One of the key areas of concern addressed by the Northern Ireland Policing Board’s report on policing with and for the LGB&T community is that of barriers to reporting domestic abuse and hate crime. The report highlights two major factors contributing to this under-reporting.
As with many forms of crime, it is suspected that both hate crime and domestic abuse are vastly under-reported. From 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011, there were 2571 hate incidents, and 1719 hate crimes recorded. Of these, 387, or 22.5%, were detected. The detection rate for homophobic hate crime is 17.5%, well below the average of all recorded crime in Northern Ireland (27.3%). The average detection rate for transphobic hate crimes is only 6.25%.
According to the report, the Human Rights Committee of the NIPB has been advised by stakeholders that “a major factor in a victim’s decision whether to report a crime to the police or not is the record of successful prosecutions in the past.” This means that until detection rates improve, at least to the national average, it is unlikely that victims of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes will feel more confident in coming forward. The report’s fourth recommendation addresses this, saying:
“The Policing Plan should include a specific target for increasing the detection rate of homophobic and transphobic hate crime.”
But the low clearance rates of hate crime is not the only important barrier to reporting of crimes against the LGB&T community. Perhaps one of the most traumatic difficulties, as mentioned in the report, is that “every time a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual person or a transgender person reports to the police they have to come out all over again.” This is a powerful statement that illustrates not only the trepidation of reporting difficult crimes to the police, but also how difficult it can be for a member of the LGB&T community to ‘come out’ publicly. Having to do so again in order to access justice may give many pause. Creating a safe and confidential environment is essential.
The NIPB LGB&T report recognizes that the PSNI did not create homophobia in society, and are not the only body responsible for combating it. However, they do have a vital role to play, particularly when it comes to hate crime and domestic abuse. The report’s recommendations around enhancing LGB&T training for PSNI officers and staff should go a long way towards addressing barriers to reporting crime.