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Dianne Post, National
16 February 2012
|Violence against Women is a Hate Crime
By Dianne Post
Everyone has heard the name of Matthew Shepherd, the gay man who was tied
to a fence post and left to die. Was that a hate crime? Spray painting swastikas
on a Jewish temple - is that a hate crime? A car of white men pulled up and
asked the time from McDougal, a young black man, then grabbed him, took him
into the swamp, beat him, hung him and left him. Was that a hate crime? A
Hispanic man driving in Southern Arizona was pulled over by a cop who beat him,
took him into the desert and left him there, calling him a wetback among other
things. Is that a hate crime? Yes, all of the above were labeled hate crimes.
A white man assaulted a young pregnant Hispanic woman. He called her a
breeding cow and said she is just populating the earth with wetbacks. Is that a
hate crime? This incident was labeled ethnic only, not gender. A white man
assaulted an African American woman, called her a black bitch, a cunt and a
whore. Is that a hate crime? It was labeled race only, not gender. A white woman
was stopped by a police officer as she drove to Flagstaff. He forced her to leave
her car and go with him where he raped her and left her. Is that a hate crime? It
was not labeled a hate crime at all.
What is different between the first four cases that were easy to identify as hate
crimes based on religion, ethnicity, and homosexuality, and the last three that
were not identified as hate crimes based on gender? Women.
When I was lobbying for the inclusion of gender in the Arizona hate crimes
statute many years ago, the man who spoke before me said that crimes against
women are so common that if they were included in the definition of hate crimes, it
would overwhelm the system and no one else would get any attention. One of the
police officers that testified said that it would mean that every garden-variety rape
and wife beating would be a hate crime. I thought these interesting arguments.
Because the problem is so big, we should ignore it? When crimes become so
common – garden-variety – they no longer qualify as hate – just normal behavior?
Calling a woman a bitch, pregnant cow, cunt, slut, or whore is so common, it
doesn’t even register that it is an indication of a hate crime. The word “bitch” has
become synonymous with woman/female. We give prizes to singers who urge us
to kill and rape bitches, cunts and whores. Cut them up, smother them, strangle
them, and drown them in the trunk of a car. We call it art.
When hate is so thoroughly interwoven into society, into the music, the
magazines, photos, television, books, and language; when hate is so integrated
into everyday life, it is no longer seen as a crime. It becomes the norm. That is
why violence based on gender is not widely recognized as a hate crime.
An assault based on race, religion, homosexuality, or ethnicity is not only a
crime; it not only gives rise to potential civil damages, but also can be a civil rights
violation because, when directed at a person who is a member of a group, not
only that person but also that group is discouraged from active participation in
society due to the likelihood of assault. It sends a message of how they are to
behave and who is in charge. That constitutes a violation of human rights.
Blacks couldn’t travel because they weren’t able to find a hotel; Jews couldn’t
dress in religious clothing for fear of attack; Hispanics sometimes can’t, even
now, speak their language for fear of assault. Women’s travel is impacted
because we fear attack on the street, in the hotel, on the train; women have to be
careful about what we wear because we will be blamed for provoking an assault;
women who speak up know we might anger some man who will retaliate with
violence. What is the difference between gender and race, religion,
homosexuality, and ethnicity that precludes gender from being called a hate
In 1994 in the Violence against Women Act, a civil rights remedy for women
was created. It didn’t last very long. The Bronski case went to the Supreme Court,
who held that Congress had overreached and if the states wanted a civil rights
remedy for women, they had to do it themselves. The lessen was aimed at all
women and we have learned it. Stay out of dark places, travel in groups, be
inconspicuous, lock up tight, and stay inside. It sends a message about who’s in
One of the reasons offered against including gender in hate crimes was the
difficulty of proof. After all, what is gender animus? Does that mean that every
rape is a hate crime? Does it mean that every beating in the home is a hate
crime? It’s not that hard to figure out.
The first thing we do on the road to violence is to dehumanize the targeted
group. We call them gooks, chinks, niggers, and savages etc. By name-calling,
we dehumanize them. Once they are seen as less than human, deserving less
than full respect, we can justify violence against them. After all, we are better than
they; we know better; we must force them to our way of thinking. It’s the same
logic used in the Crusades, colonization, occupation, and wars.
The dehumanizing of women is everywhere. Stand in the grocery store
checkout lane and count the number of naked or near naked women versus men
on the magazine covers. I remember a movie where there was a frontal shot of a
naked man. It made headlines. Yet, it is almost required that a frontal shot of a
naked woman be in every movie, even in a space exploration movie where the
female captain had to do a nude shot.
How many “bad” words do you know for women and women’s body parts?
Just think about it for a minute and count how many you know. How many “bad"
words do you know for men and men’s body parts? We know some, but not
nearly as many as for women and their parts. The dehumanization of women is
Men do not rape women because they love them. Rape and prostitution are not
about love or sex or desire or animal magnetism or irresistibility. We put that myth
to bed long ago. Rape is about violence toward women. It’s about showing
power over women, showing who’s in control, showing whose rights count for
nothing. That is gender animus.
