"Hate Crimes Today: An Age-Old Foe in Modern Dress." APA Online 1998. 9 Dec. 2004 <http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/hate/#top>.
Hate Crimes Today: An Age-Old Foe in Modern Dress
Hate crimes--violent acts against people, property, or organizations because of the group to which they belong or identify with--are a tragic part of American history. However, it wasn't until early in this decade that the federal government began to collect data on how many and what kind of hate crimes are being committed, and by whom. Thus, the statistical history on hate crimes is meager. Psychological studies are also fairly new. Nevertheless, scientific research is beginning to yield some good perspectives on the general nature of crimes committed because of real or perceived differences in race, religion, ethnicity or national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.
According to the FBI, about 30% of hate crimes in 1996, the most recent year for which figures are available, were crimes against property. They involved robbing, vandalizing, destroying, stealing, or setting fire to vehicles, homes, stores, or places of worship.
About 70% involve an attach against a person. The offense can range from simple assault (i.e., no weapon is involved) to aggravated assault, rape, and murder. This kind of attack takes place on two levels; not only is it an attack on one's physical self, but it is also an attack on one's very identity.
Many people perceive hate crime perpetrators as crazed,
hate-filled neo-Nazis or "skinheads". But research by Dr. Edward
Dunbar, a clinical psychologist at the
Most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise law-abiding young people who see little wrong with their actions. Alcohol and drugs sometimes help fuel these crimes, but the main determinant appears to be personal prejudice, a situation that colors people's judgment, blinding the aggressors to the immorality of what they are doing. Such prejudice is most likely rooted in an environment that disdains someone who is "different" or sees that difference as threatening. One expression of this prejudice is the perception that society sanctions attacks on certain groups. For example, Dr. Karen Franklin, a forensic psychology fellow at the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, has found that, in some settings, offenders perceive that they have societal permission to engage in violence against homosexuals.
Extreme hate crimes tend to be committed by people with a history
of antisocial behavior. One of the most heinous examples took place in June
1998 in Jasper,
Researchers have concluded that hate crimes are not necessarily random, uncontrollable, or inevitable occurrences. There is overwhelming evidence that society can intervene to reduce or prevent many forms of violence, especially among young people, including the hate-induced violence that threatens and intimidates entire categories of people.
Educated "guesstimates" of the prevalence of hate crimes are difficult because of state-by-state differences in the way such crimes are defined and reported. Federal law enforcement officials have only been compiling nationwide hate crime statistics since 1991, the year after the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was enacted. Before passage of the act, hate crimes were lumped together with such offenses as homicide, assault, rape, robbery, and arson.
In 1996, law enforcement agencies in 49 states and the
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998, introduced in both the House (H.R. 3081) and Senate (S. 1529), seeks to expand federal jurisdiction over hate crimes by (1) allowing federal authorities to investigate all possible hate crimes, not only those where the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity such as voting, going to school, or crossing state lines; and (2) expanding the categories that are currently covered by hate crimes legislation to include gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
As with most other offenses, reporting hate crimes is voluntary on the part of the local jurisdictions. Some states started submitting data only recently, and not all jurisdictions within states are represented in their reports.
In addition, time frames for reporting are uneven, ranging from one month to an entire year, depending on the jurisdiction. In 1996, only 16% of law enforcement agencies reported any hate crimes in their regions. Eighty-four percent of participating jurisdictions-including states with well-documented histories of racial prejudice-reported zero hate crimes.
Another obstacle to gaining an accurate count of hate crimes is the reluctance of many victims to report such attacks. In fact, they are much less likely than other victims to report crimes to the police, despite-or perhaps because of-the fact that they can frequently identify the perpetrators. This reluctance often derives from the trauma the victim experiences, as well as a fear of retaliation.
