Homophobic Incidents and Crimes increase across Northern Ireland

By Rebecca McGirr

In 2020, homophobic incidents and crimes increased significantly across Northern Ireland, with some areas showing figures double from 2019 to 2020.

62 per cent of hate incidents and crimes go unreported and demand for help and support for people who experience this is so great that organisations have had to ask for additional funding.

From 2019 to 2020 homophobic incidents had increased in seven out of the 11 policing districts and Belfast City had shown the biggest increase in homophobic incidents which increased from 126 in 2019 to 151 in 2020.

From 2019 to 2020 homophobic crimes increased in eight policing districts out of 11 in Northern Ireland.

For some areas the increase was significant for example, homophobic crimes in Fermanagh and Omagh were only at two in 2019 but increased to 14 in 2020.

Aisling Twomey, an advocacy officer from The Rainbow Project whose role involves supporting people who are victim of hate crime says that “whilst it may look like a dramatic increase it may be because that person has engaged with me and I have advised them to report multiple incidents.”

She says “it seems like a dramatic increase,” but “of the figures that you see of that 12 or 18 there is another 62 per cent on top of that that haven’t been reported.”

And whilst she acknowledges it as a strange comment to make she is pleased to see an increase in reporting because it means “that people have the confidence in coming forward to report it to make us aware of it.”

Aisling says that due to the pandemic the type of incidents that are now occurring have changed. She says, “whilst we are not seeing that kind of stranger based incidents, some are still happening, but the majority of them have been connected to home addresses and we have also seen increase in online abuse.”

Overall, in relation to both homophobic incidents and crimes in 2019 and 2020 Belfast City had the highest recorded number out of all policing districts.

Aisling says, this is because “there will always be a greater incident number in the higher level population areas,” and that there is also a “larger LGBT community within Belfast.”

The area which had shown the biggest decrease in homophobic crime was the Mid and East Antrim area which was at nine in 2019 and decreased to four in 2020.

This significant decrease could be because in 2018 the Mid and East Antrim Council introduced a “No Hate Here,” campaign to tackle hate crime in the area.

The initiative involved encouraging local businesses and organisations to assist victims of hate crime by directing them to support services and encouraging them to report incidents. Businesses and organisations received a resource pack with information and steps on how to stop hate crime and also a range of sources to help those who have been impacted by it.

She says, “I think that having the involvement of all different partners within the conversation around hate crime is hugely beneficial because a lot of these incidents are happening in the community, their happening in the street, the people in the chip shop know what’s happening and who’s doing it.

And for people who are experiencing that to have many different avenues in terms of getting support I really welcome, and highlighting the fact that hate crime is ever present on our streets.”

However she states, “It’s hard to quantify that that had a direct impact on it. It’s hard to say because we don’t have that data but certainly a decrease is always a bit worrying for me.”

She explains that a council area where there has previously been a number of incidences and then there is a dramatic decrease could be connected to someone who has maybe reported several incidents and then moved out of the area. Or it could be that the police and local community groups in that area have taken direct action in engaging with young people to tackle an issue such as anti-social behaviour and that’s why there has been a decrease.

She says, “it’s hard to tie down specifically what leads to a decrease because it could be connected to a number of different elements.”

Aisling’s advice to people is that no matter how minor you may think an incident may be, to report it, because that one incident of hate could escalate further if not reported to the police.

She explains, that if the police are aware that an incident has taken place even though it may not be listed as a hate incident they will be able to take steps to address it and put support in place for that person which may prevent further incidences from occurring.

For more information go to www.psni.police.uk/inside-psni/Statistics/hate-motivation-statistics/