Posted by: alphafemme | December 27, 2008

Some thoughts on rape & hate crime

Warning: potentially triggering material follows.

A week before Christmas, a lesbian in Richmond (just north of Berkeley in the bay area) was gang raped–four men, one hour, weapons. Apparently, according to the SF Chronicle, she had a rainbow sticker on her car and they targeted her specifically because she was gay.

So there’s a $10,000 price tag on these guys, and they’re not only going to be charged with sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, et cetera, but their charges will also carry the added “hate crime” designation. Which obviously makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, their attack was pretty clearly motivated by–or at the very least, very charged with–violent homophobia. They probably would not have attacked her had she not had a rainbow sticker on her car, or if she had not in any way appeared to them to be gay. So it makes sense to me that they would be charged with hate crime. It is horrible to be attacked so viciously on account of one’s sexual orientation and it is clear that her being gay was a reason they targeted her.

However, it troubles me that these four men would get a heightened criminal conviction, be more highly sought, or be seen as far worse criminals than would be the case if the victim were a straight woman. For any woman (or man or child or anyone) to be gang raped is horrible beyond belief, and it occurs far too often that women are raped or gang raped or abused by men in any sexual or physical capacity. And we never hear any fuss made about it. Occasionally we see a paragraph in the newspaper about a midnight rape, and we think “oh, how awful” and then we move on, because we’ve heard it so many times before and we’ve forgotten how to be enraged by it. Or worse, we think, “god, what was that woman doing out by herself at that time of night? what was she wearing? I bet she was a prostitute/drug dealer/slut” and can quickly minimize our empathy.

But the truth is, it must be just as horrible for a straight woman to be gang raped at knife-/gun-point by four men over the course of an hour as it is for a lesbian. And men who rape or abuse straight women should not get off any lighter than men who rape and abuse gay women. Those men are all perpetrating hate crimes. Granted, the motivations may be different (“ugh that bulldagger needs to be taught a lesson” vs. “I’m going to get me some of that pussy”) but in the end, it’s always about objectification, dehumanization, assertion that “you belong to me, I can do whatever I want with you, and by the time I’m through you’re going to know that.”

I’d imagine that being raped on account of being a lesbian and being raped on account of being a woman would have somewhat different psychological effects, but they would both be pretty fucking traumatic. As I’ve written here before, I was raped when I was 15 by a complete stranger, and it had nothing to do with my being gay (as there’s no way the man could’ve known) and everything to do with my being a piece of flesh that he was entitled to possess. And I’m telling you, I don’t think it could have possibly been worse if I’d known it was because I was gay. Not that it would’ve been better, but rape is rape and you feel like shit, you feel dirty and violated, you feel stripped of power and dignity and personhood, you feel broken and bruised and hurt, you feel shattered and alone, above all else alone, because everyone around you carries on as normal, and the world doesn’t stop just because your world stopped. I can’t speak for other women (gay or straight) who have been raped or violated, but these are all the things I felt, and I am going to say one thing: it would have made a world of difference if I had known that I would be able to count on a reaction like the reaction this lesbian woman’s gang rape is getting from the lesbian community here in the bay area. If I had known that my going to the police would have inspired a public outrage, then I might have gone to the police. Instead, I had seen too many times that rape is one of those things that people shake their heads about but inevitably excuse, because there must’ve been something wrong with the woman, because only a certain kind of woman gets herself raped.

Rape is always a hate crime. Men who perpetrate rape have not one ounce of like, love, respect, or any positive human emotion for their victims. So I do think that the four rapists of the Richmond lesbian should be charged with hate crime. But I also think people need to understand that any woman who is a victim of rape is a victim of a hate crime, and that when any woman is raped, there needs to be this kind of outrage, this outpouring of love and care for the victim. We all need it. And I think the fact that it’s seen as more outrageous when a lesbian gets raped on account of being a lesbian than when any woman regardless of sexual orientation gets raped on account of being a woman is an indication that we as a culture all contribute to the dehumanization of women, and all contribute to the way in which men own and possess women’s bodies.

