Paul Dodenhoff examines whether disability hate crime is predominantly a male gender characteristic.
Crime statistics indicate that men are far more likely to commit crime than women. This is also true for 'crimes' argued to be motivated by 'bias and prejudice' and committed towards race, religion, sexuality and disability. Therefore, in any investigation of 'hate crime' committed towards 'disability', we must undoubtedly draw some of our attention towards the relationship between 'crime', 'prejudice' and male 'gender' characteristics.
While it would be misleading to suggest that only 'males' are capable of holding prejudice attitudes or showing prejudice behavior, 'hate crime' is undoubtedly an area were the perpetrators of 'hate' are more likely to be male than female. However, that doesn't mean that 'hate crime' cannot be committed by women, although this may take place in a slightly different form than incidents of 'hate crime' committed by men.
Sex role theory and Crime
Popular theory on why males are more likely to commit 'crime' than females, have often argued that this is because boys and girls are socialized quite differently from each other, with girls more likely to be strictly supervised and controlled, and boys more actively encouraged to take risks and to act aggressive or tough (Sutherland 1949). This type of theory proposes that boys not only 'develop' the inclination to misbehave, but may have more opportunity to, and therefore are far more likely to be involved in crime.
If we applied this sort of thinking to 'hate crime', many acts of abuse or violence have indeed been argued to have been committed purely out of delinquency, such as acting out of 'boredom', 'having a laugh' or 'status seeking' amongst peers (Chakraborti and Garland 2012; Levin and McDevitt 1993). In some cases, 'hate crime' may even be considered to be a 'defensive' crime, where male perpetrators are responding to a 'trigger' incident or to a perceived threat and/or intrusion within their community - and thereby rationalize their actions in terms of protecting themselves or their community (Levin and McDevitt 1993).
However, researchers such as Levin and McDevitt would firmly situate the motivation of 'hate' as originating within a society's social culture, and one that promotes racism, sexism and homophobia (particularly in times of economic hardship) rather than on any difference in the ways boys and girls are socialized. Similarly, Chakraborti and Garland 2012) would focus more on the perceived 'vulnerability' of the victim, and 'boredom' and 'thrill seeking' as chief motivators of 'hate crime', rather than on the way society socializes its children.
However, disability hate crime arguably also takes place within a society where 'ability' is promoted (and rewarded in various ways) and where 'disability' is discriminated against, feared and subjected to public control and social or medical intervention. Although, that is not to say that the promotion of ability and negative attitudes towards disability may not feed into the 'socialization' processes of both its boys and girls.
Other theories focusing on 'socialization' as the cause of crime, have pointed out that there are often clear and marked out gender roles found within the traditional 'nuclear' family structure, were the 'male' may perform traditional roles in line with being the leader, provider and protector of the family, whilst the 'female' performs the traditional and expressive role of giving emotional support and socializing children. Although these socialization processes may occur throughout one's life, gender roles are thought to be become deeply embedded within the early years of childhood, and where children learn to behave in line with specific gender norms and expectations from a young age (Parsons 1964).
Interestingly, while such a view of socialization may now seem 'outdated', and ignores the fact that many women also take on the role as 'provider' for the family (and men sometimes do cook the tea or look after the children), some criminal behavior may indeed mirror deep-rooted gender patterns. For example, studies of 'white collar' fraud, find that both men and women often justify their crimes with references to traditional gender roles, such as needing to be the 'the breadwinner', or the 'caregiver' of their family (Klenowski et al. 2011).
However, some researchers argue that females are far more less likely to commit criminal acts because they are far more likely to conform to society's norms than males, particularly as they may have a lot more to lose if they are perceived to deviate from society's most dominant social expectations and values (Heidensohn 2000).
For example, it is interesting to note that in a UK were sexual behavior is generally regarded as a normal and desirable activity for men and women over the age of consent, many women still want to wear 'white' on their wedding day as a symbol of their 'virginity', regardless of age or social class. In contrast, actually seen perceived as a 'virgin' within modern 'western' society may not only be considered to be a little 'strange' or 'odd' by some members of both sexes, but arguably also highly unlikely or believable, considering the social pressures on people to engage in sexual activity.
In contrast, it is also interesting to note that sexual activity amongst disabled people is also largely discouraged and disapproved of, and where again, females may be more likely to be the subject of social or medical control and intervention, than males.
Therefore, in a male dominated society, women may be discouraged from any real deviance from society's most deeply established and historically embedded behavioral norms, and women who challenge these traditions may be brought into line by the financial, physical or symbolic power of men (Heidensohn 2000).
