17 Apr 2024

Reports of hate crimes against trans people jump 42%, spike month of Posie Parker visit

6:31 pm on 17 April 2024
Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The number of hate crimes motivated by gender identity almost doubled between 2022 and 2023.

New data released to RNZ under the Official Information Act shows there were 229 incidents of hate motivated by gender identity reported in 2023 compared with 161 in 2022, a 42 percent increase.

But police say this number likely does not show the true picture of hate directed at trans and gender diverse communities.

In March 2023, the month British anti-trans activist Posie Parker visited Aotearoa, the number of reports spiked - and were at least 95 percent higher than any other single month across the two year period.

Half of the hate crimes targeting trans people that month were reported in Auckland City and Wellington, with the rest spread across five other districts.

The New Zealand Crime and Victims Survey shows LGBTTQIA+ communities are less likely to report a crime to police, its director of prevention, innovation and change Mere Wilson Tuala-Fata says.

"Police hate data only records occurrences that were reported to police, and as such is likely an undercount of the true number of offences," Tuala-Fata said.

It would be several years before police data showed a clear picture of the underlying level of hate crime and incidents in New Zealand, she said, with current data reflecting increased awareness, improved reporting and recording of incidents.

There were many reasons why there could be an increase in reported hate-motivated crime against a specific community, Tuala-Fata said. These included a real increase in the amount of hate-motivated incidents targeting certain communities and increased vigilance to report due to the unease felt by a community because of highly visible events.

While police have been able to record hate crime data since 2019, in mid-2021 it received funding for Te Raranga, a four-year programme to train police to recognise and record hate-motivated offences, support victims and communities to recognise these offences and work towards reducing harm.

The overall number of hate incidents reported to police increased by 12 percent from 2022 to 2023.

'Not at all surprising'

Gender Minorities Aotearoa executive director Ahi Wi-Hongi said hate targeting trans people had been documented by trans communities for a long time, "but it's just now becoming more mainstream knowledge".

"I think it's important to bring into light the ways that trans people are targeted, and I think the best protection is a well informed community."

Wi-Hongi said among other support offered to trans communities, Gender Minorities Aotearoa provides support for people who are targeted by anti-trans harassment.

This extends to those affected more indirectly "through policies, healthcare discrimination, and other issues that arise from pervasive anti-trans attitudes and a lack of care in systems that trans people rely on for basic needs".

"The spike in hate crimes at the time of Posie Parker's visit is not at all surprising to us," they said.

"This is what we predicted. Vocal extremists embolden and radicalise others toward extreme views and extreme measures."

Hate crime legislation

Hate crimes, while now recorded by police, are not a stand alone offence. Though hate can be considered as an aggravating factor by judges at sentencing.

In the absence of specific legislative definitions, police's working definition of a hate crime "is any offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated, wholly or in part, by a hostility or prejudice based on a person's particular characteristic, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or age".

Hate crime legislation reform was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 15 March terror attacks and was started by the former government but has since been referred to the Law Commission.

When this work was expected to begin was unclear.

National MP Paul Goldsmith

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Hate crimes of any nature are concerning," Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith said in a statement.

Goldsmith said once resources were available, the Law Commission will undertake an "independent, thorough, and considered review" of the legislation.

"It will provide an update on the timing of this work in due course," he said.

Asked if the Law Commission was expected to engage with transgender communities as part of the review, Goldsmith said: "I expect it to engage broadly in its work".

In March, the minister ordered the Law Commission to stop work on proposed hate speech laws, saying this would have undermined free speech.

Wi-Hongi said it was important any steps towards hate speech legislation involved expert organisations like Gender Minorities Aotearoa, and trans people more broadly.

"We know that hate speech protections have been somewhat effective for other groups overseas," they said.

"Such protections are unlikely to stop extremists from more covert anti-trans advocacy, but may be effective against more overt extremists."

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