The police in England and Wales have recorded more than eighty thousand hate crimes in 2016/17, a twenty-nine percent increase since the previous year (Home Office, 2017). Burnett (2017) argues that it is a result of the Brexit referendum outcome. However, O’Neill (2017) suggests that although the increase in recorded hate crimes seems to be around the EU referendum and the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack, the improvement of police in recording the incidents might also have been an influencing factor. The importance of the recording efficiency becomes clear when comparing the statistics to the ones of police in the USA which has only recorded a little over six thousand hate crimes in 2016 (FBI, 2016).
Hate crime is a type of crime which is motivated by hate (McLaughin & Muncie, 2013). However, it is still a crime and shares many features with it such as being socially constructed (Henry, 2013). Recognising an incident as a hate crime is conditioned to the recognition of hate as a motive. This recognition was initially in the jurisdiction of police, but it is now based on the victim’s perception (Hall, 2013). This simple issue is barely scratching the surface of the complexities of recognising hate crime. It makes it difficult to record it accurately, and therefore, take appropriate actions towards tackling it. The role of academics along with police officers and community is crucial in responding to hate crime. It can help educating the public and equip the authorities with extensive knowledge (Hall, 2014).
The victimology of hate crime is the next step of complexities around this phenomenon. Although there are many victimological approaches towards victims of crime, not all of them are completely compatible with the victims of hate crime. The main reason is that the victims of hate crime are being targeted for their diverse identity aspects, and it is unreasonable to blame them for their identity characteristics.
This report explains the complexities of defining hate crime from different angles. It will then describe its features with a theoretical approach towards its victimisation. It will continue to review some of the responses from various involved parties and finally, will evaluate the current theories and discourses around defining, understanding and responding to hate crime.
McLaughlin (2013) defines hate crime as a criminal act that is stimulated by either prejudice or hatred towards one of the protected characteristics of a person or property. Disability, race, and religion are some of the protected characteristics that the Equality Act 2010 covers. It is also worth mentioning that the commission of hate crime is not limited to the presence of hate, but also prejudice and bias (Chakraborti & Garland, 2015). Defining crime is complicated in general and is notably more complicated when it comes to hate crime (Hall, Hate Crime, 2013). This complexity is because of the factors involved such as recognising hate (Hall, Hate Crime, 2013), identifying harm (Chakraborti, 2017), intent (Green & Pemberton, 2017), and legislation (Bakalis, 2017). In the following, the roles of ‘hate’, ‘legislation’, and ‘harm’ in recognising and defining hate crime are briefly described.
Hall (2013) explains that the decision process to whether a crime has been motivated by hate has changed in England and Wales since 1986. He describes that it was primarily the police that had to recognise an incident as racially motivated until the Macpherson report removed this discretion by introducing a definition that instead focused on the victim’s perception of hate. The problem arises here is that research (Wickes et al., 2017) has shown that perception of hate differs amongst disadvantaged or ethnically diverse communities.
It is also essential that legislation clarifies the threshold passed which an incident becomes a hate crime. This clarification is particularly helpful in distinguishing between anti-social behaviour and low-level but persistent harassments (Chakraborti, 2017; Garland, 2011). This particular issue has been raised in the Fiona Pilkington investigation report (IPCC, 2009).
The minority groups that are more prone to hate crime victimisation do not usually have much confidence in police service. It mainly makes it difficult for the restorative justice methods to reach the victims and identify various harms inflicted by hate crime and take steps to repair them (Chakraborti & Garland, 2015). The complexity of recognising the extent of harm in hate crime is that the damage is not necessarily limited to the immediate victims. It also extends to the promotion of hatred and division amongst communities (Home Office, 2016).
Hall (2013) explains that hate crime is not a new issue and has always existed. However, it is the identity politics, public concerns, and long-lasting and disproportionate impacts of hate crime that have led to its formal recognition. The expanding of the internet and increasing social media users have also been accompanied by a spike in expressions of hate (Costello, Hawdon, & Ratliff, 2017). Blaine (2008) suggests that public concerns and impacts of hate crime are more than just official statistics and their depth and extent should be explored by victim-focused qualitative research.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales pays attention to the experiences of victims and seeks to find the dark figure of crime using face-to-face interviews. The survey has also identified many features particular to hate crime. Victims of hate crime experience a greater extent of harm compared to non-hate crime victims due to its emotional impact (Chakraborti, 2017). They are also more prone to repetitive victimisation or are at least in fear of future attacks (Hall, 2013). Rock (2017) explains that some data about victims such as their fear, perception, and experience of crime are not visible in police crime records. He argues that the victimological features in survey results have been studied from the viewpoints of Victim Precipitation (p. 35) and Routine Activity Theory (p. 44).
Victim Precipitation is inspired by the ‘Duet Theory of Crime’ and argues that the role of victim is not limited to the criminal act but extends to provocative interactions before and after the incident that forms the type and severity of the crime (Rock, 2017). Funnell (2014) argues that the victims of hate crime seem to be always at the risk of losing their ‘ideal victim’ status. Therefore, self-identified victims often gather evidence to enforce their position. However, some of them will engage in retaliatory activities if they lose confidence in the authorities (P. 378). The point in all these cases, as Holstein and Miller (1990) argue, is that although the definition of hate crime outlines who the victim is, it is the everyday interactions that define who the victim can be.
