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Harassment due to sexual orientation or gender identity

If you are being harassed by your landlord, neighbours, or anyone else because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may be able to get help from the council or the police, or take legal action to stop the harassment. This page explains your options.

What is harassment?

Harassment is any behaviour which causes distress or alarm, and can range from verbal abuse to violence and assault. Harassment can include:

  • name calling
  • indecent or offensive remarks and jokes
  • unwanted comments and questions about your sex life
  • nuisance phone calls
  • offensive texts, letters or emails
  • bullying
  • vandalism of your property
  • physical or sexual assault.

Sometimes, heterosexual people are harassed because they are perceived to be LGB or T - this is still harassment.

In Scotland, there are no laws which specifically prohibit the harassment of someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or because of their perceived sexual orientation outside the workplace and vocational training. However, some laws protect you at work - Gov UK has more information on these. However, there are laws which protect you from harassment in general and from hate crime.

How do I deal with harassment?

Harassment is an abuse of power. Many people who are bullied or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are reluctant to complain about it, because they are afraid of making the situation worse, and possibly losing their job, home or friends as a result. They may feel that it's just part of life, and must be tolerated. Often they'll be told to 'lighten up' and asked 'where's your sense of humour?' Some LGBT people may be reluctant to tackle harassment, because it means 'outing' themselves.

However, no one should have to put up with harassment. If you are made to feel uncomfortable by the comments or conduct of your landlord, a neighbour or anyone else, there are things you can do to put a stop to it.

Should I try talking to the person who's harassing me?

Provided you feel it's safe to do so, your first step should be to confront the person who's harassing you and make it clear that you find their behaviour offensive and inappropriate. People of different ages, cultures or backgrounds have different outlooks, and it's possible they don't realise how their conduct is affecting you.

Don't try and make light of it and don't apologise for bringing the subject up. You may want to ask a friend or family member, or someone else who has been affected by the person's behaviour to come with you. If you can't face confronting them in person, you could write a letter instead - keep a copy if you do.

Can I take further action?

If tackling the issue directly doesn't work or you don't feel safe confronting the person, you may be able to take further action. At this point, it's a good idea to discuss your options with an adviser at Citizens Advice or other agency, or to get advice from a solicitor.

Getting support

If the harassment is making you depressed, anxious or frightened and you need some emotional support, it may help to call the Samaritans, the Lothian or Strathclyde Gay and Lesbian Switchboards, Crosslynx or another helpline - use our help page or the directory at Beyond Barriers to find help near you.

Any agency you speak to you will keep your details entirely confidential, unless you wish them to pass on information to anyone else.

Collecting evidence

However you choose to deal with the situation, it will help if you collect evidence to back up your claims, for example by:

  • recording details of any incidents that take place in a diary
  • keeping any notes, letters, texts or emails sent to you
  • talking to other people (for example, other neighbours or tenants) who may have been affected by the person's behaviour.

The page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has more information on how to do this, and also has practical advice on confronting people who are upsetting you (see above).

What if my landlord or another service provider is harassing me?

If you are harassed by your landlord or by anyone working for them, by a letting agent, estate agent, mortgage lender or any other service provider, you could consider:

What if a neighbour is harassing me?

In this case, you may be able to:

What if someone employed by the council or a housing association is harassing me?

If you are harassed by a representative of the council or a housing association, or by someone working for these organisations (for example, someone carrying out repairs to your home) you could consider:

How can the council help me?

Harassment and antisocial behaviour

Harassment is a form of antisocial behaviour, so if you are being harassed by a neighbour or anyone else in your area, you may be able to get help from the council. The council may be able to use antisocial behaviour laws to bring the harassment to an end. For example, they may be able to take out an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) against the person or people who are harassing you. The section on antisocial behaviour explains how this may help.

Help for council and registered social landlord (RSL) tenants

If you rent your home from the council or an RSL (a housing association or housing co-op) and are being harassed by other council or RSL tenants, you should report the situation to your landlord. The council or RSL will have policies in place to help put a stop to the harassment. For example, they may:

  • help you increase security around your home
  • put right any damage (for example, remove graffiti) immediately
  • confront the person who's been harassing you (with your permission)
  • in extreme circumstances, evict the person who's been harassing you.

Your council's website should have more information on this.

How can the police help me?

The police in Scotland are working hard to overcome traditional perceptions of being hostile or unsympathetic to the needs of LGBT people as citizens.

Scottish Police forces take all reports of homophobic or transphobic crime extremely seriously. Hate crime is a high priority and every effort is being made to deal with and eradicate this wherever possible. All homophobic and transphobic incidents are recorded nationally, so it's important that the police are informed of any such behaviour in order to form a realistic picture of what is happening.

What is a homophobic or transphobic incident?

Homophobia is an irrational intolerance, fear or hatred of lesbian, gay or bisexual people, while transphobia relates to an irrational intolerance, fear or hatred of transgender people. The police define homophobic incidents as 'any incident which is perceived to be homophobic by the victim or by any other person'. Examples of homophobic incidents include:

  • the use of threatening, abusive or insulting language
  • nuisance telephone calls
  • offensive letters, texts or emails
  • damage to your property (for example, grafitti on your home or vandalism to your car)
  • muggings
  • physical attacks and violence.

Attacks on LGBT people are sometimes based on or linked to prejudices surrounding HIV and AIDS, so harassment or abuse concerning HIV and AIDS may also be a homophobic incident.

