According to the 2009 hate crime statistics report released by the FBI yesterday, there were 1,436 reported hate crime offenses based on sexual orientation bias in 2009. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation made up 18.5% of all hate crimes reported to the FBI during this period. This is a slight increase in percentage over 2008 (17.7%).
However, the numbers in the 2009 report show that the total number of hate crimes reported to the FBI, as well as the total number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation bias reported to the FBI, dropped in 2009. While this is promising news at first glance, it is important to understand that the FBI’s hate crime statistics report does not provide a complete picture of the number of hate crimes occurring in America.
The FBI’s hate crime statistics report only represents a sample of the actual number of hate crimes that occurred in 2009. A crime is included in the report only if a law enforcement agency decides to report it to the FBI. Reporting to the FBI is voluntary. Countless incidents are unreported by both victims and agencies. Thus, the FBI’s hate crime statistics report only gives us a glance at a portion of the hate crimes that occur in any given year. A drop in the number of hate crimes reported to the FBI does not necessarily signify an actual decrease in crimes. Instead 2009 report only tells us that there were “at least” 1,436 hate crimes based on sexual orientation bias in 2009.
As in past years, the vast majority of the participating state and local crime reporting agencies (85.9%) reported that zero hate crimes occurred in their jurisdictions. This does not mean that they decided not to report hate crimes; it means that they affirmatively reported to the FBI that there were no hate crimes in their jurisdiction. This is difficult to believe – several large cities reported no crimes within their jurisdiction. In addition, thousands of police agencies across the nation did not provide statistics at all. Because participation is not mandatory and some agencies fail to report, the 2009 report fails to cover approximately 30 million Americans. In order to have a more accurate snapshot of hate crimes in America, state and local law enforcement authorities must be pressed to provide hate crime data to the FBI.
The 2009 report included data regarding crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, and/or disability. However, as a result of the 2009 enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the FBI has a new mandate to begin collecting information on hate crimes motivated by gender identity and gender. While the 2009 report does not include statistics on gender identity or gender, HRC is working with the FBI to revise the hate crime statistics collection guidelines to account for this new mandate.