Campus Anti-Gay Violence Study

A shocking number of community college students not only admitted committing homophobic harassment and violence, they saw absolutely nothing wrong with it - and would probably do it again.

"Indeed, assaults on gay men and lesbians were so socially acceptable that respondents often advocated or defended such behavior out loud in the classrooms while I was administering my survey," wrote forensic psychologist Karen Franklin of her pioneering study of campus perpetrators, presented at the American Psychological Association convention on August 16. Franklin administered questionnaires to a general group of 500 students at several unnamed San Francisco Bay area community colleges with shocking results: of the men in the sample,18% reported having physically assaulted or threatened someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, and another 32% admitted to verbal homophobic harassment. When women, who reported much less violence and harassment, were included, the overall figures were brought down to 10% and 24%. This may be the first systematic empirical study of perpetrators not only of homophobic hate crimes, but of any kind of hate crimes.

Most of the attackers "do not fit the stereotype of the hate filled extremist. Rather, they are average young people who often do not see anything wrong with their behavior," Franklin wrote. Those who attacked or taunted gays and lesbians fell roughly into four groups. The largest described their behavior as "self-defense," based on the perception that gays are predatory and therefore even a friendly gesture from one is sexual and a legitimate reason for violence. A second group felt a duty to enforce social norms, a third group were described as thrill seekers, and the fourth group simply went along with their homophobic peers. Across all four groups, wrote Franklin, "almost half the assailants reported a likelihood to assault again in similar circumstances. That is, they either lacked remorse or did not see anything wrong with their behavior." Even those who had never assaulted or harassed gays and lesbians were not so much more tolerant as they were concerned about getting in trouble or experiencing retaliation.

Franklin concluded that, "The reason they don't see anything wrong is simple -- no one is telling them that it is wrong." She called for "a national policy of pro-active intervention against school-based harassment and violence," with anti-bias activities beginning as early as possible, even kindergarten, to prevent homophobic attitudes from taking hold.

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