Images of a black-eyed beating victim and hateful graffiti slurs will soon appear on billboards and in ads around Missoula as part of a campaign to raise awareness of so-called “bias crimes” and help improve how victims can report incidents of abuse to police.
At a Sept. 2 press conference, Mayor John Engen announced the city’s new online service at www.stopbias.com, where victims can confidentially report crimes. The city launched the website after acknowledging a reticence within Missoula’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community (LGBTI) to report acts of violence or harassment against someone based on their lifestyle choice.
“We want to make sure these folks aren’t afraid, and feel empowered and in control,” said Engen. “We cannot help you if we don’t know what’s going on.”
For many LGBTI victims, anxiety over public exposure is the main reason they keep quiet.
“Bias crimes can be very interpersonal, and there can be shame in talking about them for the victims,” said Josh Peters-McBride, a program coordinator for student involvement and leadership development at the University of Montana.
Sgt. Casey Richardson with the Missoula Police Department, who helped plan the campaign, adds other victims simply have a general mistrust of the law.
Spider McKnight, creative director of local advertising firm saltStudio, one of numerous sponsors supporting the campaign, said many Missoula transplants import negative experiences with police that make it difficult to build trust. She recalled overcoming her own stigma after moving here from New York City, where she witnessed a beating at the hands of a police officer.
“This campaign is a big deal,” McKnight said. “It’s a promise that we will find you a safe place to come when you’re most vulnerable and afraid, and we’ll take you seriously.”