From http://www.psych.org/pnews/97-12-19/gay.html


Antigay Hate Crimes Increase, Have Serious Effects on Victims

More than 2,500 reports of hate-motivated crimes based on sexual orientation were reported in 1996, a 6 percent increase from 1995, according to the Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which collected data from 14 urban areas.

The coalition, which is made up of about 14 gay and lesbian antiviolence projects across the country, reported that 25 percent of these crimes occurred in May and June, when many cities have gay pride events.

Moreover, there were 21 murders related to antigay hatred and reports of an additional 10 murders of gay men and lesbians that the police did not list as official hate crimes.

Typically, such crimes are underreported, said Jeffrey Akman, M.D., president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association, at APA's Institute on Psychiatric Services in October in Washington, D.C.

The coalition identified several reasons for the increase in antigay hate crimes, including greater visibility of gay men and lesbians, especially at the time of gay pride events, campaign periods related to antigay referenda on state ballots, gay and lesbian youth announcing their sexual identity, an inflammatory election year in which candidates discuss sexual-orientation issues, antigay rhetoric by religious fundamentalists, and AIDS-related violence.

"Most researchers knew that the AIDS epidemic and the stigmatization of those diagnosed or suspected of having HIV would contribute to increased antigay violence," said Akman, who is also assistant dean for student educational policies and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Several gender-related factors seem to affect the level of antigay violence. For example, gay men generally experience more verbal harassment from nonfamily members, increased victimization at school and by the police, and more physical violence and intimidation including weapon assaults, being spat upon, and followed or chased.

Lesbians, in contrast, generally experience more verbal harassment by family members and a greater fear of violence directed toward them because of their sexual orientation.

Profile of a Perpetrator

An attacker of gays is typically a male who is in his early teens or 20's and acts in the company of other young males, all of whom are strangers to the victim.

Although most perpetrators of hate crimes against gay men and lesbians do not appear linked to organized hate groups, offenders may be encouraged by these groups' rhetoric, observed Akman.

Antigay violence by hate groups appears to be increasing. The Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups have targeted gay and lesbian people for physical attacks and intimidation, Akman noted.

Psychiatric Consequences

The consequences of being victimized range from short-term and relatively minor behavioral and psychological reactions such as headaches, increased agitation, and sleep disturbances to long-term and more severe reactions such as depression, increased drug use, and PTSD, said Akman.

Hate crimes based on sexual orientation have more severe psychological effects on their victims than other types of crimes, he said. The results of a four-year study showed that gay men and lesbian survivors of hate crimes had more signs of psychological distress, including depression, stress, and anger, than gay men and lesbian survivors of comparable nonbiased crimes during the same period.

"All crime victims feel more vulnerable and perceive the world as more dangerous and unpredictable after a crime; however, gay men and lesbian victims associate their vulnerability and powerlessness with their sexual identity," said Akman.

"This association can be psychologically harmful because sexual orientation is such an important part of people's self-concept."

Researchers have also found that crimes involving physical harm, threat of harm, verbal abuse, male sexual assault, and multiple victimizations were most highly associated with the onset of clinical depression in the victim, Akman observed.

"Psychiatrists and mental health professionals should be prepared to respond to the crisis immediately following anti-gay or -lesbian violence and be aware of the long-term consequences of victimization for the survivor," admonished Akman.

"Supporting the patient's expression of affect may help resolve his or her initial reaction to the event. Many levels of interventions can be used including individual psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, support groups, and antigay violence programs and advocacy services."

Health and mental health care providers of gay and lesbian victims should be sensitive to their unique identities, communities, and nontraditional families, said Akman.


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