Hate Crimes and what categories and identities constitute them have long been debated. Originally, a hate crime was considered in instances where bias towards race, religion, and national origin were present. Now, hate crime laws are expanding to cover identities such as sexual orientation, disability, and gender. The intention of a recognized hate crime law is to help protect targeted groups and show that bias-motivated discrimination, harassment, and violence is not tolerated within society. One of the largest identities missing under most state hate crime laws is gender. Currently, six states do not have hate crime laws, and of the 44 that do, only 17 include gender. Gender is a necessary identity to cover, as it protects those who are transgender, gender non-conforming, and women. This article will focus on women, a group being continually subjugated by members of the male population.
The category of gender is often overlooked, particularly in hate crime policy. Take three instances of violence, posed by Beverly McPhail through Gender-Bias Hate Crimes: A Review. Jasper, TX: an African American man is murdered by being tied to the back of a truck while the white assailant drove. Laramie, WY: A gay college student is beaten, attached to a fence, and left to die from exposure. Jonesboro, AR: Two male students shot their female teacher and four female classmates. Even though bias-motivation was present in all three of these incidents, the third was not considered a hate crime.
When the first hate crime laws were drafted they included race, religion, and national origin. In 2009, the Obama Administration added gender and gender identity to the US’s federal hate crime law through the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. However, states have been slow to add gender. Controversy over adding gender is prominent, those against it argued it would diminish the impact and efforts of the three original identities, statistics would be “too cumbersome” to gather, and because most women who are victim to assault know their attackers, so they “do not fit the hate crime paradigm.” When prosecutors are looking to press charges against a rapist, they often find it unnecessary to add a case regarding a hate crime, especially if the lawyers believe they can already make a case. However, “the previous relationship makes the crime more heinous because the sense of connection and shared community implied in social familiarity is viciously shattered.” The irony, as McPhail presents, is that “other social movement groups often used rape as an analogy for the harms that hate crimes do and yet refused to add protections for women, who are primarily the victims of rape.”
The most pertinent argument for not amending state hate crime laws to include gender is that there are already “special laws” that protect women. However, these laws try and fail to address the result of bias, rather than the root. According to McPhail, Rape is 30% more likely to be dismissed than a robbery, a quarter of convicted rapists will simply get probation, and 98% of rapists will never be convicted or jailed. One in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and most women live in fear of sexual assault and rape — going as far as altering daily routines in fear of the sexual violence committed by men. Many women fall victim solely to the fact that they are women, and are typically blamed for their sexual assaults based on their clothing, walking alone, drinking, and a multitude of other scenarios. Thus, these “special laws” cannot even tackle the result of sexist and misogynistic violence, which is why the inclusion of gender in hate crime laws is necessary.
The remaining states need to amend their hate crime laws to include gender, as it proves to be the most ingrained bias in our society. Slightly over half the population identifies as a woman, yet violence against women is not always considered a hate crime. When it occurs, it is treated as an anomaly; as something individual, rather than institutional. Gender is failing to be amended into state hate crime law, as states that had already passed a hate crime law are less likely to go back and amend their hate crime laws to include gender. Gender is a necessity under all hate crime laws, as issues of sexism and misogyny will only continue if bias-motivated violence against women is still being treated individually, if treated at all.