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Hate crimes often go unreported

Openly gay men and ethnic minorities have been the targets of hate crimes in Oslo, but few gay men report the harassment and physical attacks to police, according to Norway’s leading gay rights organization and some of the victims themselves. Many are still afraid they won’t be taken seriously.

The issue has received media attention over the past few months, not least after last summer’s Skeive dager festival, which highlights sexual diversity and features an annual parade through the city. There were nearly double the number of participants in June than in previous years.

Not all had an easy time of displaying, even celebrating, their homosexuality. One man who took part in the parade was punched in the face near Grønlands torg, an area known for its own ethnic diversity including many Muslims. The man who hit the gay man was wearing a head scarf.

‘Fear in the community’
Police reported at the time that they were taking the attack seriously and sought witnesses, in the hopes of tracking down the assailant. Other victims, however, hesitate to report such incidents despite being urged to do so by both police and the gay rights organization LHH (Landsforeningen for lesbiske, homofile, bifile og transpersoner). LHH leader Bård Nylund thinks 90 percent of the hate crimes go unreported, and he’s stepping up a campaign to change that.

The hate crimes, Nylund told newspaper Aften on Tuesday, “contribute to fear in the community, and exemplify what we’re working against all the time.”

The attack at Grønlands torg last summer was by no means unique. Newspaper Aftenposten reported in June how 25-year-old Audun Møllerop was on his way home from a night on the town when he met a female friend in a group of others. One of them suddenly started calling Møllerop names, and as he walked away, he was attacked from behind with severe blows to his head. Passersby intervened and stopped the violence.

‘Important to go public’
“For me, it’s important to go public with the attack because I want to let others who experience hate crimes know that they must report it to the police,” Møllerop told Aftenposten. There also have been reports that gangs of anti-gay men wait for gay men outside Oslo bars, to attack or harass them. All told, though, only 50 hate crimes were reported to Oslo police last year, with just 11 of them tied to sexual orientation. Around half, according to police, are filed by ethnic minorities in Norway.

Justice Minister Grete Faremo has said she’s worried the actual numbers are much higher and claims the police are taking hate crimes seriously indeed. That doesn’t seem to reassure Erik Torset and Jean Jacobsen, who were attacked two weeks ago by a group of men outside a kiosk in Oslo’s Tøyen district, also known for its ethnic and cultural diversity. The men yelled at them that “Homosexuality isn’t allowed in Tøyen” before throwing first a plastic container full of pizza sauce at Jacobsen. Then the men started chasing Torset and others in his group, before throwing a metal advertising placard at him that badly damaged his achilles tendon.

“I was really scared,” Torset told Aften after choosing to report the incident. But both he and Jacobsen now say they’re avoiding Tøyen, especially in the evening, and they think the hostility against them has risen since the summer. “When you can’t walk the streets and feel safe, you lose a right everyone should have,” said Jacobsen.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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