I understand why the lesbian population rallies in support of one of their own. That makes sense. My heart aches for her, my gut hardens and my stomach churns for her. My jaw clenches, my eyes well up. I tremble in disbelief, I am dazed. I want to find her, hug her, cry with her. I want to bring her back a piece of her soul, because I remember how long it took for me to get mine back. I want to hold hands with all other lesbians in solidarity and join together to figure out how to combat this violence.

But I also want this to be a reason to join hands with other women, with all women, and with men, in outrage, sorrow, and disbelief over rape of this woman and all women, and I want to use that solidarity to raise passion and fury, and change the way people think of rape and think of women in this country. Because every time a rape goes unreported because a woman is scared of being blamed, every time a rape is excused because the woman brought it on herself, every time another awful rape is passed over because it’s not newsworthy and it’s just the same old, every time a man gets off with a light sentence because if we took it all seriously our prisons would be home to a third of the men in America, every time any of this happens, we are all stripped a little bit more of our humanity and dignity. Gay and straight alike.



  1. Although I agree with you that all rape is hateful and incredibly destructive, there is an added dimension when it is a hate crime. I strongly recommend Gregory Herek’s research on stigma which demonstrates the complexity and effects of hate crimes on the individual, the community and society. Most of his articles are published on his website.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Liz, and for passing on Gregory Herek’s name. This is definitely something I am interested in so I plan on reading some of his work.

    I guess–and this is before reading his work so maybe he addresses this–but I guess I would press and question *why* it is that women who are rape victims do not perceive themselves as being victims of hate crime? And is this added complexity and further adverse psychological affects of hate crime truly objective, or is it a result of rape already being so normalized that even women who are victims of rape have been brought up to see themselves in a particular way as rape victims?

    I know that I felt dirty and humiliated, so much so that it took me years to be able to tell anyone, because I thought it was my fault, that somehow I’d done something wrong. But if I’d been cultured to think of it as hate crime, I might have felt more empowered and more entitled to feel rage and anger. As I said in my post, I’m sure that the psychological affects of rape on account of being gay and rape on account of being a woman are different, but I would be really skeptical of any research that attempts to show that the affects of one are *worse* than those of the other. To me, that would just be further emblematic of a society that normalizes sexual violence against women.

  3. i wonder how people, especially warren, can sleep at night

  4. I was at the rally last night. It was well attended. About 150 to 180 folks showed up with candles. And the media was there too being a bit intrusive with cameras in their faces and noisy generators.
    Thanks to all the people who spoke. And it was really brave for the partner of the victim to come too and talk.
    I was wondering also about why this rape was getting so much attention. And my conclusion is mixed and just speculation. It is my gut feeling that this has happened at a time when the LGBTQ community is focused on supporting ourselves. It is post prop 8 defeat and we can not take for granted that we will have our rights taken into account by the total community. We now realize it is up to us to get into the streets, news papers, media, and faces of everyone we know and speak our truth and claim our space. And we know there are a lot of us out there. So the numbers in nor cal are good.
    But also let’s look at the response by the cops. Hey let’s celebrate the fact that the Richmond police are aware that lesbians exist and that they believe the victims story. The police actually are willing to go after these guys extra hard because they called her a dyke. Its phenomenal that we have the support of the justice system. Let’s keep talking about this. Let’s keep in touch with the police and use this an opportunity to further our cause and our rights. Let’s expose the bigotry and hate really loud. Let’s do it now.
    It is a moment in time when things get crystallized. And this is the case where a new leaf has turned over. It is just time to refocus our energy and priorities. And it is time for the LGBTQ community to rally, be out, and fight for our lives.

  5. I agree with you here. Rape is still prevalent in our society and goes largely unreported. I saw one news article in a mainstream newspaper that said something like: “30% of teenage girls reported that their first experience with sexual intercourse was involuntary.” WTF? That means some asshole raped them, right? I know thats probably not as extreme as a violent attack by four strangers, but STILL, we live in a culture where men still think on some level they own women.
    My heart goes out to this woman and I hope they catch the assholes.

  6. in light of Green Butch’s Statement, I have to say it’s a step in the right direction when an atrocity such as this can be recognized as a hate crime and pursued as such. However, we here on the east coast are not as fortunate.

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