In a study of gay men and lesbians by Dr. Gregory M. Herek, a psychologist at the
It also appears that some people do not report hate crimes because of fear that the criminal justice system is biased against the group to which the victim belongs and, consequently, that law enforcement authorities will not be responsive. The National Council of La Raza holds that Hispanics often do not report hate crimes because of mistrust of the police.
Another reason for the underreporting of hate crimes is the difficulty of identifying an incident as having been provoked by bias.
Intense feelings of vulnerability, anger, and depression, physical ailments and learning problems, and difficult interpersonal relations-all symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder-can be brought on by a hate crime.
Dr. Herek and his colleagues found that some hate crime victims have needed as much as 5 years to overcome their ordeal. By contrast, victims of nonbias crimes experienced a decrease in crime-related psychological problems within 2 years of the crime. Like other victims of posttraumatic stress, hate crime victims may heal more quickly when appropriate support and resources are made available soon after the incident occurs.
Hate crimes are message crimes, according to Dr. Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at
By far the largest determinant of hate crimes is racial bias, with African Americans the group at greatest risk. In 1996, 4,831 out of the 7,947 such crimes reported to the FBI, or 60%, were promulgated because of race, with close to two-thirds (62%) targeting African Americans. Furthermore, the type of crime committed against this group has not changed much since the 19th century; it still includes bombing and vandalizing churches, burning crosses on home lawns, and murder.
Among the other racially motivated crimes, about 25% were committed against white people, 7% against Asian Pacific Americans, slightly less than 5% against multiracial groups, and 1% against Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.
Ethnic minorities in the
Hispanics. People from
Attacks on Hispanics have a particularly long history in
Asian Pacific Americans. Bias against Asian Pacific Americans, which is increasing today, is long-standing. The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 barred Chinese laborers from entering this country. Along with trepidation that these workers would take jobs away was the feeling expressed by one Senator during the Congressional debate and reported in Chronicles of the 20th Century, that members of this group "do not harmonize with us." The act was not repealed until 1943. Moreover, although the act specifically referred to the Chinese, Japanese people were also affected because most people could not tell the two groups apart. To this day, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, hostility against one Asian Pacific American group can spill over onto another.
In May 1997, a 62-year-old Korean American woman, in the
According to the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, 461 anti-Asian incidents were reported in 1995, 2% more than in 1994 and 38% more than in 1993. Moreover, the violence of the incidents increased dramatically; aggravated assaults rose by 14%, and two murders and one firebombing took place. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other experts in the field find that present-day resentment is frequently fueled by the stereotype that Asian Pacific Americans are harder-working, more successful academically, and more affluent than most other Americans.
Arab Americans. Another growing
immigrant group experiencing an upsurge in hate crime, largely as a result of
Most religiously motivated hate crimes are acts of vandalism, although personal attacks are not uncommon. The overwhelming majority (82% in 1996) are directed against Jews, states the FBI. The 781 acts of vandalism that year represent a 7% increase from 1995. However, acts of harassment, threat, or assault went down by 15%, to 941, from a total of 1,116, a decline that the Anti-Defamation League attributes to stronger enforcement of the law and heightened educational outreach.
Most of the property crimes involve vandalism. In 1997, for
example, SS lightning bolts and swastikas were among the anti-Semitic graffiti
discovered in Hebrew and Yiddish books in the
People of other religions in the
Gender-based violence is a significant social and historical problem, with women the predominant victims. Only recently, however, have these acts of violence been characterized as hate crimes. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998 would make gender a category of bias-motivated crime.
Except for crimes against homosexuals, the federal Hate Crimes
Statistics Act does not collect data on gender. However, a recent national
survey found that 7.2 of every 1,000 women each year are victims of rape. In
testimony for a Congressional hearing on domestic violence,
The more violence a woman experiences, the more she suffers from psychological distress that spills over into many areas of life. Most violence against women is not committed during random encounters but by a current or former male partner. Exposed to attacks and threats over and over again, victims often live with increasing levels of isolation and terror. Typical long-term effects of male violence in an intimate adult relationship are low self-esteem, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. These problems are compounded by psychophysiological complaints such as gastrointestinal problems, severe headaches, and insomnia.
