Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Hate Crimes, Real or Otherwise

So, last week, this happened. People (myself included) were shocked, saddened, outraged. People rallied support around this student and events, both in real life and on Facebook, were planned.

And then, almost as quickly as we heard that a hate crime had occurred in our community we found out that, well, it hadn't.

It feels strange to say this, but to be honest, I wasn't really upset. Of course I understand why folks might feel duped, but personally I just feel concern for this student. I hope that he's able to get the help that he needs to be in a better place. I also still feel, very strongly, that dialogue about hate crimes and how they are addressed on college campuses is much-needed and should still occur. The fact that this particular event wasn't a hate crime doesn't change any of that.

Having worked for an organization that focused on sexual violence prevention and education, I am a big proponent of believing people when they come forward about having experienced violence or abuse of any kind. It's common to hear people who work in this field use the phrase "you will be believed," and that is completely true. Because really, when someone experiences something terrible and traumatic, that's really what they need to hear.

Yes, this may mean that in situations like this week's that it turns out that I believed something that ended up not being true. But, a majority of the time, it means that people who have experienced something horrible will end up getting the help and resources that they need. While I'm not trying to say that sexual violence is necessarily the same thing as a hate crime (although sexual violence can certainly be part of a hate crime), I do think that both of these experiences may involve a lot of guilt, shame, and fear that could influence someone not wanting to report what happened to them.

Sure, there will probably be some people who will point to this incident and say "oh, this person lied about a hate crime, so therefore they don't happen or I don't need to believe it when I hear about another one." Now, I'm not going to make a blanket statement here and could also be wrong in saying this, but I can't help but think that the people that would say something like this are likely insensitive idiots who would have thought this anyway. People will believe what they want, regardless of any facts or evidence to the contrary.

I applaud Quinn's friends who believed his story and encouraged him to seek help. I hope that UNC-Chapel Hill (as well as lots of other colleges and universities) continue to have conversations about how to respond to hate crimes and other bias incidents on their campuses. Most of all, though, I hope that Quinn and other people in similar situations get whatever help they need and are treated with compassion along the way.

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