A negative attitude, a dislike, a disrespect for the object of the assault and
choosing the victim because of that dislike or disrespect is gender animus. If I
assault a person on the street, knock them down and take their wallet, it is not a
hate crime. If that person happens to be Jewish, that doesn’t make it a hate
crime. But if I wait outside a synagogue and when a person comes by who has
on a skullcap and I knock that person down and take their wallet, I have targeted
that person because of their religion. That’s a hate crime.
Likewise, if I sexually assault a person on the street, knock them down and
insert something into their body, that doesn’t make it a hate crime. If that person
happens to be a male, that still doesn’t make it a hate crime. But if I wait outside a
sports bar, and when that person comes out who appears to be a male, I knock
him down and insert something into his body, because he’s male, then I have
chosen my victim because of animus toward that group of people. Then it
becomes a hate crime.
Of course we know that most persons raped are female. The only reason we
fail to recognize rape as a hate crime is because females are an acceptable
target for rapists. The logic is that females were born for males to insert their
body parts into. Therefore, to do so can’t be a hate crime; it’s just the way nature
But reverse the situation. Suppose I hate men because of 5,000 years of
violence against women. So I seek them out, knock them out, and insert coke
bottles into their rectum. That would be called a hate crime. I would be called a
man hater, found and arrested so fast it would make your head spin. Even to tell
the truth about violence, that 95 percent of perpetrators of violence in the home are
men, that nearly all rapists are men, I’m called a man hater and a lesbian. So why
aren’t men who actually rape women called women haters or gay?
The movie The Ladies Club tells the story of a group of women who band
together to get retribution for unpunished rapes. The group includes a police
officer, a doctor, and a domestic engineer. The movie showed for one night in
New York and was never shown on the big screen in this country again. Why?
Because it was too violent toward men, too man hating. Women are murdered
and raped in movies and TV shows daily. Why isn’t that too violent against
women? Instead, it’s a central plot theme.
Gary Dahmer and John Gacey were serial murderers. They both chose boys or
young men as their victims. Was that a hate crime? No, because the definition of
hate crimes, proving animus, depends on the perpetrator seeing a difference
between himself and the victim and a dislike or disrespect of the victim. The victim
is then targeted because of that difference, that disrespect, that animus.
Ted Bundy was a serial murderer. He chose women. Was that a hate crime?
Yes, because he saw a difference between himself and the victims and he
choose the victims for that reason, that animus. Was it named a hate crime? No.
Most serial murders are men and their victims are women. Why isn’t that named
gender animus? Why isn’t that a hate crime? When the situation is reversed, it’s
called a hate crime. Eileen Wornous is one of the few women serial killers. She
killed men who had been abusive to her in prostitution. She was called a man
hater. So why weren’t Bundy, Jack the Ripper, and a hundred others called
Most batterers are men and they beat women. It’s not because they love them.
They may or may not actually hate that particular woman, but there certainly is
animus against the female in general. The woman is disrespected. She’s a
bitch, a cunt, a wife, not a human, but a thing, or a role. But that is a personal
relationship you say, it’s not the same.
In this country, the application of the law to personal relationships epitomizes
the Rule of Law. Equality under the law – isn’t that a founding principle of
America? (Well, not really but that is what we say these days.) Don’t the laws
apply inside and outside the home? (Well, not until after 1979 when the final law
permitting men to beat their wives was eliminated.) Don’t the laws apply equally
to strangers and acquaintances and relatives? (Well, not until the 1960s when
child abuse laws went into effect.) But, you get my point. The development of the
Rule of Law in the U.S. has been one of expanded inclusion and increased
If men were beaten at the rate women are, if men were raped at the rate
women are, if men were sexually harassed at the rate women are, it would be a
national tragedy. Massive resources would be directed at the problem and it
would be solved in very short order. The fight to end violence against women has
been going on for over 300 years and still continues.
I spent two years from 1998-2000 working in Russia on these issues. They
mourn that in ten years of war in Afghanistan, 15,000 men were killed. War
memorials cropped up everywhere. The men who survived have been awarded
special medals, and the country has special days to express its sorrow at this
But 15,000 Russian women are murdered every year. The country doesn’t
even talk about it. And they certainly don’t mourn, build memorials, give medals or
express sorrow. Why?
Because women are acceptable targets for men’s violence. Because violence
against women is so interwoven into our patriarchal society we can’t even see it,
like the fish doesn’t see the water it swims in. It becomes the norm, the standard,
expected behavior, the way things are, women’s lot, not a crime.
March is women’s history month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. A
lot of flowers and candy travel to and fro signifying nothing, ignoring the real
meaning of the day and the month. Until we look straight into the face of hate, until
we name it hate, until we acknowledge that crimes against women are not
random acts, but are based on one characteristic – gender – we cannot hope to
All of us are blind in some ways; all of us fail to see past the everyday violence
done to women, done to us because it is so common. We were raised in this
patriarchal culture, in which we women are the expected victims. So in addition to
doing our work outside in society, we have to do our work inside, in our own
hearts and minds.
We have to speak up when someone tells a sexist joke, we have to not use the
word “bitch” for a woman, not buy the magazine with the half nude woman on the
front, not watch the television show that trivializes women, not buy products
advertised through women’s debasement. As Gloria Steinem urged, we have to
enact at least one small rebellion every day. We have to see violence against
women for what it is – the ocean we swim in, so common it’s a norm, but a hate