve the response to hate crimes and to assist government in its response against these crimes,” said Nel.
At face value the form is simply a few pages of paper but it could represent our first weapon in the battle against hate crimes targeting LGBT people.
Current members of the HCWG include: Amnesty International South Africa, Anova Health, Human Rights Watch, Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA), Sonke Gender Justice Network and the Unisa Centre for Applied Psychology (UCAP).
For more information or to report a hate crime (whether involving an individual or property) please contact Prof Juan A. Nel at email@example.com.