LGBTQI Group Fears Backlash Over 'Fake' Hate Crimes
When U.S. actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was the victim of a homophobic and racist hate crime last month, everyone from politicians to the Hollywood elite rushed to support him.
The black and openly gay actor's apparently staged hoax has worried numerous community advocates working on behalf of hate crime victims.
Targets of anti-LGBTQI violence and harassment already experience challenges related to hate crime reportage, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said.
"These include fear of not being believed, fear of reprisals and issues with disclosure of their sexuality and/or gender identity," Parkhill told 10 daily.
"Recent media coverage of an alleged falsification of a hate crime report create cause for concern."
Hate crimes tend to include prejudice on the grounds of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability, according to the Australian Hate Crime Network.
A national picture of the extent of hate crimes taking place in Australia is not yet readily available from the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Hate crimes against LGBTQI people in Australia occur less frequently today than previous decades but they are still a reality, Parkhill said.
He cited "spikes in violence and harassment" around the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras and times of heightened public debate, like 2018's Marriage Law Reform Postal Survey.
"These suggest ongoing efforts across all levels of law enforcement and government to address prejudice-related crimes are needed to make sure we do not see history repeat itself."
In America, there were more than 7,100 hate crimes in 2017 -- up 17 percent from the year before, according to the FBI's annual national analysis.
Of the country's estimated 21,000 hate crime cases in the past two years, fewer than 50 were found to be false, according to The Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
While staged hate crimes appear to be rare, real victims are at risk of being trivialised or having their credibility challenged when episodes occur.
Smollett's bizarre case and his resulting arrest will have a damaging effect on anti-hate efforts, hate crime expert Brian Levin told The New York Times.
“Devastating is how I would describe this Smollett story, especially during this legislative season when some states are trying to pass hate crime reform bills,” Levin said.
“This has the potential to eclipse the real facts about hate crimes.”
Smollett and his legal team continue to maintain his innocence, but Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson has called the alleged hoax "despicable".
Johnson also said he feared local victims of hate crimes will "be met with a level of scepticism that previously didn't happen."
Chicago judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr -- also African-American -- echoed the officer's sentiment, calling the hoax "utterly outrageous" if true.
While setting Smollett's bond at $100,000, the judge referenced the noose placed around the alleged victim's neck when he was found by police.
“The most vile and despicable part of it, if it’s true, is the noose. That symbol conjures up such evil in this country’s history," Lyke told the court.
Despite being arrested, Smollett and his legal team have asserted the actor is innocent of both charges.
“You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this,” he said during an interview with Good Morning America.
“[Smollett] wants nothing more than to clear his name,” said Jack Prior, one of the actor's lawyers.
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