Robert Holland, Policy and Research Officer at the National Union of Students (NUS), writes about the recent reports published by the NUS on hate crime on campus. He rounds-up the cases of campus hate that have been in the news, what the effect of campus hate is and how it can be tackled.
Hate crime has featured heavily in the news this year. The Stephen Lawrence case continues, with new forensic evidence presented at the trial, while Leon Fyle was convicted in September at Southwark Crown Court for murdering Destiny Lauren a transgender woman. He received 21 years.
In addition the Equality and Human Rights report ‘Hidden in plain sight’ published in September looked in detail at 10 cases where disabled people had been murdered or seriously injured. It highlighted how public authorities in many cases had been aware of low-level harassment taking place but had failed to act quickly enough before the situation escalated. Also highlighted was the fact that for many disabled people ‘harassment is a commonplace experience. Indeed, many come to accept it as inevitable.’
Raising minimum sentencing for disability and trans hate crime
Last week the Government announced that it would raise the minimum sentencing for those convicted of murdering transgender people, where hate against the victims trans status is the motivating factor. The announcement follows hot on the heels of Ken Clarke’s statement that the minimum sentencing for disability hate murder would also rise from 15 to 30 years.
The move has been widely welcomed and will bring sentencing in these cases in line with murders in which race, religion or sexual orientation is an aggravating factor.
While this is certainly a step in the right direction we need to look at the issue in its broadest sense and how can we prevent those low level incidents of hate and harassment from escalating.
Hate on university campuses?
Universities are traditionally viewed as bastions of free thought and expression, where diversity is celebrated and difference accepted. Many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) students come out for the first time, while exploring and defining their sexuality and gender identity. For many disabled students it can be the first opportunity to live independently, as well as gain that all important qualification.
While this is the experience of many, recent NUS reports ‘No Place for Hate’ focusing on the experiences of LGBT and disabled students show that for a significant number, this liberal environment is destroyed through hate.
Our reports contain shocking findings. Nine per cent of LGB respondents reported how they had experienced physical abuse, this was double for trans students. Equally shocking was the finding that over half of trans students had been the victim of verbal abuse, together with threats of violence.
Among disabled respondents we found those with physical impairments reporting high levels of hate incidents (24%) together with those with sensory impairments (15%). We might surmise therefore that the more visibly different you are the more likely you are to be targeted.
The impact of hate on LGBT and disabled students
Such incidents impact on students’ studies and their lives in general. We found many lived in fear of victimisation while others altered behaviours and routines to avoid hate incidents. This included taking alternative routes to lectures or the library in order to avoid perpetrators, who were often fellow students, or simply avoiding the campus altogether.
Some LGBT students described how they pretended to be straight, while some disabled students talked about trying to conceal their impairment to avoid stares and verbal abuse. One student described how they often walked without their crutches, something which caused pain and discomfort.
Among the impacts are stress and strain on mental well-being, with some describing panic attacks or wishing to drop out of university completely.
Many described how institutions had responded positively when students had reported a hate incident with prompt action taken and support services offered quickly. However many choose not to report incidents to their institutions with fewer still to the police. The majority felt that the police could not or would not do anything or that they wouldn’t be taken seriously.
Action is urgently needed and the reports suggest practical ways in which institutions, sector bodies and students’ unions can work to prevent hate incidents from taking place as well as to support victims. Institution wide strategies are needed, hate is more than just a welfare or student support issue, as incidents can occur in many different areas of student life.
Strong partnerships are also needed with police liaison teams and voluntary sector organisations that offer support. In addition students’ unions and institutions must stand shoulder to shoulder and adopt a strong vocal zero tolerance stance against all forms harassment and hate.
‘No place for Hate’ reports
NUS has published two reports: focusing on the experiences of LGBT students and disabled students. Two further reports focusing on students with a religion or belief and students from a black and minority ethnic background will be published in the new year. They can be downloaded from www.nusconnect.org.uk or you can contact Robert for copies.