Indeed, violence towards women (particularly domestic violence) has often been argued to be a re-assertion of traditional male control and patriarchal authority, where historically dominant social boundaries are re-affirmed and re-established (Perry 2001). Similarly, in a working environment men are still far more likely to be in positions of power and control than women, and where that power may be used to manipulate or pressurize women into conforming to long established gender expectations, roles and norms.
Therefore, both inside and outside the home, there may be pressure upon women to conform to society's most dominant norms and expectations, norms and expectations that are not only heavily orientated towards male interests, but may also be reinforced by the social, financial or physical power that males are more likely to have access to.
Perry (2001) argues that the abuse, violence and harassment suffered by women at the hands of men, should indeed be viewed as 'hate crime' and not as 'domestic' crime, because such abuse and violence may be used as a 'resource' to reaffirm 'male' dominance, and their relative position of power within the social hierarchy in which males and females exist.
In light of the high levels of violence and domestic violence still committed against women within the UK, the death of Sophie Lancaster in 2007 (killed by a group of young males for belonging to a 'Goth' subculture) may also be reanalyzed. Arguably, Sophie Lancaster may not only have been killed because she dressed differently as a 'Goth, but because she was a female who dressed differently as a 'Goth', and as such may have transgressed deeply ingrained (male) perceptions of how women should look and dress.
Arguably, women may therefore become pressurized into dressing in styles or acting in ways that actively conform to the prevailing and historically determined gender expectations and social norms - and generally not to please themselves, but to look 'hot', 'nice' or 'attractive' for the benefit and attention of men.
It is therefore important to recognize that crimes motivated by 'bias or prejudice', may therefore also contain a certain 'symbolic' element to them, motivated by a kind of 'people watching' or the monitoring of social groups, that send out a very clear social message, not just to the victim of the crime, but to the whole identity and membership group that the victim belongs to (Berk, Boyd and Hamner 1992; Perry 2001).
If 'hate crime' is indeed partly about reaffirming deep rooted social hierarchies and social boundaries, then getting social groups to continuously conform to these historical and deeply embedded social structures will be highly important, as marginalized and oppressed social groups will undoubtedly at times, contest the boundaries and structures that are perceived to keep them in their social place.
However, this does not mean that 'males' may not also conform to the perceived norms and expectations of society. If we define 'conformity' as yielding to group pressure (such as by 'peer group', 'reference group' or 'identity group') then males may also be pressurized into conforming to long-established and deeply embedded gender norms, gender roles and gender behavior.
As mentioned earlier, some incidents of 'hate crime' have been argued to be motivated not only by boredom or having a laugh, but also by 'status seeking' amongst peer groups. If such patterns of male behavior become regarded and perceived as 'normative' within daily life, then such gender norms of behavior may not only be in conflict with the 'laws' of the land, but may actually carry more 'importance' to males than those laws of the land.
Disability Hate Crime - A male crime
There are two questions I would like to ask. Why are men more likely to commit 'hate crime' than woman? And is there a relationship between 'hate crime' and male gender identity characteristics such as masculinity
Arguably, gender identity is a vital part of an individual's sense of self, but it is not something that we are born with, or to be confused with our biological 'sex', but something that people accomplish for themselves in their day to day interactions with others. Therefore, people may continuously be trying to express and present their masculinity or femininity, not just to themselves but to the outside world. This expression and presentation of gender identity characteristics, will undoubtedly be shaped by the social expectations, norms, values and behavior patterns that are dominant within society at that time. However, many of these dominant norms and expectations will also have a long and deep-rooted social history. This may be particularly important to remember when discussing 'hate crime' in general, and also 'hate crime' committed against disability.
In a highly influential study of 'hate crime' against race, religion, sexuality and gender, Barbara Perry (2001) argued that the concepts of 'bias or prejudice' could (and should) be firmly set it within its social and cultural context. Perry therefore gives a definition of 'hate crime' that is generally regarded as the most comprehensive one to date. Perry argues that:
Hate crime ... involves acts of violence and intimidation, usually directed towards already stigmatized and marginalized groups. As such, it is a mechanism of power and oppression, intended to reaffirm the precarious hierarchies that characterize a given social order. It attempts to re-create simultaneously the threatened (real or imagined) hegemony of the perpetrator's group and the 'appropriate' subordinate identity of the victim's group. It is a means of marking both the Self and the Other in such a way as to re-establish their 'proper' relative positions, as given and reproduced by broader ideologies and patterns of social and political inequality (Perry, 2001: 10).
As 'hate crime' is also predominantly a 'male' crime, and committed in general by white, Christian and heterosexual males, then the use of abuse and violence may be argued to be a 'resource' in which the hegemony of White, Christian and heterosexual males are reaffirmed or re-established. From this perspective, violence committed against women (especially 'domestic violence') should certainly be regarded as 'hate crime', where women are subjected to the 'hegemony' of men.
