Claire describes being approached and questioned about her goth appearance by a group of young people and, after the interrogation turned more aggressive, finding herself on the receiving end of a thrown bottle. Eleanor explains that she became afraid to go into town on her own because of a series of incidents of low-level abuse. Jamie recalls a stranger shouting ‘f**king little goth!’ and proceeding to punch him outside a nightclub. Michael and his girlfriend anxiously bolted the door of their friends’ house after being followed by a group of young men abusing and threatening them. Rosie, like many, has never been physically attacked, but her knowledge of attacks on others makes her nervous in public spaces.
Greater Manchester Police’s 2013 announcement that it would be recording attacks on members of alternative subcultures as hate crimes prompted some to celebrate the notion of goths, emos, punks or metallers being categorised in the same way as victims of racially-motivated or homophobic violence as a long-overdue development. It was regarded by others, though, as a worrisome dilution of the notion of hate crime. One of the difficulties for those developing theory, policy and practice with respect to the targeting of alternative subcultures, however, is that, beyond a hand-full of high profile cases, such as the murder of Sophie Lancaster in 2007, not enough is known about the nature and consequences of this sort of victimisation (see Leblanc’s study of female punks for a notable exception).
The qualitative research informing our ‘F**king Freak!’ article, recently published in the British Journal of Criminology, represented an attempt to address this empirical gap. We concentrated primarily on members of the goth scene, a subculture centred upon dark forms of music and fashion that, having emerged in the 1980s, is one of the most longstanding groups under the alternative umbrella. Our diverse but small interview sample of 21 individuals associated with goth or – in the case of a few – related alternative scenes, represented an attempt to focus on the detail of participants’ experiences.
All interviewees had suffered some sort of verbal abuse directed at their dress or identity. While for some it was occasional and relatively trivial, verbal abuse for others could be sustained, regular and aggressive, and could be accompanied by low level physical abuse such as being pushed or spat on. More serious forms of physical violence were relatively unusual but had become a repeated occurrence for some. Targeting could sometimes have a gendered element, with male goths sometimes subject to homophobic comments centred on their feminine appearance and females prone to sexually-loaded forms of harassment.
As well as occasionally leading to physical injuries, being targeted often led to ongoing forms of anxiety. Interviewees frequently referred to worries about their vulnerability to attack and this often affected their experience of public spaces, from shopping centres to public transport. Most had developed avoidance strategies, from staying away from particular spaces to techniques for identifying and avoiding potential assailants. Previous experience of being abused because their appearance, then, could lead to acute awareness of the risk of being targeted for the same reason in the future, illustrating one of the unique impacts of violence or intimidation targeted at appearance or identity.
And targeted abuse and violence also had a collective impact. News of attacks on others would circulate rapidly within social networks and precipitate collective shock, anger and anxiety. Because of their targeted nature, such attacks tended to induce a strong sense among fellow subcultural participants that the victim could just as easily have been them. Because of this group impact, an attack on one could, in a sense, be regarded as an attack on all, helping to generate a collective consciousness of being at risk.
The paper explores how the accounts of our respondents connect with aspects of the experiences of established hate crime victim groups. We discuss the similar kinds of impact that repeated experiences of targeting can have and point out some specific similarities with respect locations, perpetrators and other details. We also note that, because our respondents were indeed targeted because of how they looked, it can be inferred that, as with established forms of hate crime, different members of the targeted group were somewhat interchangeable in respect of the possibility of being attacked.
Yet there are also differences between the situations of our respondents and traditional understandings of hate crime. Most notably, it is difficult to argue that attacks on goths – most of whom are white and middle-class – connect to entrenched broader structures of societal subordination and disadvantage, as they do in the case of racial minorities, for example. The inclusion of goths as recognised hate crime victim groups, then, would imply a decoupling of the concept of hate crime from notions of structural disadvantage. We point to Chakraborti and Garland’s attempt to develop a broader notion of hate crime centred on the targeting of difference and vulnerability as one possible model.
The resolution of this difficult conceptual argument – as well as a range of practical implications of extending hate crime – are beyond the remit of our contribution here, though. Our conclusion is that the targeted victimisation of goths is an ongoing problem and that there are some distinct similarities between the nature and impact of such attacks and those on more established hate crime groups. It is our hope that our findings will inform ongoing debate among academics, practitioners and policy makers.
We would like to thank all those who assisted or participated in the research.
Jon Garland, Reader in Sociology, University of Surrey.
Paul Hodkinson, Reader in Sociology, University of Surrey.
The journal article by the same authors that is referred to in this blog is:
Garland, J. and Hodkinson, P. (2014) ‘“F**king freak! What the hell do you think you look like?” Experiences of Targeted Victimisation Among Goths and Developing Notions of Hate Crime’, British Journal of Criminology, published online before print DOI doi: 10.1093/bjc/azu01
Please note: Blog entries reflect the personal views of contributors and are not moderated or edited before publication. However, we may make subsequent amendments to correct errors or inaccuracies.