Sexual Orientation Bias Crimes

Published date01 December 2016
Date01 December 2016
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17UB4HSP27RYCc/input 660583CJBXXX10.1177/0093854816660583CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIORBriones-robinson et al.
Sexual OrientatiOn BiaS CrimeS
examination of reporting, Perception of Police Bias,
and Differential Police response

University of South Florida
University of Massachusetts Lowell
LGBT hate crimes are typically more violent and involve greater victim injury as compared to other victimizations, but they
are substantially underreported. Victim reluctance to contact law enforcement may arise from perceptions of police bias. This
study explores victim–police interactions, specifically reporting to the police, perceived police bias among victims who did
not report, and differential police behavior among victims who reported. Using multiple years of National Crime Victimization
Survey data, sexual orientation bias victimizations are compared with other forms of victimization. Logit regression models
are examined before and after the Matthew Shepard Act. The pattern of results indicate that in the years following progressive
policy reforms, LGBT bias victims continue to perceive the police as biased. Results do not significantly differ between
sexual orientation bias victims and victims of other types of crime regarding police reporting and differential police response.
Implications for policing efforts with the LGBT community are discussed.
Keywords: sexual orientation bias; bias victimization; victim–police interaction; police bias; Matthew Shepard Act
Increased public awareness of the consequences of hate-motivated violence has resulted
in a growing response from advocacy groups, scholars, and policy makers (Jenness &
Grattet, 2001). The most recent hate crime legislation included the Matthew Shepard and
James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 (18 U.S.C. §249), which extended the
reach of federal remedies to include offenses perpetrated against sexual minorities. In spite
of the greater recognition of hate crimes and the enactment of legislation aimed at combat-
ing them, research continually suggests that bias victims are unlikely to turn to law
authOrS’ nOte: This project was supported by Award No. 2013-R2-CX-0033 by the National Institute of
Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or
recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of
the Department of Justice. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rhissa Briones-
Robinson, Department of Criminology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave. SOC107, Tampa, FL
33620; e-mail:

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2016, Vol. 43, No. 12, Decenber 2016, 1688 –1709.
DOI: 10.1177/0093854816660583
© 2016 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

enforcement following victimization. While victimizations in general are underreported,
hate crimes are reported even less frequently to the police (Iganski, 2002; Perry, 2001). This
finding is especially troubling given the serious nature of hate crimes that feature greater
violence (Messner, McHugh, & Felson, 2004) and require more hospitalizations when com-
pared to nonbias crimes (Kuehnle & Sullivan, 2003). Victims indicate that a lack of confi-
dence in police responsiveness and a concern that the police cannot or will not provide
assistance are primary reasons why hate crimes are not reported (Sandholtz, Langton, &
Planty, 2013).
Prior evidence finds that police contacts with the LGBT1 community have been problem-
atic, as reflected in the poor law enforcement response and misconduct directed toward
victims following calls for assistance (Wolff & Cokely, 2007). According to LGBT victims,
an important barrier to reporting are perceptions of police bias that may stem from homo-
phobic attitudes (e.g., Herek, Cogan, & Gillis, 2002). For example, among LGBT individu-
als who chose to report, findings indicated that law enforcement officials have refused
assistance, have been verbally abusive, and/or have directed hostile attitudes toward victims
(Wolff & Cokely, 2007). However, with greater awareness of the victimization experienced
by sexual minorities and the protections extended to them more recently, concerted efforts
to improve the relationships between the LGBT community and the police have been imple-
mented (Dwyer, 2014). In light of these political shifts, empirical assessment of the interac-
tions between LGBT bias victims and the police have not been extensively explored.
Prior research on anti-LGBT violence has established that these crimes differ in impor-
tant ways from nonbias violence, and that these incidents are varied and nuanced (e.g.,
Gruenewald, 2012; Gruenewald & Kelley, 2014). Additional findings suggest that LGBT
bias victimizations, when compared with other forms of bias victimizations, involve greater
incidence of both physical and property victimizations (Dunbar, 2006) and more weapon
use (Stacey, 2011). However, LGBT bias victims are less likely to seek assistance from law
enforcement following victimization (Herek et al., 2002). While prior investigations have
explored victim–police contact among victims of various types of crimes, relatively little is
known about interactions involving victims of LGBT bias specifically. Comparison of
LGBT bias victimizations with other forms of victimizations would indicate whether or not
underreporting and differential police response is limited to sexual minorities, or if all vic-
tims experience such difficulties. Additionally, as the social climate toward sexual minori-
ties has changed and legislation aimed at decreasing hate crimes among LGBT victims has
increased in the last few years, it is unknown whether these relationships persist.
hate Crime ViCtimizatiOn
In response to the perceived increase in the number of bias-motivated crimes against
racial/ethnic and religious minorities, the first piece of hate crime legislation was enacted in
California in 1978 (Grattet, Jenness, & Curry, 1998). During the 1980s and 1990s, several
states adopted some measure of hate crime law (Jenness & Grattet, 2005). At the federal
level, the Hate Crime Statistics Act was first enacted in 1990, and was later amended in
2009 with the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In addi-
tion to mandates on the collection of hate crime statistics, the amendment broadened federal
authority to protect those classes of minorities victimized because of gender, gender iden-
tity, and sexual orientation.

The namesake of this civil rights legislation is based on two tragic hate crime victimizations
that garnered significant attention in 1998. The first incident involved James Byrd Jr., an
African American man from Jasper, Texas. Byrd was lured by known White supremacists who
chained him to the back of a truck and dragged his body until he died (Cropper, 1998). Months
later, near Laramie, Wyoming, a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, was lured by two men
who beat him severely, bound him to a fence, and left him to die. Within a week of the attack,
Shepard succumbed to his injuries while hospitalized (Brooke, 1998). At the time of these
murders, neither Wyoming nor Texas had statutory provisions that criminalized bias-motivated
offenses, which led to greater efforts to amend hate crime legislation at the federal level.
In 2012, official agencies reported 5,796 hate crime incidents, comprising 6,718 total
offenses to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI; 2013). Incidents occurring most fre-
quently involved racial animus (48.3%), followed by antigay (19.6%) and religious bias
(19.0%). These incidents typically involved violent crimes against persons, with 37.5% of
bias victims facing intimidation, 39.6% experiencing simple assault, and 21.5% experienc-
ing aggravated assault. In spite of the violence associated with these crimes, victimization
survey data indicate that only 34% of bias crime victims reported the incident to the police
in 2012 (Wilson, 2014).
rePOrting the inCiDent tO the POliCe
Victims’ reporting behaviors have long been an area of interest within criminological
research (e.g., Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1988; Skogan, 1984), and have produced a sig-
nificant body of literature. For instance, recent work by Baumer and Lauritsen (2010) uti-
lized data from the National Crime Survey (NCS) and the National Crime Victimization
Survey (NCVS) to examine long-term trends in crime reporting between 1973 and 2005.
Their findings indicated that levels of victim reporting overall have remained modest over
time, but have increased within the last 30 years due to greater police contact involving
incidents of domestic and sexual violence.
In contrast to these noted increases in victim reporting of nonbias incidents, evidence
indicates that bias victims are less likely to contact the police (Iganski, 2002; Perry, 2001).
Importantly, underreporting may vary according to the type of hate crime experienced, as
some findings suggest that LGBT bias victims report to the police less frequently than other
forms of bias crimes, in spite of the greater violence associated with these incidents (Dunbar,
2006; Herek et al., 2002).
reaSOnS FOr nOt rePOrting
While reporting crime...

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