However, 'disability hate crime' also occurs within this social hierarchy of relative privilege and power, where any threat (real or imagined) to those social groups historically dominant within society, provoke abuse, harassment and violence, that may also be an attempt to re-establish or re-affirm those social positions of relative power and dominance.
While Perry, doesn't discuss 'disability' within her research specifically, Perry's definition of 'hate crime' may certainly be applied to 'disability hate crime' itself, as the disabled are indeed another social group who have suffered a long social history of oppression, marginalization and violence, in both the UK and America. And once again, disability hate crime (as reported to be authorities) is committed predominately by males.
Disability hate crime may also contain a number of additional or unique features compared to other 'hate crimes' committed against race, religion, sexuality and gender, as disability may not only intersect with gender, but also race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion and anything else that may 'mark' somebody out as 'different' within society. However, 'disability' may arguably be the primary motivator of abuse, harassment and violence, as many people may 'see' the disability rather than the person in front of them, although that is not to say that other characteristics of a victim's 'identity' may also attract opportunities for abuse and violence.
Chakraborti and Garland (2012) try to move the 'hate crime' debate away from arguments about group identity and perceived violation of social hierarchies or social boundaries, to argue that individuals who commit 'hate crime' may not even be 'prejudiced' individuals at all, but display such behavior when it is 'triggered' by an event of some kind. Therefore, relatively minor factors such as 'peer pressure' or 'boredom', may trigger an incident, particularly against individuals perceived to be an 'easy' target. Therefore the perceived 'vulnerability' of a victim may attract abuse and violence as and when it intersects with opportunity, boredom, thrill seeking and peer pressure etc.
However, while 'vulnerability' may indeed mark some individuals out as an easy target for abuse and violence, only 'males' seem to find a need for such a target. If boredom or peer pressure is indeed a primary trigger in the motivation of abuse and violence against perceived disability, why is this far more likely to be behavior committed by males rather than females? Are females not also subjected to 'boredom', 'peer pressure' or 'status seeking'
Certainly, it is argued that females may conform to social norms and social expectations more often than males, but these social pressures originate in many shapes and forms, including from one's own peer group. It is also argued that females may commit less crime in general than males, because they may have less inclination or opportunity to commit crime. But is this strictly true concerning 'hate crime'
Whether women have less inclination to commit crime than men may still be an area of much complex debate, but certainly crime figures do generally paint such a picture. However, women may have as much opportunity to commit 'hate crime' against disability as men, as 'hate crime' takes place in many different locations, both in public and in private. Women are also still far more likely to be in paid and unpaid positions of social care and welfare than men, so in some cases may actually have greater opportunity to commit 'hate crime' against disability than men do.
If official recorded crime against perceived disability and official recorded incidents of 'bias and prejudice' against disability point towards 'hate crime' as being predominantly a male crime, then either we are not able to detect similar crimes being committed by women, or that 'hate crime' may indeed be something that males are far more inclined to do.
While not denying that perpetrators of 'hate crime' may sometimes argue or justify that random (or not so random) acts of abuse or violence are committed out of boredom, having fun or peer pressure - how sure can we really be that this is the case? Asking a perpetrator of 'hate crime' about their motivation behind such behavior may not always illicit a truthful response, especially when the perpetrator is facing potential sanction by the police and possible legal action (and possible social sanction by the wider public).
For me, while not overlooking the fact that 'females' can and do commit 'hate crime', arguing that 'hate crime' committed against disability is primarily triggered by relatively minor incidents such as boredom, thrill seeking and peer pressure, may not only be touching upon the surface of the problem, but may also help to downplay the seriousness of the crime. It may also provide a box of 'ready-made' excuses for acts of abuse and violence that are committed predominately by males, but may be motivated by something more deeply embedded and intertwined with society's most dominant expectations, norms and values - particularly concerning gender.
Additionally, when we talk about 'disability hate crime', we often do so in 'gender' neutral language, giving the impression that 'hate crime' is not connected to one gender or another. Like all crime, it is connected and in a very complex way.
Therefore, in order to investigate the cause of disability hate crime more fully, we may need to develop and fully support research that looks for the cause of abuse, harassment and violence, that is arguably hidden within the depths of society's most dominant expectations and values, but are also somewhere deeply hidden within the depths of the male 'psyche' itself.
Paul Dodenhoff is a PhD student based at the Law School, Lancaster University, investigating the motivation behind 'disability hate crime' within the UK. This essay/article is written in a personal capacity. However, anybody wishing to support the research in any way or have an input into the research, may contact the author via the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Chakraborti, N. and Garland, J. (2012) 'Reconceptualising Hate Crime Victimization through the Lens of Vulnerability and 'Difference', Theoretical Criminology, 16 (4).
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