Protection is needed for all victimised folk
Dr Neil Chakraborti tells how changes to hate crime policy will protect people victimised for looking "different"
The news that Greater Manchester Police will now be recording attacks against goths, emos and other members of alternative subcultures as hate crimes has quickly become the subject of extensive debate, taking centre stage in the local, national and even international press.
So why such a fuss?
In one sense I'd like to say it was for positive reasons. People expressing alternative identities, appearances and tastes are routinely subjected to all kinds of prejudice – including being spat at, harassed, called abusive names, bullied and physically attacked – simply for "daring to be different". Recognising this as hate crime will encourage higher levels of reporting and, perhaps most importantly of all, will make people feel safer and less vulnerable.
However, there are some who have been highly critical of this policy change.
Some have asked: are attacks on goths, punks and emos really hate crimes in the same way as attacks on, say, ethnic minorities or gay people? For me – and for anyone else who has engaged with victims of these attacks – violence directed towards people because of how they look or how they dress is just as serious as other more established forms of hate crime.
The physical pain, emotional hurt and the fear of subsequent attack is similar for anyone singled out for being "different". Hate is hate.Equally, concerns this will water down the importance of the concept of hate crime have little justification in practice.
Those who would confine this protection to historically victimised groups fail to recognise targets of hatred evolve with time, place and societal attitudes. Adapting our policies to fit the realities of present-day life is something which invariably strengthens, not weakens, the effectiveness of this protection.
Finally, some suggest that other groups will start lobbying to have their experiences of hate recorded as hate crime. If so, perhaps this is a prospect we should welcome, not fear. Not only might this make us all more aware of bigotry we may not be familiar with, but it might force us to think collectively about how we should challenge these expressions of bigotry.
This move from Greater Manchester Police underlines that no-one should have to suffer being the victim of hate or prejudice. About 260,000 hate crimes are committed each year, according to British Crime Survey estimates, and far too many are unrecognised, unreported and unchallenged. Let's do all we can to respect 'difference' and to stamp out intolerance.
Dr Neil Chakraborti is a Reader in Criminology at the Department of Criminology, University of Leicester. He is the leader of the Leicester Hate Crime Project, Britain's biggest-ever study of hate crime victimisation. For further details visit http://bit.ly/11cTwg5 or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org