You don't have to be LGBT to experience a homophobic incident. For example, you may be abused or harassed because someone thinks you're LGBT, or because you have friends who are LGBT.

What is hate crime?

Hate crime is crime motivated by prejudice against a particular group of people. If a person stands trial for hate crime, the court can take into account the fact that their crime was motivated by prejudice and can give them a heavier sentence as a result.

Under the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009, crimes motivated by prejudice about a person's disability, sexual orientation or transgender status will be treated as hate crimes. This means that courts may impose an alternative or more severe sentence if the reason for the crime was prejudice because of the victim being (or appearing to be) LGBT.

How do I report an incident to the police?

To contact the police, dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police station and ask to speak to an officer and report a crime .

People are often reluctant to come forward if they feel they have been victimised because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but the police should handle your complaint sympathetically and discreetly. All Scottish forces now have LGBT liaison officers, who work in partnership with LGBT agencies to break down barriers and increase the trust and confidence of the LGBT community to report all crimes and incidents, and who offer advice and assistance on LGBT related issues.

However, if you don't feel confident reporting an incident directly, all Scottish police forces also have remote reporting schemes. These enable you to make a report to a third party agency (such as the Lothian and Strathclyde Gay and Lesbian Switchboards or LGBT Youth Scotland) who will then forward your report to the police. To find out more, call an LGBT helpline or your local police force, or follow the links below:

What happens when I report a homophobic or transphobic incident?

The police should investigate all homophobic incidents reported. To do this, they'll need to interview you and take a statement detailing as much information as possible about the incident. The police will also need to question the person or people who have harassed you. If there is enough evidence, they will charge and arrest them.

The police will then send a report to the procurator fiscal. The procurator fiscal works in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and is responsible for deciding whether or not to prosecute someone who has been charged with committing a crime. Once they have done so, you will no longer be able to drop the charges.

The procurator fiscal will prosecute the person who has harassed you if they believe that:

  • there is enough evidence for them to be tried in court, and
  • it is in the 'public interest' to do so.

Otherwise, they may decide not to take the case any further, or issue a written warning or a fine.

The Scottish Victims of Crime website has more information about police procedure and what happens if the person is prosecuted and the case goes to trial. The Witnesses in Scotland website tells you more about what happens if you have to go to court as a witness, including special measures you may be able to get if you are particularly vulernable.

What if the person isn't charged?

Even if there isn't enough evidence for the police to charge the person, it's a good idea to have the incident down on record. This will help strengthen your case in the future, if the person continues to harass or abuse you, or it may help the police build a case against them if they go on to harm someone else. If you're worried about the person harassing you further, you could consider taking action in the sheriff court to keep them away from you (see 'what court action can I take' below).

Where can I get help and support?

Reporting a crime and going to court can be difficult and stressful, and you may feel you need some advice and support. Victim Support Scotland offers practical help and emotional support to anyone who has been a victim of crime. You can also get help and support from the Crown Office's Victim Information and Advice service (VIA).

Can I get compensation?

If you have been injured as a result of violent crime, you may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

What legal action can I take?

If the police are unable to charge the person with a crime, you may be able to take action in the sheriff court, to keep the person away from you and prevent them from harassing you further. There are two court orders you can consider applying for:

  • a non-harassment order
  • an interdict.

What is a non-harassment order?

A non-harassment order bans the person who's been harassing you from behaving in a certain way (for example, making nuisance phone calls or sending you offensive texts or emails). If they continue to behave in this way, they will be committing a criminal offence and the police will be able to arrest them.

The behaviour you want to prevent must have taken place at least twice before you can raise an action for harassment. This may be behaviour which is not in itself unlawful, but which is making you feel distressed or afraid. For example, you may be able to take out a non-harassment order to prevent a neighbour from shouting abusive comments at you in the street.

Find out more about non-harassment orders.

What is an interdict?

An interdict is a civil court order that tells a person not to do something or to stay away from you, your children or a specific place, such as your home. If a person doesn't stick to an interdict, the police might be able to arrest them if the interdict gives them the power to do so.

Read more about interdicts.

Can I get compensation?

If you have suffered loss as a result of the harassment (for example, if your property has been damaged or you have been forced to take time off work and have lost earnings), you may be able to raise a claim for damages - your solicitor will be able to tell you more about this.

Where can I get help to take legal action?

Before taking any action, you'll need to get legal advice from a solicitor. A solicitor can tell you whether or not your application is likely to be successful, and can apply for a non-harassment order or interdict on your behalf.

Solicitors are entitled to charge a fee for the advice they give you and any work they do on your behalf, so remember to ask how much it will cost when you phone to make an appointment. If you receive benefits or are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with court costs. You may be able to get a free initial interview with a solicitor through Citizens Advice or a law centre.

What if I need to move away?

If the situation is unbearable, you may wish to leave the area altogether. If you rent from the council or a housing association, you can apply for a transfer to a new area . You should get priority on the waiting list if you need to move because of harassment or fear of violence but unfortunately, due to housing shortages, you may have to wait a long while before you're offered a home.

The section on finding a place to live has more information on your housing options.

Remember, if you currently rent your home, you must end your tenancy properly before you move. If you need to move before your tenancy ends, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes to cover your notice period.

If you have nowhere safe and permanent to go, you can apply to the council as homeless. The council should offer you somewhere temporary to stay while they look into your situation. If you have had to leave your home due to harassment or fear of violence, you should be classed as being in 'priority need' and being unintentionally homeless, which means the council are more likely to offer you a permanent home.

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