BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Women Benefit from Expanded Hate Crimes Law

Posted by egehl on November 2, 2009

Last week President Obama made a bold statement against hate crimes by signing into law legislation that will help protect citizens against bias based on who they are, what they look like, who they love and how they pray.

The current law, enacted four decades ago, limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to assaults based on race, color, religion or national origin.  The newly signed bill will broaden current law and make it a federal crime when an assault or attack occurs because of a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.  With the stroke of a pen, women have exanded rights under the hate crimes law. hate-crime-poster

It’s long overdue that our country makes it a federal crime to assault an individual based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.  Crimes motivated by prejudice and dislike about a group of people must not be tolerated.  A hate crime is defined as a crime of violence that is motivated by hatred of the group to which the victim belongs.  Typically hate crimes are done at least partly and sometimes mainly directed at the victim’s community.  It involves violence and sometimes death, and usually occurs at an unpredictable time and location.  Victims are randomly selected by their perpetrators based on something the perpetrator abhors or finds disturbing.

The new hate crimes law will give equal protection to persons of all genders, races, colors, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, and degrees of disability if they experience a hate crime against them.  The bill will also lift a requirement that a victim has to be attacked while engaged in a federally protected activity, like attending school, for it to be a federal hate crime.

Since the death of Matthew Shepard, who was brutally beaten and killed because he was gay over 10 years ago, the issue of hate crimes has not been adequately addressed for the gay community.  The passage of this legislation will give the Justice Department and state and local governments the tools they need to deter and prosecute acts of violence toward all groups of people who experience discrimination. 

Opponents of the new law claim it infringes upon our First Amendment rights.   However freedom of speech, even hate speech, is protected under the First Amendment.  Hate crimes legislation only targets actions that are criminal acts based on bias, as opposed to the prosecution of speech based on controversial beliefs. 

In addition, opponents claim that current federal and state laws and regulations are adequate enough.  This viewpoint is narrow minded and does not take into consideration that a crime directed toward someone based on their identity breaks down our social fabric and segments the population in a very negative way.  Specific laws directed toward hate crimes is needed because hate motivated crime is special.  Hatred is directed at an entire community in addition to the immediate victim.  And in order to prevent these types of acts from happening people must know that they could face federal prosecution. 

Mathew Shepard’s family and others that have experienced the loss of a loved one due to violent, discriminatory acts have fought hard for this important first step. Everyday too many people are being devastated by senseless hatred.  I applaud President Obama for signing this legislation into law and sending a message that our country will not tolerate cowardly and inhumane acts against people’s identity.

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