Monday, September 14, 2009

Rethinking Hate Crime

Important new research by criminologists at the University of Leicester challenges existing stereotypes about the nature and impact of hate crime offending. While the term ‘hate crime' conjures up images of violent acts committed by hate-fuelled extremists, the research suggests that many hate crimes are in fact lower-level forms of harassment committed by so-called ‘normal' people who may not necessarily ‘hate' their victim. While the more violent examples of hate crime hit the media and receive widespread attention, the low level, everyday harassment goes unpublicised and, often, unreported, despite it having damaging and long-term consequences for victims, their families and broader communities.

Science Daily reports:
Research by Dr Neil Chakraborti and Mr Jon Garland of the University of Leicester's Department of Criminology offers the most comprehensive examination to date of hate crime in a British rather than American context. The results, along with recommendations for future criminal justice policy are available in ‘Hate Crime: Impact, Causes and Responses' published by Sage.

Dr Chakraborti says: "We would argue that hate crimes are acts of prejudice towards an individual's perceived identity. They are often believed to be ‘message crimes' designed to intimidate the victim's wider minority community. However, contrary to popular opinion, these crimes are not always carried out by right-wing political extremists. It is common for these crimes to be committed by ‘ordinary' members of the public whose prejudices may have been reinforced by the mainstreaming of far-right ideology, such as the ‘British jobs for British workers' slogan. It is also important to realise that it is not just minority ethnic or faith communities who are targeted - victims include gay and transgender communities as well as the disabled."

Through case studies, Neil and Jon's work goes on to explore why it's wrong to associate hate crime solely with violent racism, whether these crimes are motivated exclusively by hate, what types of people are responsible for committing hate crime and the merits of increased sentence tariffs for perpetrators.

Jon Garland says: "What the research suggests is that we need a deeper understanding of what hate crimes actually are, their impact on the victim, who carried them out and, crucially, how they are dealt with by the criminal justice system. There is some evidence that the policing of hate crimes has improved, with the police now prioritising the investigation of such crimes. Relations between the police and minority communities are still problematic, though, and this is one of the main reasons that the majority of hate crimes are not reported to the police. This lack of reporting makes it difficult to accurately ascertain the exact level of these crimes. What we can say is that, from our research, it appears that current levels of hate crime are having devastating effects upon victims."

The research concludes by arguing that ‘hate' is a complex and sometimes inaccurate label to describe the offences with which it is commonly associated. Nevertheless, despite these problems, there are a number of notable developments that have arisen via the hate crime agenda. For example, it can work as a ‘collective banner' around which marginalised groups in society can rally.

Linked to this, the hate crime concept draws attention to the shared vulnerabilities of all minority communities, and not just minority ethnic communities. Moreover, the practical and symbolic value of hate crime legislation as a way of reaffirming society's condemnation of prejudice should not be underestimated.