Under the Magnifying Glass: A Dissection of Hate Crime
Chapter 1: An Overview of Hate Crime
Hate crime, also referred to as bias-motivated crime, is when a person is attacked for being associated with a certain social, ethnic, or religious organisation, or for their sexual orientation, nationality, physical appearance, handicap, or gender identity.
Hate crimes are often considered to be 'message crimes', where the offender uses the crime to send a clear message to the targeted person or group.
Hate crimes involve a diverse number of groups. As an example of how far-reaching the problem can be, police in Greater Manchester in 2013 began recording attacks on Goths, Punks and other alternative culture groups as hate crimes.
It was only as recently as 1998 that hateful behaviour towards a victim based on membership of a racial or religious group was made an aggravation in sentencing for specific crimes by the Crime and Disorder Act for England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland has the Public Order Act 1987, which serves the same purpose.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 puts the onus on a court to consider whether a crime which is not actually specified by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is racially or religiously aggravated. The court has to consider whether the offence committed was based on hostility towards a person’s presumed sexual orientation, disability or other factors.
Hate Crime in Numbers
There are two primary sources of data when it comes to assessing the number of hate crimes that have been reported throughout England and Wales. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and official police recorded crime.
According to the survey data collated between 2011 and 2013 by the CSEW, there were an estimated 278,000 hate crimes perpetrated during this period.
Racially motivated hate crimes accounted for an average of 154,000 of the reported incidents, and religiously motivated hates crimes represented 70,000 of the estimated total. The majority of hate crime incidents comprise assaults that cause minor or no injury at all and acts of vandalism. Together these make up about two-thirds of the 278,000 estimated figure.
The problem with trying to evaluate the true extent and volume of hate crimes is that a disproportionately small number are captured in the survey. For example, it is estimated that only 40% of hate crimes carried out came to the attention of the police. As a result, the figures do not accurately reflect the full extent of the problem.
The level of reporting of hate crimes to police has fallen by 51% since the equivalent surveys were carried out in 2007-2009. However, the fall is not attributed to a decrease in the number of incidents taking place. The more likely problem was that victims believed the police either would not or could not do anything about it.
The estimates and statistics available tell a damning story when the level of hate crime taking place and the criminal proceedings that result from these offences are compared. Here is a summary of the relevant figures for 2012/2013:
- Estimated hate crimes according to CSEW 278,000
- Actual hate crimes recorded by the police 42,236
- Estimated racially/religiously motivated hate crimes 185,000
- Actual recorded racially/religiously aggravated offences 30,234
- Detections of racially or religiously aggravated offences 13,768
- Actual court proceedings issued for racially or religiously aggravated offences 8,898
- Actual convictions for racially or religiously aggravated offences 6,458
Reasons Behind Hate Crime
Hate crimes come in many forms. The top three motivators of hate crimes in America are:
- Racial Prejudice and Discrimination – Prejudice occurs when a person irrationally directs their anger towards a group, person, or entire race. Recent studies show that racism is a learned rather than innate emotion. The 'us' and 'them' attitude has a foundation in ancient times, and is territorial in nature.
- Many hate organisations still exist today. In the UK there is a so-called white supremacist group called the Aryan Strike Force, which is considered by its members to be the most racist and extreme neo-Nazi movement in Britain.
- Actions that could potentially be perceived as racial prejudice and discrimination can come from a variety of sources. Even the Home Office was subjected to criticism in 2013 for deploying a series of vans with a message urging illegal immigrants to 'go home or face arrest'.
- Despite the perceived profile of someone with a racial prejudice, as many a 57% of offenders of racially motivated crimes identified in a British Crime survey were not white.
- Religious and Political Prejudice – People are sometimes targeted because of their religious or political beliefs. Sometimes a spike in hate crimes can occur following a terrorist attack, as was the case following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the July 7 bomb attacks in London, where muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent were the focus of a near 600% spike in hate crimes.
- Sexual Orientation – Although the laws are now changing for gay couples who wish to marry, homosexuals and bisexuals are often victims of prejudice, violence, and discrimination. Homophobia is a serious threat to those who want to be free to express their sexual orientation. Past attitudes have meant that children sometimes learn this type of discrimination as it is passed down from generation to generation.
