The effectiveness of proposed hate crime sentencing laws has been questioned by some community groups.
The Sentencing Amendment Bill was introduced to state Parliament last week in an attempt to crack down on prejudice- and hate-motivated crime against minority groups, including the GLBTI community.
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Attorney-General Rob Hulls said crimes motivated by some characteristics — including race, gender, religion and sexual orientation — were “abhorrent and damaging”, and should be taken into account by the courts.
Outgoing ALSO Foundation CEO Lyn Morgain said a lack of historical case law may make hate crimes too difficult for police prosecutors, adding extra complexity for cases to appear before court.
“A prosecutor is only going to charge someone for a crime they think they can get up, and so in constructing that crime they’re going to do whatever’s necessary to meet the burden of proof to the charge they’re bringing,” she said.
“They’re just not yet in a position where they’re sensitised to try and think about what motivated these people — and was prejudice a factor.
“Even if a judge or magistrate thought prejudice was a feature and did want to bring that to bear in sentencing, it’s unlikely the necessary data would have been put before the court for that decision.”
Morgain said she supports the bill but thinks a wider campaign to combat homophobia is needed.
“To have the Attorney-General come out and say these sorts of crimes are abhorrent and must be stopped … that makes it a good thing,” she said.
“We’ve said to the Government, this is only as useful as the follow-up action you’re prepared to put in.”
Anti-Violence Project Victoria convenor Greg Adkins said the new laws were “crucial”, however, the poor reporting of homophobic crime was still a major problem.
“We gays and lesbians traditionally don’t report violence … so we can’t have a go at the police for not collecting [information] because we’re not telling them about it,” Adkins told Southern Star.
“We have been silent for far too long in the GLBT community.”
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokeswoman Hayley Conway said any improvement around sexual orientation hate crime was welcome, however, she raised concerns the new laws were a band-aid response to wider ingrained prejudice.
The ALSO Foundation — with other community groups — has received Government funding to conduct research into the viability of an education campaign on combating homophobic crime and is due to report its findings in February.