Defining hate
Under federal law, and in most states, sex and gender are protected classes in hate crime laws. Not in Massachusetts.
By Kevin Cullen, Globe Columnist

Thanks to advances in DNA technology and some dogged detective and lab work by the Boston Police Department and the FBI, a lawyer from New Jersey is facing charges that he raped three women and tried to rape a fourth in Charlestown in 2007 and 2008.

Matthew Nilo allegedly targeted his victims because they were women. At least one of the other five accused rapists arrested over the last 15 months by Boston police using the FBI’s investigative genetic genealogy testing, William Mancortes, is an alleged serial rapist, posing as a ride-share driver to target vulnerable women.

You can make a strong argument that serial rapists are, by definition, motivated by hatred of women, but women are not covered as a category of potential victims under the state’s hate crime statute. Neither are men.

Under current state law, offenders who target people because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability can face hate crime charges that carry additional punishment.

But sex and gender are not cited in the Massachusetts hate crimes law, even though gender was added to the federal hate crimes law back in 2009. More than 30 states cover gender or sex in their laws. Massachusetts is the only New England state that does not.

That could, and should, change. Senator William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, filed a bill that would add sex and gender as a protected class category to the state hate crime statute. Brownsberger said he expects the bill to get a hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee this year.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,’’ Brownsberger said. “Some crimes are committed out of pure misogyny.’’

Brownsberger is at a loss to explain why sex and gender weren’t always included. If sex and gender are added to the state law, it would apply to men, also, meaning somebody motivated by misandry could be charged with a hate crime.

Wendy Murphy, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual assault, for years filed a citizen’s petition asking the Legislature to add sex to the state’s hate crime statute, but it never got a hearing. Three years ago, she and her law students at New England Law, where she is co-director of the Women’s and Children’s Advocacy Project, sent letters to every police department in the state, asking for data on bias offenses based on sex.

Murphy said the survey found most departments were unaware they were required by state law to compile such data. That state law requires compiling records of bias crimes based on sex and gender but doesn’t provide for the prosecution of hate crimes based on that category makes no sense.

“We don’t need a study to prove there is hate’’ based on people’s sex and gender, Brownsberger said.

Murphy said it is long overdue to add the category to the state’s hate crime statute.

“I believe women have been excluded from full and equal protection under civil rights and hate crime laws because their suffering is so massive and prolific we don’t have enough resources to deal with the problem,’’ Murphy said. “If we valued women as full equal persons, we would never exclude them from equal protection of hate crime laws.’’

Murphy said it’s crucial that the Legislature amend the hate crimes law to specifically add the word sex, as it is the word used to cover women in hundreds of existing Massachusetts laws.

“If only gender is added to the law, courts could easily rule that it does not cover women,’’ she said. “The word sex is everywhere in Massachusetts statutes. Gender, not so much.’’

Plymouth District Attorney Tim Cruz, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said his group will review the legislation soon.

“From my own standpoint, I have seen violent crimes against women that could be considered gender-bias motivated,’’ Cruz said.

Adding the new category “to the hate crimes statute would give us an additional charge to consider when facts and evidence support it,’’ he said.

Better late than never.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at