Recent Hate Crime Cases in the United Kingdom
The murder of soldier Lee Rigby in May 2013 caused a huge rise in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the UK. Hundreds of anti-Muslim offences were carried out throughout the country in 2013, such as the petrol bomb attack outside the Grimsby Islamic Cultural Centre. The fatal attack on Rigby by two Islamic extremists in Woolwich, south-east London, was the perceived motivation for so-called revenge attacks.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) reported that just five days after Rigby’s murder, 71 separate incidents were reported to its national community tension team. The role of APCO is to improve reporting mechanisms through the development of its True Vision website, which provides information to victims and allows people to report incidents online.
Liam Ferrar from Leicester was successfully prosecuted in 2013 for leaving a frozen pig's head outside a Muslim community centre with the intention of causing harassment, alarm and distress, according to the charges brought against him. He received a suspended sentence and was ordered to complete 250 hours of community service.
Robyn Browne was a pre-operative transsexual who worked as a prostitute in the London area. Browne was murdered by James Hopkins from Leeds in 1997, but Hopkins was only caught and sentenced in 2007.
There have been a number of similar high-profile transsexual murder trials. These include the case of Neil McMillan, who received a life sentence for murdering Andrea Waddell in Brighton, and Leon Fyle, who was convicted of murdering Destiny Lauren in North London.
Chapter 2: The Anatomy of Hate Crimes
Hate crimes are sometimes perceived as being random and sudden. However, they are usually premeditated crimes. Hate crime incidents can include:
- Property damage
- Offensive graffiti
- Verbal abuse and insults
- Hate mail and social media abuse
- Physical assault
A hate crime law is a law intended to deter such violence. Hate crime laws are distinct from laws against hate speech. Hate crime laws enhance the penalties associated with criminal conduct, while hate speech laws criminalise a category of speech.
Do Hate Crime Laws Deter Criminals?
Is it possible to successfully criminalise hate? Law makers agree that laws can influence beliefs, and beliefs shape behaviour, but hate crime laws are meant to justify and punish prejudicial offences.
The enhanced penalties may be something for criminals to think about, but the question remains as to whether or not stronger punishments actually keep them from committing acts of hate.
Most sociological experts agree that the place to change social attitudes and help people become more tolerant of others is not in the prison system but in the school system, in activist groups, in church, and even at the kitchen table.
Hate crime laws may help people feel safer and believe that the legal system and law enforcement authorities are concerned for their safety. However, there is a big difference between feeling safe and being safe.
Indeed, many people think that even if there was a state or federal hate crime law in place, it is highly unlikely it would have prevented the murder, so it is difficult to state with certainty that hate crime laws are an effective deterrent.
Chapter 3: Data Collection: Recording and Legislating Hate Crimes
There have been efforts and changes in the law in recent years to create legal definitions of what constitutes hate crime. A good example of this is the introduction of section 146 of The Criminal Justice Act for England and Wales in 2003.
This law, which came into effect in 2005, relates to homophobic hate crime and homophobic hate incidents. It states that a court must treat hostility based on sexual orientation as an aggravating factor when contemplating the seriousness of an offence. This is determined by whether:
At the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim.
That the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation.
If an offence has been motivated by the offender’s hostility or prejudice towards the victim based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, then the judge is required to treat this as an aggravating factor and state in open court any additional elements of the sentence that they are giving specifically for this aggravation.
Scotland introduced the Offences Aggravated by Prejudice (Scotland Bill) in 2009, This brings them in line with the hate crime legislation already in existence in England and Wales, and it includes homophobic and transphobic hate crimes.
The Association of Chief Police Officers works on the basis that there is a distinction between a hate incident and a hate crime.
A hate incident is defined as:
Any non-crime incident which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by hostility or prejudice.
A hate crime is defined as:
Any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate based on a person’s sexual orientation.
There is current disparity in the law regarding different types of hate crimes. Perpetrators of racially and religiously motivated hate crimes can be charged with specific offences such as racially or religiously aggravated harassment or assault. However, perpetrators of homophobic hate crimes are charged with an existing offence such as assault, and the homophobic motivation is taken into account during the sentencing process.
Data on hate crime statistics is collected via the Crime Survey for England and Wales and police recorded crimes figures that are supplied to the Office for National Statistics.