These interactions, however, are not limited to the offender and victim but also extends to the witnesses and police. Some of the examples of this argument are:
The impacts of institutional racism in the case of Stephen Lawrence (Macpherson, 1999).
Lack of efficient communication between agencies in the case of Fiona Pilkington (IPCC, 2009).
Wrong perception of neighbours that infuriated the murderer in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi (McCallum, 2017).
It is these interactions and everyday activities that are the subject of the Routine Activity Theory.
Routine Activity Theory (RTA) argues that for a crime to happen, there must be a potential offender, a vulnerable victim, and a suitable opportunity (Miro, 2014). It focuses on the everyday activities of victims and studies the circumstances that give predators a chance for committing the crime (Cohen & Felson, 1979). Recent research (Costello et al., 2016; Hawdon et al., 2014) have investigated what makes the victims more prone to online hate exposure and found support for this theory. Similar research (Hawdon et al., 2017) has shown that in the absence of efficient protective means, online users are at risk of victimisation regardless of their conflict resolution style (self-help by confrontation or tolerance). It explains that the increasing chance of victimisation is a “depressing realisation” due to the inability to control cyberspace adequately (p. 262). This theory does not directly blame the victims for participating in social media but holds them responsible for the activities that increase their chance of victimisation.
Responding to hate crime can be examined from the perspectives of many involved parties such as victims, academics, policy-makers, communities, and the offenders.
The victims can respond by retaliation if they have lost their confidence in the police, which will increase their risk of criminalisation (Funnell, 2014). They can choose to confront the abuser on platforms such as social media, which will increase their chance of further victimisation (Costello, Hawdon, & Ratliff, 2017). Moreover, they can choose to fall back into isolation and limit their engagement with the community, which decreases the opportunity for the community to understand and overcome their biases towards the victim (Benier, 2017).
Hall (2014) explains that the cooperation of policymakers and academics is an important factor in tackling hate crime. Understanding the working practices and cultures of both sides is ‘crucial’. He argues that one of the reasons is either time or knowledge which policymakers have less of both comparing with academics. In the absence of academic influence, policies tend to be shaped based on common sense. Thus, the academics can help with the theoretical and empirical aspects of a phenomenon to develop better policies (pp.23-27).
The communities in cooperation with the criminal justice system can conduct restorative justice methods in different hate crime cases. Walter (2014) argues that bringing the victim and offender together through mediators can help transforming the damaged relationship by developing emotional connections which will also reduce the chance of repeating the incidents. However, the author mentions that there are many risks involving the wellbeing of the victims during face to face meetings. He continues that the offenders’ prejudice might run so deep in their worldview that cannot be altered by the methods of restorative justice.
Hate crime is influenced by many factors such as politics of the state, police procedures and attitudes, community engagement and the relationship between the victim and perpetrator.
In addition to the arguments of Hall (2013) and Chakraborti (2017) about the roles of police and legislation, one should not dismiss the impact of the state and in particular the narratives of the competing governments throughout their existence. Burnett (2017, p. 85) argues that the spike in hate crime rate after the Brexit is a result of the nationalist election debates. It is also because of some policies of the successive government, such as demanding immigration status confirmation for pregnant women before giving birth or requiring the schools to declare the nationality of pupils (Burnett, 2017). The same argument can be drawn upon the election of Donald Trump in the USA. However, the slight increase of hate crime shown in the police data (FBI, 2016) does not seem to match the extent of the reality.
Hate crime is still under-reported, and authorities often deal with it inadequately (Korotana, 2017; University of Leicester, 2017). It can be due to a set of problems in police, from the recording officer to the supervising ranks (McCallum, 2017). Giannasi (2014) argues that expanding the relationship between universities and organisations like police is a good way to increase the collaboration which will benefit the organisation.
It is good that Victimological theories focus on the role of the victim in a crime. However, it is unreasonable to blame the victims for their diverse identity aspects such as religion, race or mental health condition. Moreover, the harm of hate crime is not limited to the individual victim. Chakraborti and Garland (2015) argue that hate crime can be a way of sending messages to the groups which victims are presumably affiliated with, that they are not welcomed and tolerated.
Hate crime is a concept that is hard to define (Chakraborti & Garland, 2015). Being a relatively new concept, it is still a form of crime, and shares its features such as being socially constructed and continually contested (Henry, 2013). Recognising hate is problematic as if the police is responsible for this task, the victims’ experience will be overlooked, and if the victims are to declare hate and prejudice as the perceived motive, then they face the challenge of proving their victim status. Meanwhile, the political and social factors add to the complexity of this phenomenon. The social problems such as unemployment and austerity as well as political issues such as the Brexit or the election of Donald Trump can lead to a rise in hate crime. It is not necessarily an increase in the element of hate but a politically and socially accepted narrative.
Responding to hate crime seems to be like a series of chain links comprised of, academics, policy-makers, police, community, and last but not least the individual victim and offender. The actions and attitudes of one impact the other parties. Increasing role of academics in the process of making policies and educating both public and police might have a direct impact towards more effective policies, efficient procedures, educated communities, and increasingly tolerant members of the public.
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