RICHMOND — News this week of arrests in the Dec. 13 gang rape of a lesbian brought relief to many in the community, some of whom were so outraged that they led police to breaks in the case.
But even as the resolution is lauded, gay-rights advocates and local and national crime statistics portray a gloomy truth about hate crimes against people based on their sexual orientation.
Until the root causes of bias toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are addressed, "we'll continue to have hate perpetrated against us," said Shawna Virago, a program director for the San Francisco-based advocacy group Community United Against Violence.
The group reported 304 crimes against Bay Area gays in 2007, the latest year for which complete statistics were available. That amounted to an approximate 6 percent increase from 2006.
Nationally, the FBI recorded 1,265 crimes deemed to have been motivated by the victim's sexual orientation in 2007, a slight increase from the 1,195 tallied a year earlier but a 24 percent jump from 2005 figures.
Data compiled by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs — which counts the San Francisco group among its members — show national numbers to be considerably higher, from 1,486 incidents in 2006 to 1,833 the following year.
The national group's figures are based on incidents reported to them by victims; the FBI figures draw from crimes police classified as a hate crime. The disparity highlights what is generally agreed as an underreporting of hate crimes based on the victim's sexual orientation.
"The only way we know about (the Richmond) case is because of the bravery of the survivor coming out," Virago said. "Hatred and bias are a routine occurrence for many LGBT people."
That may partly be due to the psychology behind hate crimes, particularly those involving sexual orientation, said a psychology professor at St. Mary's College in Moraga.
"What you get is this kind of immature desire to display power," said Jose Feito. "And so they go looking for easy victims, or suitable victims."
In the Richmond case, Feito said, "suitable" meant someone the attackers could marginalize in their minds. Sexual orientation can serve as a hate crime's "trigger," as he called it. But it is often that factor combined with a perception of gender nonconformity that leads to violence, he said.
"That all ties into blaming the victim, who's seen as flaunting their homosexuality," Feito said.
The rape occurred about 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 after an openly gay 28-year-old woman parked her car on Visalia Avenue. Four attackers approached her, hit her with something, took her to another street and assaulted her, police said. The assailants made comments about her sexual orientation during the attack, police said.
After the initial assault, they took her elsewhere and attacked her again, police said.
Police on Wednesday arrested two juveniles, a 16-year-old Hercules boy and a 15-year-old Richmond resident, and 31-year-old Humberto Hernandez Salvador, 31, also of Richmond. The next day, 21-year-old Josue Gonzalez turned himself in to police.
Gonzalez is being held in County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail. Salvador, believed to have been the attack ringleader, is being held without bail because of a probation violation. They are expected to be arraigned in the coming week.
An outpouring of community support followed the crime, including a candlelight vigil hosted by Community United Against Violence and a trust fund set up to help the woman. The escalating profile of the crime — which included national media attention — led to a deluge of tips, some of which led detectives to the suspects.
Anyone with information about the case can call Richmond Police Detective Yesenia Rogers at 510-672-1718.
Robert Salonga covers public safety. Reach him at 925-943-8013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.