Hate Crime and Punishment
Hate crimes receive stiffer penalties because although offenders often target just one person, that person represents a bias against an entire group based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion or other characteristics.
There are many laws that prohibit hate crimes. However, proving that bias exists is extremely difficult.
- Laws protecting an institutional target – These are laws that prohibit institutional vandalism, such as damaging or defacing a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque.
- Laws to protect people based on their membership of a specified group – These types of laws make it a crime to threaten or use violence against a person or persons because of their membership of a protected class.
- Laws that add additional penalties when the crime has been prosecuted as an assault or under another general criminal law – In such cases, the defendant receives sentencing enhancements, which impose increased (aggravated) penalties because the defendant has committed the crime due to bias against the victim.
Not every crime committed against a racial minority or a LGBT person is a hate crime. The prosecutor must convince the judge or jury that the defendant who committed the underlying criminal act was motivated by bias. It’s a challenge to prove that the defendant acted with hate crime intent unless the defendant confesses to police or others that they committed the crime because of bias.
Proving the Case of Bias
Other than the defendant’s own statements, evidence of bias can include:
- Membership in a group that encourages hatred for specific groups, like a black separatist group or an online Facebook group that opposes homosexuality.
- Possession of symbolism or literature with a connection to bias, such as anti-semitic texts or anti-gay pamphlets.
- Artwork, writings, graffiti, or tattoos of the defendant.
- Use of biased slurs or graffiti during or at the scene of the crime.
- The date of the incident if it coincides with a significant holiday or anniversary associated with the perceived bias.
- Identical hate crimes that the defendant has committed.
Is It Possible to Show Undeniable Intent?
If a group of young men vandalises an empty store, this does not mean they did so because the owner was homosexual; they may simply have seen the opportunity presented by an abandoned building. The prosecution must provide proof that the men targeted the building because of the victim’s race, colour, religion or for some other reason to demonstrate it was a hate crime.
The defendant’s use of racial or ethnic slurs during the commission of the crime, or the defendant’s admission that they were motivated by bias in order to carry out the offence, can help to prove that it was a hate crime.
In practice, prosecutors tend to seek hate crime convictions only in cases where there is strong evidence of bias on the part of the defendant. For instance, in the vandalism example above, the defendant's spray-painted slogans of hatred relating to the shopkeeper's sexual orientation would be powerful evidence that these feelings motivated the suspect to commit the crime.
Prosecuting Hate Crimes
A hate crime is normally an add-on to an existing criminal act, such as vandalism or arson. The authorities sometimes don’t report common crimes like assault, property damage, and even more grave offences as hate crimes. In such cases, the prosecution must simply prove that the accused committed a crime without proving that the defendant had the intent or a motive to commit a hate crime.
However, if a hate crime is proven, the judge will place additional penalties on the resulting sentence.
The recent changes in legislation have made a big difference by including the element of intent in hate crime laws. Courts are able to issue higher penalties for the perpetrator, which may help deter future acts of hatred.
In addition, survey data collected by the CSEW will help to monitor the level of hate crime incidents and measure this against the number of actual prosecutions, in order to measure the level of progress that is being made.
Local police can also play their part in providing information and educating the public on the following ways to combat hate crime:
- Recognising Hate Crimes – Although some hate crimes are obvious, such as a swastika on the side of a building or the burning of a cross, other crimes are more subtle. Perpetrators are good at concealing hate crimes as common crimes, so people need to know what a hate crime looks like and the warning signs to look out for.
- Intervening or Preventing Hate Crimes – The local authorities need to teach people how to prevent hate crimes or deal with crimes that they come upon in progress. For example, teenagers should learn how to intervene when they see someone bullying a classmate, and adults need to know how to handle racism or homophobia in the workplace. It may start with nothing more than a crude comment, but it can escalate to more serious acts. If it can be stopped before it gets out of control, hate crime can be significantly reduced.
- Reporting Hate Crimes – Systems are needed to make it simple to report a suspected hate crime. Once in place, the public should be educated on how to use that system, and encouraged to do so. The focus here is to make sure everyone feels safe when reporting acts of hatred to local police forces.
