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LGBT+ Commission Inquiry Session: Hate Crime

Chaired by Alison Lowe OBE, the third inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission took place on 29th March. This session focussed on the issues that the LGBT+ community in the UK face with respect to hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence, bringing together the recommendations of leaders in this field. This included civil society, policing authorities and local/regional authorities.

Please note that this writeup is not intended to be an exhaustive account of all areas covered in the meeting, nor all areas that the Commission will focus on regarding LGBT+ hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence. Instead, this paper seeks to highlight key areas of consensus discussed by our panel, some of the problems in these areas and the recommendations that were suggested. If desired, the full recording of the session can be found here.

First Session: Hate Crime

The first half of this inquiry session of the LGBT+ Commission focused on hate crime against the LGBT+ community. The panel for this session included:

  • Leni Morris (CEO, Galop)
  • Amy Tapping (Co-chair, National LGBT+ Police Network)
  • Rob Wilson (Co-Founder, Angels of Freedom)

Data and Reporting

One of the key themes in the discussion of hate crime against the LGBT+ community was the issue of data collection, and the impact of the significant levels of underreporting when trying to commission effective services that meet the needs of hate crime victims. While there have been increasing rates of hate crimes committed against LGBT+ people in recent years[1], LGBT+ hate crime represents something of an iceberg with the levels of underreporting that we see:

“We have seen year on year, a disproportionate rise in the levels of reported hate crime [against LGBT+ people] … we know from the Government’s own figures and from our own research, that about 90 per cent of anti-LGBT+ hate crime goes unreported in the UK.” – Leni Morris

For those responsible for commissioning services, one of the problems is that underreporting generares limited evidence for a small proportion of the hate crimes that are actually committed against LGBT+ people. Resultingly, commissioning managers at local authorities who require very tight value for money cases when commissioning services are not often able to commission services for the LGBT+ community:

 “Unless we understand the breadth of the community and the breadth of experience of the community, we’re not going to be commissioning the kind of services and address the inclusion within the existing services that we need to.” – Leni Morris

The reasons for victims of hate crimes not reporting to the police, third party reporting centres, or civil society/advocacy groups are often myriad and interlinked. These can range from the victim’s perception of the offence, negative previous experiences when reporting such incidents, or a fear of what would happen if they did report the crime[2]. As such, there is certainly no one size fits all approach to driving up levels of reporting, however the panel discussed some of the ways in which better reporting rates could potentially be achieved. A key theme across all solutions discussed was the need to build trust between the LGBT+ community. the police and other reporting centres.

Given the historically fractious relationship between the LGBT+ community and the police, the role of community-led efforts was raised as centrally important:

“If you’re looking at driving people coming forward to address that 90 per cent underreporting, we know that specialist by and for services like our own really drive the ability for the community to come forward and talk about what’s happened to you in a way that they do not feel comfortable about coming forward to say the police or general services.” – Leni Morris

Certainly, if an LGBT+ victim of hate crime was worried about facing discrimination when accessing support in the wake of the crime committed against them, it is likely that they would feel more secure in the understanding that such discrimination would be less likely to occur in a service by and for LGBT+ people. However, while these organisations were noted as incredibly valuable by the community, they are very few and far between (see following section) and the panel therefore discussed the importance of ensuring that mainstream services are made LGBT+ inclusive, have a strong understanding of LGBT+ specific needs, and are able to communicate this effectively to the LGBT+ community to improve rates of reporting and accessing support:

“We should not lose sight of what we’re doing at a local level with mainstream organisations to make sure that they’re all LGBT+ inclusive… that their policies and practices are inclusive, and they’re demonstrating that to the community to build that trust.” – Rob Wilson

This focus on improving reporting rates has generally been the dominant approach to these issues. However, building trust with victims of hate crimes is not only about making LGBT+ people feel safe in the knowledge that they will not be discriminated against, but that disclosing the details of the hate crime will actually lead to criminal justice outcomes, will be taken seriously, and will not involve a protracted and drawn out interaction with the police:

“Often with hate crime, we sort of stop at the report in the way that we talk about it in policy work and then in commissioning… Actually, I think we would see greater improvement and engagement from the LGBT+ community, if we could see a progression in bringing up those low prosecution rates, in recognising the high levels of violence that comes along with LGBT+ hate crime and the legislative change that recognises LGBT+ hate crimes as impactful as other forms of hate crime.” – Leni Morris

