The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition
Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009. LCCR Education Fund.

Hate Crimes Against Women

The number of hate crimes committed against women, as well as the rate of increase or decrease, is unknown. The reason is that the Hate Crime Statistics Act was passed, signed into law, and reauthorized without including hate crimes against women as a class. Other federal laws and many state hate crime statutes also exclude bias crimes targeting women.

In recent years, many women's advocates have spoken out about the alarming rate of violent physical and sexual assaults against women. Although the most common forms of violence against women have traditionally been viewed as "personal attacks," or even the victim's "own fault," there is growing recognition that many assaults against women are not "random" acts of violence but are actually bias-related crimes. As one advocate testified before Congress "women and girls.... are exposed to terror, brutality, serious injury, and even death because of their sex."

One of the most horrific examples of a gender-based hate crime is the 2006 shooting of 10 young Amish girls at the Georgetown Amish School in Bart Township, Pa., about 60 miles west of Philadelphia. Armed with three guns, two knives, and 600 rounds of ammunition, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, burst into the one-room schoolhouse and shot the girls at close range in the back of the head. Five were killed: Lena Miller, 7, and Mary Liz Miller, 8; Naomi Ebersol, 7; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; and Marian Fisher, 13. Five others were seriously wounded. Although Roberts lived in the area, he was not Amish, and reportedly did not know his victims personally. After Roberts arrived at the school, he separated the boys, ages 6 to 13, from the girls, and allowed the boys to leave. He then lined the girls against a blackboard and bound their feet with wire ties and plastic handcuffs before shooting them. Local authorities reported that "[A]pparently there was some sort of an issue in his past that he, for some reason, wanted to exact revenge against female victims."61

Existing federal law authorizes involvement in federal crimes in which the defendant "intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."62 In addition, federal investigators and prosecutors have authority to be involved in a limited range of nonfederal hate crimes (some cases in which the victim was targeted because of race, color, religion, or national origin) but not violent crimes motivated by the victim's gender. The pending LLEHCPA would fill this gap in current law and would also require the FBI to collect statistics on gender-motivated crimes from police departments across the country under the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990. These changes are crucial for women who might otherwise not be afforded relief by the criminal justice system.

The pending federal hate crime legislation would not convert every instance of domestic violence, rape, or sexual assault into a prosecution under the federal hate crime law. The law applies only to felony crimes that involve a direct connection to interstate or foreign commerce, which requires, for example, that the perpetrator or victim crossed state lines or that the perpetrator employed a weapon that traveled in interstate commerce. The legislation would also limit federal involvement to those instances in which the Attorney General (or an authorized designee) not only certifies that the crime appears to be motivated by gender bias, and confirms the need for federal intervention by certifying in each instance that local officials cannot or will not act, or have requested federal assistance, or fail to adequately prosecute the incident.

It is important to note that not every violent crime against women is a bias crime, just as not every crime against an African American is based on racial prejudice. Federal courts already routinely assess the question of gender motivation in the context of workplace discrimination claims and claims raised under other federal civil rights laws, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Prosecutors and judges can rely on the same totality of the circumstances analysis — considering the language, nature and severity of the attack, absence of another apparent motive, patterns of behavior, and common sense — to determine whether a violent crime was motivated by gender bias. A look at the actual numbers of prosecutions under state hate crimes laws further stems any concern that this legislation will open the floodgates to federal hate crimes prosecutions. States that recognize gender-based hate crimes have not been overwhelmed by prosecutions of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault under their existing hate crimes laws. Instead, these laws have operated in a very targeted way. The experience in these states demonstrates that protection against gender-motivated bias crimes is essential.

Next Section: Hate Crimes Against Juveniles

61. Raymond McCaffrey, Paul Duggan, and Debbi Wilgoren, "Five Killed at Pa. Amish School," The Washington Post, October 3, 2006.

62. 28 USC 994 Note.

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