The most socially acceptable, and probably the most widespread, form of hate crime among teenagers and young adults are those targeting sexual minorities, says Dr. Franklin. She has identified four categories of assaulters involved in such crimes, as follows:
· Ideology assailants report that their crimes stem from their negative beliefs and attitudes about homosexuality that they perceive other people in the community share. They see themselves as enforcing social morals.
· Thrill seekers are typically adolescents who commit assaults to alleviate boredom, to have fun and excitement, and to feel strong.
· Peer-dynamics assailants also tend to be adolescents; they commit assaults in an effort to prove their toughness and heterosexuality to friends.
· Self-defense assailants typically believe that homosexuals are sexual predators and say they were responding to aggressive sexual propositions.
Lesbian and gay victims suffer more serious psychological effects from hate crimes than they do from other kinds of criminal injury. In their case, the association between vulnerability and sexual orientation is particularly harmful. This is because sexual identity is such an important part of one's self-concept.
Of nearly 2,000 gay and lesbian people surveyed in
Congress amended the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1994 to add disabilities as a category for which hate crimes data are to be collected. Because the FBI only began collecting statistics on disability bias in 1997, results are not yet available. However, we know from social science research that the pervasive stigma that people apply to both mental and physical disability is expressed in many forms of discriminatory behaviors and practices, including increased risk for sexual and physical abuse.
Although racial and ethnic tensions are thought to increase during
economic downswings, Dr. Donald P. Green, a political scientist at
However, one form of economic change that may set the stage for racist hate crimes occurs when minorities first move into an ethnically homogeneous area. According to Dr. Green, the resulting violent reaction seems to be based on a visceral aversion to social change. The offenders frequently justify the use of force to preserve what they see as their disappearing, traditional way of life. The more rapid the change, holds Dr. Green, the more likely violence will occur.
The 1980s, for example, witnessed the rapid disappearance of
homogeneous white enclaves within large cities, with an attendant surge in
urban hate crimes. A classic example is the Canarsie
Conversely, says Dr. Green, integrated neighborhoods, sometimes characterized as cauldrons of racial hostility, tend to have lower rates of hate crime than neighborhoods on the verge of integration.
Because of insufficient information on the extent of hate crimes, it is likely that many law enforcement agencies and communities are not taking the necessary steps to stamp out these violations of law and order. It is also likely that only a small percentage of hate crime victims receive the medical and mental health services that public and nonprofit agencies make available to victims of violent crime; thus, their pain and suffering is more likely to become a heavy burden and last many years longer than is typical for other crime victims.
The American Psychological Association, therefore, has urged that Congress undertake the following actions:
· Support federal antidiscrimination laws, statutes, and regulations that ensure full legal protection against discrimination and hate-motivated violence. Most important, enact the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998.
· Increase support of the Community Relations Service (CRS), an arm of the Department of Justice that works with local officials to resolve racial and ethnic conflicts and is often seen as the federal government's peacemaker.
Law enforcement officials, community leaders, educators, researchers, and policymakers must work together to halt hate crimes. Failure to enforce the law against these crimes leaves entire groups of people feeling isolated and vulnerable.
· Support programs that offer training for police and victim-assistance professionals on early intervention techniques that help hate crime victims better cope with trauma. The curriculum could be similar to one developed by the CRS.
· Encourage communities to launch educational efforts aimed at dispelling minority stereotypes, reducing hostility between groups, and encouraging broader intercultural understanding and appreciation. Specifically, according to Dr. Franklin, it is important that school administrators, school boards, and classroom teachers constantly confront harassment and denigration of those who are different. Antibias teaching should start in early childhood and continue through high school. Teachers must also know that they have the backing of administrators and school board members to intervene against incidents of bias whether inside the school or on the playground.
(c) 2004 American Psychological Association