- Dealing with Objectionable Online Content – People need to have the tools to deal with objectionable or damaging online content aimed at people and organisations based on race, religion or sexual orientation. For example, most people don’t know that they can report unacceptable website content directly to the web hosting company. Sites like Whoishostingthis.com provide a tool they can use to track down the hosting company of any website. Armed with the proper contact information, they can then get in touch with the host to ask them to remove the content.
Chapter 4: Hate Crime Laws
America has tried to present itself as a driving force for the rest of the world in tackling all aspects of hate. By analysing some the laws that different states have introduced and the various acts passed through congress, we can get an idea of what needs to be done in the UK in order to reach the same levels of protection for our citizens.
State Hate Crime Laws
Hate crime laws vary from state to state. However, state hate crime laws have a tendency to impose tougher penalties on criminals who target their victims because of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
For example, if a criminal assaults a person because that person is homosexual, that crime would most likely be a hate crime. Typically, state hate crime statutes serve as penalty enhancement statutes. This means that they increase the penalty for an offence if the victim or target is intentionally selected for violence because of his or her personal characteristics.
Each state has valuable tools at its disposal to fight bias crimes and civil rights violations. States derive their civil rights enforcement powers from case laws, as well as civil, hate crimes, and criminal statutes. Many state hate crime laws impose enhanced criminal penalties for bias-related incidents.
The Law of the Land
Since 1968, the U.S. federal law has covered a limited class of hate crimes, including:
- Crimes committed on the basis of race, religion, or national origin.
- Crimes against victims engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting, attending school, or other federally-protected liberties.
This important civil rights law does not cover crimes motivated by bias against a person’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, or those without some connection to a federally protected activity. That is why the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was necessary.
Advocates for the law urged lawmakers to understand how all violent crimes should be prosecuted swiftly and justly, regardless of motivation.
The Matthew Shepard Act: A Closer Look
President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (P.L. #111-84) into law in 2009. It went into effect immediately as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.
The purpose of the act was to expand on the 1969 United States federal hate crime laws to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The Matthew Shepard act enables the government to provide grants and assistance to state and local authorities that are investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.
When Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in 1998, the Laramie, Wyoming, police department requested assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice. At the time, federal law did not cover crimes motivated by anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT ) sentiment, so the department could not help. The prosecution was so expensive that Laramie had to furlough its law enforcement officers.
This act ensures that local law enforcement has the resources needed to address hate crimes on a broader scale across the board. While it expands on the federally protected classes, it also provides a layer of protection within the civil rights landscape.
Notable provisions of the relatively new federal law include:
- Giving assistance to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials during criminal prosecutions and investigations, including technical and forensic support.
- Expanding statistical data collection to include information on crimes committed by or directed against juveniles.
- Through the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, authorizing grants for programs to train local law enforcement officers how to stop hate crimes committed by juveniles.
- Providing reports on federal mandatory minimum sentencing by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Why This Act Is So Important
Until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, federal law could not fully protect the LGBT community. Instead, Congress acted or attempted to act to incorporate discrimination into federal law.
In the 1990s, Congress enacted the "Don’t Ask, Don’t, Tell," mandate, which codified the military’s ban on service by openly LGBT people.
Soon after, it passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes same-sex couples from the benefits and protections of federal law and allows states to not recognise marriages of same-sex couples. Starting in 2004 and continuing through 2006, Congress twice attempted to enact the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would bar any state from licensing or recognising marriages of same-sex couples. Currently, 17 states support gay marriage, with others considering changes to their marriage laws.
Hate crimes legislation and other pro-LGBT bills also face opposition, whether due to hostile leadership in Congress or presidential veto threats. At least Congress has passed legislation that affirms a basic human right for LGBT people – the right to be safe from hate violence.
Chapter 5: What It Feels Like to Be a Victim
Examples of hate crime take place all around us in everyday situations, including on social media.
Stranger Shaming is a phenomenon entirely supported by user groups who use the platform of sites like Facebook. An example of this a Facebook group that calls itself 'Women Who Eat On Tubes'. This is devoted to collecting pictures of women eating on the public transport system without their permission and sharing the images with others within the group. Comments, which are often derogatory, can be made and then viewed online by others, including the victims.
