June 26, 2007
What percentage of sexual minority adults in the United States have experienced hate crimes because of their sexual orientation?
Every year, the FBI reports the number of hate crimes tallied by local law enforcement agencies during the previous 12 months. Those statistics are useful but, as I explained in an earlier post, they only include crimes that victims reported to the police. Data from the National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) indicate that about 58% of crimes based on sexual orientation went unreported between July 2000 and December 2003.
In addition, the FBI and NCVS data only tell us about the number of hate crimes committed during a particular period. They don’t yield information about the prevalence of such victimization among sexual minorities — that is, the proportion of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population that has been targeted for criminal victimization because of their sexual orientation.
Until recently, hate crime prevalence had to be estimated from community-based samples. Those data were tremendously useful but, because of the study designs, none of the samples could be assumed to be representative of the national population of sexual minority adults.
Now, however, prevalence data are available from a survey conducted with a national probability sample. And they show that such victimization is alarmingly common: About 1 in 5 sexual minority adults report they have experienced a crime against their person or property based on their sexual orientation.
I conducted the survey in 2005 with a nationally representative sample of 662 lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults. Participants reported their experiences with violence, property crimes, and harassment based on their sexual orientation since they turned 18. A paper reporting the survey results has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in 2008.
Here are some key findings:
- 13% of respondents said they had been hit, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
- 15% had been robbed or had their property stolen, vandalized, or purposely damaged.
- Combining these two groups, 21% had experienced either violence or a property crime.
- 14% said someone had tried to attack them, rob them, or damage their property, but didn’t succeed.
- 23% had been threatened with violence.
- 13% had an object thrown at them.
- 49% had been verbally insulted or abused because of their sexual orientation.
The risks for victimization weren’t uniform throughout the sample. Gay men were significantly more likely than lesbians or bisexuals to be victimized.More than one third of the gay men had experienced one or both types of crimes, compared to between 11% and 13% of lesbians, bisexual men, and bisexual women. Gay men also reported higher levels of harassment and verbal abuse than the other sexual orientation groups.
These patterns are consistent with previous research. Data from the FBI and NCVS indicate that men are generally more likely than women to be the targets of most kinds of violent crime, especially crimes perpetrated by strangers. This pattern seems to hold in antigay hate crimes as well. Among the men in the sample, those who were gay were more open about their sexual orientation than those who were bisexual, and this greater visibility probably further increased the gay men’s relative likelihood of victimization.
Despite variations within the sample, the survey findings show that hate crime victimization is an all too common experience among all sexual minorities.
Other research has shown that gay and lesbian survivors of hate crimes show higher levels of psychological distress for a longer time period, compared to sexual minority victims of other kinds of violent crime. The data from the new survey indicate that a substantial number of Americans are at risk for this kind of victimization and its often debilitating consequences.
More information about the study is available on my website.
Data collection was made possible by a grant from the Gill Foundation.