When Violence Happens, Call Equality Michigan

Support Services, Tracking Work To Help Victims

By Crystal A. Proxmire

When violence happens to LGBT people, Equality Michigan is there to help. Their reporting Hotline - 866-962-1147 ext. 107 - is a place where victims can get resources and support, and where their voice can be heard by being part of the data collected by the agency.

Violence and victimization come in many forms including hate crimes, discrimination, pick-up crimes, harassment, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

Equality Michigan will help whether an incident is a hate crime or not, though the distinction does matter in terms of tracking.

"I find that most people don't understand the distinction between what a hate/bias motivated crime and regular crime," said Director of Victims Services Yvonne Siferd. "In other words, if a crime is perpetrated against someone who happens to be LGBT-identified, that, in and of itself is not a hate crime. The essential element to a hate crime is that the motivating factor of the crime is a person's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Crimes motivated by hate tend to be more brutal and violent, and tend to result in severe injuries. Also, crimes motivated by hate do not only affect the survivor or victim of the crime, rather, because the crime is motivated by a specific characteristic, like being LGBT, it sends a message to the entire community that it is unsafe to be who you are.

"Because Michigan legislators have yet to act to include hate crime protections for LGBT Michiganders, the tool that we must use is the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which requires some type of bodily injury or an attempt to commit bodily injury with fire, a firearm, or other dangerous weapon. In other words, crimes against property (spray painting "FAG" on someone's car, for example) do not qualify as a hate crime under federal law. That doesn't mean that an individual would have no recourse in the courts for such a crime, but it would not qualify for the enhanced sentencing under hate crime laws," said Siferd.

Reporting Crucial

But regardless of the type of crime or incident, reporting is crucial.

"In terms of reporting, I cannot stress enough how important it is. Data collection is not a sexy topic, but the importance of it cannot be understated. At the micro level, it helps us to identify trends in the types of crime and discrimination our communities face in Michigan. That, in turn, allows us to direct our resources appropriately and identify gaps in systems. At the macro level, it provides important information on what is happening to our communities. That information is often then used by policy makers and legislators to implement inclusive legal protections for LGBT and HIV-affected communities.

"Additionally, personal narratives are powerful, and often help us to illustrate our communities' needs. The data is sort of like the bones and the narratives really provide the meat on the body. We are always looking for people to share their experiences with us, so that we can be better advocates. We are also launching a "storytelling" page on our website soon, to offer people another way to share their stories and experiences with us," Siferd said.

The most recent numbers come from 2012.

The majority of survivors who reported incidents to Equality Michigan identified as cisgender - a term used to describe people who, for the most part, identify as the gender they were assigned at birth - (80 percent), gay (45 percent), male (51.09 percent).

Lesbians were the second largest reporting population at 30 percent.

Transgender identified individuals were ten percent of all reporting victims/survivors, however, anti-trans bias was indicated by 25 percent of all survivors. The types of violence directed toward trans people tends to be more brutal and is disproportionately large for such a small population, for example, two out of the three murders Equality Michigan reported to the NCAVP were transwomen of color. The number of anti-trans bias crimes increased by 32 percent from 2011 to 2012.

Thirty-six percent of reporting victims/survivors were of unknown race/ethnicity, 35 percent identified as white, 24 percent identified as African-American, four percent identified as Latino, three percent identified as Native American and five percent identified as "other."

In terms of types of victimization, 31 percent of victims/survivors reported discrimination of some sort to Equality Michigan, which was the most reported type of victimization. Fourteen percent of victims/survivors reported verbal harassment in person, 12 percent reported threats/intimidation, 12 percent reported financial victimization (such as blackmail i.e. 'if you don't give me $, I'll tell everyone you are gay'), nine percent reported some type of harassment, five percent reported physical violence, three percent reported being stalked and two percent reported sexual violence.

Earlier this year the National Coalition of Antiviolence Programs Annual Report was issued, giving statistics nationwide. For more information visit http://www.avp.org/about-avp/coalitions-a-collaborations/82-national-coalition-of-anti-violence-programs.

In addition to tracking the number of incidents, Equality Michigan can provide mental health referrals, victim advocacy and support, legal referrals, referrals to safe spaces, and other help depending on the situation. They also do anti-violence and anti-discrimination trainings for various groups, and they are Michigan's state-wide LGBT advocacy organization.

For more on Equality Michigan go to http://www.equalitymi.org.

To report a crime or discrimination against LGBT individuals call 866-962-1147 ext. 107.

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