This particular group has somehow amassed a following of 12,000 devotees. The humiliation and distress that this has caused one of the victims, Sophie Wilkinson, which she writes about in her personal account of the incident, provides a very clear feeling of what it is like to be targeted for something as innocent as eating on a tube train and subjected to online abuse.
When Sophie Wilkinson decided to contact the perpetrator who had taken the photo without her permission and request its removal, this simply led to a greater level of abuse and personal comments. It should also raise the question as to whether these acts are a dangerous precursor to even more serious hate crimes.
The British have a particular type of self-deprecating sense of humour. While many of us can see the potential funny side of spotting a commuter asleep on the train and missing their stop, taking a photo of them and posting it in a Facebook group seems to be the tipping point where funny can quickly turn into serious harassment.
Chapter 6: A Cure for Hate Crimes
A Multi-Solution Approach is the Answer
The best way we can all move beyond this culture of violence is to work from the bottom up, not the top down, by addressing the issues of violence and hatred on the most basic level: the community. People need to address the problem of prejudice and hatred within their own communities, neighbourhoods, schools and organisations.
To really combat hate crime, people need to gather to examine the racial, economic, and psychological reasons that produce these crimes, not just the simplistic rhetoric of the word 'hate'.
Online Resources and Tools
According to whoishostingthis.com, if you come across something that is unacceptable or offensive while online, you should contact the website, the webmaster, and, in some cases, the police. If someone is targeting you personally, you should go to your local authorities immediately.
Some website content can be distasteful yet legal, but you can still request to have it removed. This can include text, pictures, videos, or music posted in such a way that aims to spark hatred.
Some large websites that host user content may be unaware that they have questionable material on their servers. Simply notifying them may be all it takes to get the material removed. Taking the time to report objectionable materials is an effective way to reduce hate crime, no matter where you live or where it happens.
Identifying the owners of websites can be a difficult task, especially if they prefer to hide behind anonymity. If attempts to contact or notify the owners are not successful, you can escalate a complaint to the ISP or hosting company. You may find that the hosting company has a policy against such material, and they may make efforts to contact the owners and notify them of these policies.
To identify the company that is hosting the questionable material, you can use this useful tool.
Groups and Associations that Can Assist
There are a number of resources available for those who want to help combat hate crime and for those dealing with hate crime directly. They are as follows:
The Campaign Against Racism and Fascism is not aligned to any political party or tendency. It is run by a collection of individuals with backgrounds from all walks of life who share a commitment to fighting racism and hate crimes.
STOP HATE UK
The leading national organisation in the UK that is working to challenge all forms of hate crime and discrimination through training, education and consultancy.
Human Rights Campaign: Hate Crimes
The goal of this advocacy organisation is to achieve equal rights for LGBT people. Its website provides a variety of resources that relate to fighting hate crime, including legislative initiative reports and the latest news stories. It also has an FAQ page that covers hate crimes.
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)
This organisation promotes fair and accurate representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination due to gender identity and sexual orientation. GLAAD's website has a 'Calls to Action' page to encourage people to report instances of media defamation and to get more involved.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network monitors the climate in various schools for LGBT youth and offers resources for anti-bias education. The website has tools and tips for young people and educators to help schools to be safe places for every student, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
Dennis and Judy Shepard founded this organisation in memory of their 21-year old son, Matthew, who was murdered in an anti-gay hate crime in Wyoming in 1998. The Foundation works within three primary areas: omitting hate, helping youth organisations create environments where young people feel safe to be themselves, and working for the equality of all LGBT Americans.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
This gay rights advocacy organisation watches hate crime statistics. They have constructed a state-by-state status report regarding anti-hate crimes legislation where visitors can learn about specific issues and actions in their state.
Although we have come a long way in recent years, the UK has much work to do to reduce hate crimes. Law officials must report honestly and diligently, and they must work hard to determine if a crime is just a robbery or truly an act of hate. Legislation also needs to be enacted to make sure no one is attacked just because of their personal beliefs, religion, affiliation, or nationality.
Parents, teachers, and religious leaders all need to work together to stop prejudice and intolerance before it begins. We need to discuss the issue and learn to put a stop to hate crimes as a nation. We all need to speak out against hate crime, bigotry, and prejudice. Working together in this way is the only way to reduce the number of hate crimes.