Hate Crimes Theories in the Gwen Araujo Case

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Gwen Araujo was born February 24, 1985 under the name Eddie Araujo. However, this was not who Gwen was. She was a trans woman. Moreover, Gwen was victim of a heinous hate crime and was murdered on October 3, 2002 for simply being who she was. Gwen was seventeen years old when she murdered by four men in Newark, California (Rook, 2016). But let’s review what led to the night of Gwen’s murder. Gwen met her assailants, Michael Magidson, Jose Mer©l, Jaron Nabors, and Jason Cazares, during the summer of 2002. During this time she was also undergoing hormone replacement therapy (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018). However, it is reported that she had oral sex with Magidson and anal sex with Mer©l, but was able to keep the secret of her male sex organs by claiming to be menstruating and keeping the men’s hands away from her private areas (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018). Later on the night Gwen would die, she attended a party at a house rented by Mer©l. It was on this night at the party that the men would discover Gwen’s secret via forced inspection and this angered the men to the point of violence (Rook, 2016). The autopsy showed Gwen died of strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head.

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The men disposed of Gwen’s body four hours away and buried her near the Sierra Nevada Mountains (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018). Gwen’s disappearance and murder went unreported for days by both the men and other partygoers until Nabors became distraught and led authorities to the grave site in exchange for his guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter and a promise to testify at the trial (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018, slide 17). Nabors was sentenced to eleven years in prison. Magidson and Mer©l were both convicted of second-degree murder, but not convicted of the hate crime enhancement allegations, they were both sentenced for fifteen years (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018, slide 17). Cazares was sentenced to six years in prison and pleaded no contest to manslaughter (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 5, Class 7 Slurs, 2018, slide 17). The psychological theory is a micro level theory and it is what most people think of when they think of hate crimes (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018). Most theoretical accounts of hate crime assume a necessary psychological cause because leading definitions of hate crime presuppose individual hostility toward the victim’s social group (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018, slide 10).

The functional approach serves some kind of need and thus acts as sort of a coping mechanism and is mentally beneficial to the person (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018). Looking at Gwen’s case through this lens it is possible that once the men found out Gwen was trans, they thought violence was the only way to cope with the fact that they had sexual interactions with a trans person, or in their eyes, a biological man. In addition to this, it is also possible that the four men involved in Gwen’s murder had different motivations for committing the crime, but yet, they still committed the same crime, which can be understood via the functional approach. For this case one of the probable benefits is the expressive function of the psychological theory. To be more specific, the defensive part of the expressive function is defined as lowering a person’s anxiety resulting from her or his unconscious psychological conflicts, such as those connected to sexuality and gender (Ghazi-Tehran, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018, slide 14). In relation to this case the fact that they had sexual interactions with a trans women could symbolize unacceptable part of the self (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018, slide 15).

I believe the men felt confused and betrayed by the fact that they had sexual interaction with a trans woman and because of their confusion, acted in anger. Along those lines that they had to show the other guys in the group they were not gay, even though they had sex with Gwen. In addition, it is possible that the value expressive, which is also an expressive function of the psychological theory, played a role. The value expressive enables people to affirm their belief in and adherence to important values that are closely related to their self-concepts (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018, slide 14). So it could be that one of the four men just felt very negatively towards the trans and the LGBTQ+ community and took this negative emotion out on Gwen. Finally, there is also the likelihood that because this crime involved a group of guys that it could actually be a case of social expressive, which is another expressive function. Social expressive strengthens one’s sense of belonging to a groups and helps an individual gain acceptance, approval, or love from other people whom he or she considers important (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 6, Class 8 Individual Theory, 2018, slide 14).

So it could be that one or more of the men continued this act because he felt that he had to do it to gain or remain accepted by the other men. Interactional theories of hate crime as the name suggests focuses on all the different types of human interaction, in addition to its structure, content, and the process of it (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 7, Class 10 Social Psychological Theory, 2018). The interactional theory is basically described as being an intense form of doing difference (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 7, Class 10 Social Psychological Theory, 2018). Within the interactional theory, doing difference or, in this case, doing gender is the most represented in this case. Doing gender was the early basis of West and Zimmerman’s idea of doing difference. The definition of doing gender is the idea that in Western culture, gender, rather than being an innate quality of individuals, is a psychologically ingrained social construct that actively surfaces in everyday human interaction (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 7, Class 10 Social Psychological Theory, 2018, slide 25). However, the reason this case happened was because the perpetrators viewed Gwen as doing gender wrong. Because in their eyes she was a he, but he was living as a woman, which in their minds was wrong.

In the article A General Theories of Hate Crime? Strain, Doing Difference and Self Control (2011) the author explains doing difference as the following example: For instance, if gay people make public their sexual orientation through visible displays of affection or by opening establishments patronised predominantly by gay people, they threaten the heteronormativity of civilised society. In response to this blatant deviation from society’s sexual norm, many people will wish to suppress gay people for fear that they will increasingly encroach upon society’s sexual identity (p. 318). Similarly, people feel the need to suppress trans people, like Gwen, out of fear. The article continues to discuss how then hate crimes and other acts of violence are used to attempt to punish members of the LGBTQ+ community and others for trying to live differently than the social and cultural norms and boundaries (Walters, 2011). In the case of Gwen, it is completely possible the four men were using violence to punish Gwen for being trans and living a life not socially accepted by their idea of society’s norms. Thus, the idea of doing difference is really just an overarching fear of people being different that the mass majority. One of the theories in which this case is not is an economic theory. The economic theory traces violence to economic conditions and adverse economic conditions to a source of social strain (Ghazi-Tehrani, Week 8, Class 11 Sociological and Economic Theories, 2018, slide 25).

This crime, however, was not economically motivated because there was no threat to the men’s ability to attain wealth or a job, nor was the crime impacted by other economic conditions, such as an economic downturn. Magidson and Mer©l claimed trans panic defense and thus avoided the hate crime enhancement. The trans panic defense is a variation of the gay panic defense, which, refers to a situation in which a heterosexual individual loses control and commits a violent crime against a gay individual when faced with unwanted sexual advances. (Tomei & Cramer, 2016, p. 217). The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act was enacted in 2006 and now exists to hopefully limit further gay/trans panic claims. Moreover, it was strengthened in 2014 when a law further prevented the use of this defense. Dylan Vade is cited to have stated, Transgender people do not deceive. We are who we are (Wodda & Panfil, 2015, p. 927). The theories that relate to this case are psychological and interactional, and there are possibly even more. But all the theories and logic do not negate the fact that a beautiful woman died for being who she was. Regardless of what the court said, this case should be viewed for what it is: a heinous hate crime. But after such horrendous crimes like the cases of Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr., and Gwen Araujo we have luckily seen legal reform in acts such as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act.

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Hate Crimes Theories in the Gwen Araujo Case. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved December 7, 2022 , from
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