In this interview, Alexi De Greef, Project Officer Gender-based Violence at Çavaria, talks about an EU project ‘Safe.to.be – Speak Out’ to tackle (online) hate speech and hate crime.
Çavaria is an NGO in Belgium that inspires, encourages and supports organisations and individuals who stand for an open understanding of sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.
VSE: What does Çavaria do to tackle hate/cyber hate?
Alexi De Greef: ‘Safe.to.be – Speak Out’ is an EU project with 8 European member states led by çavaria to tackle (online) hate speech and hate crime. ‘Safe.to.be – Speak Out’ aims to raise awareness within victim support services and law enforcement about the impact of hate speech and hate crimes on LGBTI people. On top of that we are developing a website for the LGBTI community that offers an empowering counter-narrative on online hate messages and incidents.
‘Safe.to.be’ is the first project on hate crimes within çavaria that focuses specifically on online hate. With the blurred division between our online and our offline lives, online hate incidents are as much a part of our ‘real life’ as other hate incidents. We consciously use the term ‘hate incidents’ instead of ‘hate crimes’ since not all occurrences of online hate are criminal acts. Some examples being stigmatization, intimidation, insulting, outing, or doxing. These incidents can have very real consequences on the lives of the people they affect. ‘Safe.to.be’ is developing an awareness raising website for everyone affected by anti LGBTI- online hate. What do you do when you or someone close to you has become the victim of an online hate incident? How do you distinguish a hate incident from a hate crime? Do you contact police or victim services, or do you report to the platform the incident occurred? And how do you report? How do you move on from an online hate crime? Or if it didn’t happen to you, how can you be an ally and flagger for online hate crimes?
We started by doing research on online hate towards the LGBTI community. To conduct this research an online survey was developed and administered to explore the nature, extent, impact and reporting of online anti-LGBT+ hate crime across the 9 European partner countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom) using an online tool. The survey was completed by a total of 2538 participants across the participating countries. This survey ended in September 2019 and has resulted in an elaborate report that we will publish in May 2020.
VSE: What are the main concerns in Belgium in regards to cyber hate against LGBTI+ community?
Alexi De Greef: There are statistics on offline hate against the LGBTI+ community, although it has to be noted that Belgium has not routinely reported reliable information and statistics on hate crimes to ODIHR since 2013. However, according to publicly available police statistics, there have been 187 registered cases of homophobia in 2016 and 107 in 2017. No statistics are available on transphobic hate crimes.
Other research by D’haese, Dewaele and Van Houtte (in 2014) found very low reporting rates in Belgium in regards to homophobic violence (10%), and research by Motmans, T’sjoen and Meier of 2015 recorded reporting rates as low as 6% on transphobic violence.
Çavaria records anti-LGBTI hate crimes through a mobile phone application that was developed with partners of other European countries during the UNI-FORM project. Lumi, a Flemish LGBTI helpline, is an official partner of Unia, the equality body in Belgium, for people who want to report discrimination or hate crimes through the helpline. As such, it has access to the registration system that is being used by Unia. In general, however, LGBT NGO’s receive a very low number of reports.
We hope to acquire more information about cyber hate in Belgium throughout the course of Safe.to.be. project. With the availability of more data and statistics on online hate, we hope to include the online aspect of hate crimes/incidents into our day-to-day work.
VSE: Tell us about your recent awareness raising campaign conducted within the ‘Call It Hate‘ project?
Çavaria: In collaboration with a queer artist, we created 4 illustrations that cap
ture the 4 most interesting findings of the Belgian ‘Call It Hate research’. Then, we invited 10 duo’s of LGBT’s and allies to talk about these images and made 4 videos out of these conversations. Later, we launched 4 articles on our online magazine ‘ZIZO’ with the research results, the illustrations, the videos and extra testimonials of the people participating in the videos. Additionally, we published 1 column and 7 extra testimonials on ZIZO, containing interviews and photos with people from the LGBT community who talk about hate crime, violence and resilience.
For our general public campaign we focused on the fifth interesting finding, namely that the level of empathy is lower for drunk LGBT victims of hate crime that are near a bar, even though these places are more risky. To tackle this we made stickers that convince bystanders to intervene when they witness any form of hate with extra information on possible ways to react and a referral to ‘Lumi’, our support service. We also distributed packages of 50 stickers to 410 youth centres, which in Flanders are places that often have a bar or organise parties, this is where many young people have their first experience with nightlife. They also received extra information on LGBT related hate crime and what they can do to prevent this.
Finally, we made a toolkit for teachers and youth workers to work with youngsters aged 15 to 18 years on LGBT related hate crime. It gives them specific advice on how they can use all the materials that were developed during these campaigns (the illustrations, video’s, testimonials and information on possible ways to react in case of a hate crime). We will use this in our own school and training programs and also share and promote them on different platforms for teachers and youth workers.
VSE: How do you and your member organizations help victims of cyber hate? What kind of support do you/they provide?
Alexi De Greef: Lumi, the helpline mentioned above, is a partner organization of çavaria. People affected by online hate crime can call this helpline, email them or chat with them. The volunteers on the other end of the line/screen will offer a listening ear and redirect the victims to the appropriate victim support services or police services, and inform them about reporting procedures.
VSE: What has to be improved in Belgium in regards to tackling hate/cyberhate issues? What challenges you face as an NGO to tackle cyber hate?
Alexi De Greef: First and foremost, we need better reporting of online hate, not unlike the challenge we face in regards to offline hate. Oftentimes we notice that online hate is regarded as not as severe as offline hate. Raising awareness on the very real effects that online hate can have on a person or an entire group of people, is one of the main goals of Safe.to.be. By offering a counter-narrative to online hate speech and providing guidelines on reporting and self-care, we aim to empower the LGBTI community.
Goes without saying that we aim to stay active on the topic of online hate, even after the end of the project Safe.to.be. However, this might be a challenge that we face as well.