However, whether the issue lies at the point of contact (developing inclusive services that encourage better reporting), or at the back end (improving prosecution rates and delivering tangible outcomes for victims), the result is that most local authorities lack an understanding of the needs of their local LGBT+ community. While historically, the commissioning of services for the LGBT+ community has been concentrated in London, Manchester and Brighton (places that LGBT+ people traditionally moved to because other places were not considered safe), LGBT+ people are situated in all parts of the UK. Local authorities that have not historically designed these services with LGBT+ people in mind must do so, in line with their statutory Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010:

“The challenge now is for local authorities to really understand the size of their LGBT+ community… the amount of support those people need, really understanding the local needs around that as well.” – Leni Morris

LGBT+ Appropriate Support

One of the results of such poor data capture for LGBT+ hate crimes is that there is a distinct lack of LGBT+ appropriate support both available to and accessed by victims. At the national level, support services remain very patchy, both with regards to LGBT+ specific services and generalist services that provide appropriate support for LGBT+ victims.

“Support for LGBT+ people in the face of hate crime is really sparse in this country… only about 4 per cent of LGBT+ victims of hate crime have access to advocacy… whereas over 20% per cent say that they want advocacy.

“It’s always about making sure that the victim has choices and that they are empowered to do the thing that is right for them.” – Leni Morris

Equally, at the local level, where local policing authorities are seeing significant levels of underreporting of LGBT+ hate crimes, services to meet the needs of LGBT+ victims of hate crimes are unlikely to be commissioned.

This does not just mean a lack of LGBT+ support services, but also a lack of mainstream services that meet the needs of LGBT+ victims of hate crime. Where local authority budgets are tightly squeezed, there is a commissioning environment in which LGBT+ specific services are unlikely to be commissioned. In these contexts, it is critically important that mainstream services are LGBT+ inclusive and this is an area in which local LGBT+ civil society groups can have an important impact.

Though it relates to the theme of sexual violence which was discussed in the second half of the session,

Rob Wilson highlighted an important example of how LGBT+ civil society groups can play a role in ensuring support services are LGBT+ inclusive. In the roll-out of the ‘ask for Angela’ campaign in Leeds, as part of the ‘Safe Leeds’ partnership, Angels of Freedom were able to make sure that staff training for participating venues was LGBT+ inclusive.

There are real and significant impacts from not having effective victim support services. Galop’s research has shown that there are severe behavioural, psychological and emotional changes in a person after they experience an attack on the basis of their own identity. This may include a reduced sense of safety, taking different routes home, or even going out less. However, perhaps a starker reality is the wider impact these attacks on the LGBT+ community have beyond the individual victim:

“Our research shows that someone who knows someone who has had a hate crime committed against them demonstrates almost exactly the same behavioural changes as the victim themselves. And in fact, someone who knows someone who knows someone who’s been a victim of that hate crime also demonstrates almost those same behavioural changes. So, the ripple effect of these crimes goes through a whole community.” – Leni Morris

Policing and Legal Structures

One of the key issues surrounding the ways in which LGBT+ hate crimes are dealt with in the UK is the historical distrust between the LGBT+ community in the UK and the police. As was acknowledged by Amy Tapping, co-chair of the National LGBT+ Police Network:

“Historically policing has had a very negative and awkward relationship with the LGBT+ community. We’ve operated with a lack of accountability for the treatment of LGBT+ individuals, utilised laws prohibiting same sex sexual conduct, arresting LGBT+ individuals and targeting their gathering places.” – Amy Tapping

The result of this is a massive confidence gap between the LGBT+ community and the police that results in LGBT+ people feeling less inclined to report hate crimes as they do not feel that they will be taken seriously, and any strategy to drive up rates of reporting for LGBT+ hate crimes will have to involve steps to rebuild the trust between the LGBT+ community. the local policing authority and the police more widely.

