Almost half of gaybashing victims are not reporting incidents to the police, say the results of a survey released May 31 by West Enders Against Violence Everywhere (WEAVE).
“Call the police,” says WEAVE co-founder Jack Herman. “Everyone should be on the phone calling 911. Everybody.”
Herman says by calling police every time queers see or are victims of a bashing, they’ll increase the chances that the police will assign more officers to the area and help to raise awareness of the problem.
In the past year, WEAVE says it surveyed people who encountered anti-queer violence in the West End some time in their lives, but WEAVE co-founder Ron Stipp says it’s difficult to tell exactly how many bashings occurred.
Although the survey isn’t watertight from a statistical point of view, the numbers seem to indicate trends that may help to better combat bashing as a social problem.
The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) hasn’t updated its crime statistics for the public since July of last year and it has never distinguished other assaults from gaybashings.
In the absence of real data about queerbashing-like how often it happens, what it usually consists of, and how to combat it-WEAVE began to collect and analyze its own data.
“This was really a learning curve for us,” says Herman. “In hindsight we’re saying to ourselves ‘we should have asked this question, why didn’t we ask that question?’ So we’re a little bit more sophisticated when we do this again. But for now, we have to release this information to the mainstream media and get it out there so more victims are reporting to the police more often.”
“We’re simply not sure if bashings are more or less frequent,” says Stipp. “It’s cyclical. Two years ago, when we got involved in this project, we did it because there was an increase in violence. We felt there was open violence on Davie St and again I think last year was not that great and we’ll have to see what happens this year.
“These survey results are 120 people, so we talked to more than double that,” continues Stipp. “Upwards of 300 or so, but half the folks didn’t want to revisit the bashing. They said ‘yes I’ve been bashed, I’ve had this happen, I just don’t want to live through it again. I don’t want to talk about it’.”
“There are four disturbing trends that we noticed from the results,” says WEAVE co-founder Velvet Steel. “Number one is that the people committing these crimes are younger than in the past. Number two is that there are more women involved in the attacks, with females verbally harassing queer people while males commit the violence. Number three is there are more weapons being used than in the past. Finally, there are three or more individuals taking part in the attacks.”
The survey results indicate that over the last five years, the number of teenaged bashers have more than doubled. The results also show a six-fold increase in the number of females participating in bashing crimes, an 11 percent increase in the number of bashings involving weapons (mostly blunt club-like weapons) and that most bashers continue to travel in groups of three or more people.
What are the most dangerous parts of the West End for queer people?
“I can only say what victims are saying,” says Herman. “Sunset Beach is dangerous. Lord Roberts School after dark-that area is dangerous. Davie and Thurlow seems to have a bigger share of physical assaults than other areas.”
In fact, Herman believes Davie St as a whole is dangerous for queer people.
“I think Davie St is unsafe because it’s the main thoroughfare for gays who are out partying and visitors to the community,” he says. “It’s an artery down to Denman St and English Bay. There’s a lot of traffic. For at least half the victims we have talked to, the incident took place on Davie St and usually at night, so therefore it’s my personal opinion that Davie St is an unsafe place to be at night, particularly [around] one o’clock.”
Davie Community Policing Centre (CPC) president Jim Deva acknowledges “there are still real problems, but the CPC is trying to establish new lines of communication between the community and the police.
“The WEAVE statistics are very credible, but Davie St is much safer than it was three years ago,” Deva continues. “The communication lines have improved a lot, but there is still a lot to do.”
“We need the community to be aware it [Davie St] is a dangerous place,” Herman says. “I think we need to do some community outreach in that respect.
“I don’t think businesses that cater to queers, particularly on Davie St, have done enough as business people to do outreach for the safety of their patrons,” he continues.
“I think there should be more awareness. I think the business owners have a responsibility to let people know there is a danger.”
Davie St Business Improvement Association president and Oasis manager James Steck disagrees. He thinks it’s up to the police force to protect people, not the businesses.
“I have always encouraged every business that I run into to call 911 when they have problems,” Steck says. “Don’t take it into your own hands.”
Besides, he adds, “Our patrons haven’t found any safety issues; no one has ever come to me saying they were bashed after being at one of the bars.”
VPD liaison to the gay community, Const Chris Smith says WEAVE’s statistics “paint an ugly picture and unfortunately hate is all over it. No one wins in an environment and community like that. I appreciate the hard work WEAVE has done and they’re in the same battle as the rest of us to make a safer community.
“Jack and Velvet will be working with me to ensure that safegay.ca is a success,” he adds.
Safegay.ca is a website Smith established so bashing victims can report their incidents anonymously.
“Victims should report more,” Herman reiterates, “which may lead the VPD to an increased police presence,” he adds.
Herman also thinks gay men out partying “should be calling a cab or walking home with someone else” to avoid being bashed. “And I think there should be a victim’s services worker to liaise between bashing victims and the police and community businesses.”