Less empathy for victims of crimes who are LGBT, international polls say

Equality March in Białystok, 20 July 2019. Photo: Marcin Onufryjuk / fb Marsz Równości w Białymstoku.

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Victims of crimes who are lesbian, gay or transgender receive less empathy than other victims – found a recent survey conducted in 10 EU member states. A heterosexual couple attacked on the street has significantly more chance for empathy than a same-sex one in a comparable situation. LGBT people attacked in the context of Pride Marches or around bars and transgender sex workers assaulted by clients are least likely to be empathised with.

The survey, commissioned by the Polish LGBT organisation Lambda Warsaw on behalf of the Call It Hate project consortium, asked how much empathy respondents felt for victims of crimes in various scenarios. Results show that the levels of empathy for victims of crimes depend on the victims’ sexual orientation and gender identity. In all 10 countries, a heterosexual couple physically assaulted after holding hands on the street received the highest level of empathy (mean 8.7 out of 10). Empathy for same-sex couples or transgender persons in a comparable situation is significantly lower, reaching 7.9 (mean for all three groups).

B1. People may feel more or less empathy for victims of crime depending on the context in which the crime occurs. To what degree do you feel empathy for people who experience crime in each of the following situations? Please answer using a scale, where 0 means that you feel no empathy at all for the person against whom the crime is committed, and 10 means that you feel complete empathy for that person. Source: Call It Hate.

The greatest empathy for lesbian, gay and transgender victims assaulted on the street was recorded for Western European countries, where the differences between these groups and the straight couple used as a reference group were also the smallest (e.g., 8.8 vs. 9.0 in Ireland). Bulgarians turned out to have the least amount of empathy, scoring 7.3 for a heterosexual couple and only 5.4 for lesbian, gay and trans victims.

Among LGBT people, lesbian victims generate the most empathy (8.24), however, still less than a heterosexual couple. Gay men receive the least empathy (7.64), while transgender victims are in the middle with the score of 7.83.

The level of empathy for LGBT victims of crimes is influenced also by the context of the crime, particularly the behaviour of the victim, but also the type of the offender.

B1. People may feel more or less empathy for victims of crime depending on the context in which the crime occurs. To what degree do you feel empathy for people who experience crime in each of the following situations? Please answer using a scale, where 0 means that you feel no empathy at all for the person against whom the crime is committed, and 10 means that you feel complete empathy for that person. Source: Call It Hate.

The greatest empathy for lesbian, gay and transgender victims is when they are physically assaulted by far-right extremists (8.2). Victims attacked when attending Pride March events, drunk near bars or transgender victims who engage in sex work received significantly less empathy than the reference case.

– This signifies victim blaming. When the respondents could attach a degree of blame to the victims, there was less empathy – explained Dr Piotr Godzisz from Lambda Warsaw, the principal investigator in the project. – Conversely, when the victim is considered weaker than the offender, like in the case of the right-wing extremists, or in the case of lesbian victims, the empathy is stronger.

The survey was carried out on representative samples of societies in 10 EU states (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom) with varying levels of social acceptance of LGBT people and different legal approaches to hate crimes. The fieldwork was conducted in 2018 by an international consortium of polling agencies managed by Kantar Poland. The survey is part of the international research project Call It Hate, led by the University of Brescia (Italy) and Lambda Warsaw (Poland) and co-funded by the European Union’s Rights, Equality and Citizenship programme 2014-2020.

The whole report Awareness of Anti-LGBT Hate Crime in the European Union may be downloaded from the Call It Hate project website.