The panel discussed some of the ways in which these steps can be taken and a key point of emphasis was the role of LGBT+ staff networks and how their visibility in their local community can communicate that they are inclusive of the LGBT+ community:

“There is a need for greater empowerment and extended remit for the police LGBT+ staff network members…they do a lot of work around developing services, but that idea of representatives actually going out there and being with the community groups because they identify as LGBT+… that is an activity that needs to be embedded within that role as an objective and not something that they’re doing as an add-on.” – Rob Wilson

“If I can be out at events run by the local community, or if I can attend local groups and they can see that I’m a visible, gay, out woman police officer, hopefully that will help to start breaking down the barriers.” – Amy Tapping

The panel also spoke to the importance of the relationship between the police and third sector LGBT+ support services and other organisations. This relationship could have many functions, one of which is the ability to help hold the police to account, helping to remedy the historical lack of accountability that the police have operated with in relation to the LGBT+ community:

“The stronger that relationship is with senior officers in the force and LGBT+ groups, organisations and individuals, the greater emphasis there is for officers to get it right… because if they don’t there’s a very good chance that it will be seen, that it won’t go under the radar and they won’t ‘get away with it’.” – Rob Wilson

Further to this, for LGBT+ victims of hate crimes to see that the police have visible and strong relationships with LGBT+ groups in the local area is likely to increase confidence that the crime will be taken seriously.

Such relationships also provide the opportunity for referrals and improved victim support after the initial contact with the police, an area in which the police tend to be less successful. This has the potential to help ensure that victims have more positive experiences of reporting hate crimes:

“We’re very good at taking the report. We can do initial safeguarding, we can do that initial emotional support. we can take the report and we can investigate the offence. We aren’t very skilled at then putting in the after services…that’s where the charities can really shine, and that’s where we can then start referring off to other support agencies for victim support.” – Amy Tapping

However, for all that improved visibility and communications with the LGBT+ community can achieve, there remain structural and operational issues in the way that the police handle hate crime against LGBT+ people that will need reform of policing policies to address. Speaking to one such procedural blockage with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Amy Tapping noted how these issues can discourage reporting, in particular of non-violent hate crime offences:

“In terms of the criminal justice outcomes, I do think that there is a blockage there… in terms of getting a conviction for an LGBT+ hate crime, you have to go through CPS. We can’t decide that this person has committed the offence, they’ve admitted the offence, so we’ll charge them. We have to go through CPS, but that creates a barrier. And actually, with the timescales in terms of going to court…if you’re thinking about a low-level public order offence [e.g. verbal abuse], it kind of sems a little bit out of kilter with what the victim probably wants and is trying to achieve. I think there should be more opportunities for mediation to be put in, or some sort of community reparation rather than having to go through the court system. I think that’s where we create some barriers for some of our victims.”

Concurring with the weight of these problems, Leni Morris noted that:

“The confidence in the community comes from those reports being acted upon, from those criminal justice outcomes. And for those who do not want a criminal justice outcome, from the support in order to rebuild.” – Leni Morris

However, it is very hard to build trust between the LGBT+ community and the police in the UK when it remains the case that LGBT+ hate crimes are treated as lesser in the eyes of the law than other hate crimes, with sexual orientation, transgender status and disability carrying a lower maximum sentence than hate crimes based on race or religion, creating a ‘hierarchy of hate’ of sorts.

These are the kinds of problems that require changes to the current legal framework and cannot be addressed solely by LGBT+ liaison officers or staff network members.

Key Recommendations from the Panel:

Improving data collection and reporting rates – Though driving up reporting rates is not a silver bullet, it is a critical first step. More reliable data will ensure more effective commissioning to meet the needs of LGBT+ victims of hate crimes. Steps to do this will have to address the historically negative relationship between the LGBT+ community and the police, via the development of truly inclusive practices and procedures and the effective communication of these policies to the community. Importantly, uplifts for sexual orientation, gender identity and disability motivated hate crimes must be equalised with race and religion motivated hate crimes, to give confidence to the LGBT+ community that the criminal justice system takes these offences seriously.

Developing LGBT+ appropriate support – In a commissioning environment in which LGBT+ specific services are very unlikely to secure funding, more must be done to ensure that mainstream support services are LGBT+ inclusive. Support services should be required to train staff to ensure that they can be sensitive to the specific needs of LGBT+ victims of hate crimes. This would represent a key step in building trust among the LGBT+ community in generalist services or reporting centres to also help drive up reporting rates.

Alternative pathways for victims– For many victims, the protracted and drawn-out process of securing a criminal justice outcome is enough to discourage reporting and access appropriate support. The greater availability of mediation for LGBT+ victims of hate crimes, as well as alternative pathways that do not require the involvement of CPS, such as restorative justice approaches may be appropriate for lower-level public order offences.


[1] Hate crime, England and Wales, 2020 to 2021 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] Hate crime report 2021 – Galop – Galop

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