Finbar Murphy: 'blackmail'

MORE than 160 men and women have been victims of gay-bashing or other homophobic incidents in the past five years, figures from the Central Statistics Office have revealed.

The figures, however, have shown a stark decline over the past two years, sparking fears that many incidents are now not reported.

In 2006, there were a record 71 assaults and other incidents which were classed as "homophobic" crime, according to the figures.

However, by 2007 that number had dropped by a half to 35 and last year, it fell further again to just 27 recorded crimes.

According to gardaí, the most common type of crime involved thefts, assaults and also instances of blackmail. In a number of cases, people who were not openly gay found themselves being threatened with being outed to family, friends, or employers. Officers said the victims had been forced to hand over cash to keep their sexual orientation secret.

Inspector Finbar Murphy, who is liaison officer for the gay community, said: "The first thing to acknowledge is that both here and internationally, there is an under-reporting of homophobic crime or crimes against people who are gay, bisexual or transgendered. The reasons behind that are broad: one, perhaps, a concern with coming to the gardaí in the first place and, two, a fear of being 'outed' or of being forced to go into court.

"We also get blackmail cases where people are told: 'If you report this, I will out you.'"

Gardaí said in some instances people were targeted as a result of their sexuality but investigators were not in a position to confirm this.

Inspector Murphy said: "A lot of people will report that they were robbed where perhaps their sexuality was an issue. Sometimes, it is not appropriate for a garda to ask that question because they will be rightly asked what their sexuality has got to do with it.

"It might be obviously the reason why the crime took place but unless the person wants to put that forward, it would be wrong for us to record it as a homophobic attack or otherwise."

Inspector Murphy added: "Our position for the last 10 years has been that we would encourage everybody to report a crime even if they don't want the fact it was a homophobic incident recorded."