Hate Crime

Holly A Miller & Bitna Kim. 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: J Mitchell Miller. 2009.

The term hate crime became part of the American lexicon in 1985 when it was coined by United States Representatives John Conyers and Mario Biaggi. Although the term hate crime and societal interest in it are relatively recent developments, hate crime has deep historical roots. Throughout U.S. history, a significant proportion of all murders, assaults, and acts of vandalism and desecration have been fueled by hatred. As Native Americans have been described as the first hate crime victims, hate crimes have existed since the United States’ inception. Since then, members of all immigrant groups have been subjected to discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Although there are variations in definition, and certainly variations among state hate crime laws, in general a hate crime is considered to be an illegal act against a person, institution, or property that is motivated (in whole or in part) by the offender’s prejudice against the victim’s group membership status. Although not all jurisdictions, academics, or professionals agree about who should be protected by hate crime laws, the majority of such laws describe the offender’s motivation based on prejudice against the victim’s, race, color, nationality, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status.

While hate crime behavior has a long history, it has only been in the last couple of decades that research to understand this type of crime has been conducted. The purpose of this chapter is to present the hate crime knowledge that has accumulated over these last decades. This chapter will present the history of hate crime law, the scope of the problem, the theory and psychology behind hateful/prejudicial behaviors, characteristics of perpetrators and victims, policing hate crime, and responding to and preventing hate crime.

Hate Crime Laws

For and Against Hate Crime Legislation

Proponents of hate crime laws feel strongly about society making a statement that biased (or hate) crimes will not be tolerated and that serious penalties will be applied to those who commit such crimes. In addition, these laws are important in order to deter potential hate crime offenders who intentionally target members of subordinate groups. Hate crime laws are also symbolic and promote social cohesion by officially stating that victimization of people who are “different” is not accepted or tolerated in a modern society.

There have also been arguments against the formation of hate crime laws. Not all believe that hate crimes have been a significant problem in society; rather, some see it as a media-exaggerated issue—a product of a society that is highly sensitive to prejudice and discrimination. Thus, a special set of criminal laws that include hate is not warranted, and the generic criminal laws will suffice. Those who oppose hate crime laws also argue that attempting to determine motivation for an already criminal act is difficult and may pose moral problems in that the offender is being punished for a criminal act and for his or her motivation. It has also been argued that hate crime laws do not deter people from engaging in these crimes. Others argue that the disagreement over which subordinate groups to include in the hate crime laws actually causes added discrimination and marginalization. Critics state that what these laws effectively are saying is that one group is more worthy of protection and care than another. Critics also wonder why anger/hate is more punishable than other motives such as greed. Although there has been (and still is) debate about hate crime laws, the mere fact that they exist in several countries around the world, as well as within the United States, indicates that reasoning in favor of these laws has outweighed that against them.

Federal and State Hate Crime Laws

Hate crime laws in the United States exist at the federal and state levels. Although federal and state laws differ, most protected characteristics include race, national origin, ethnicity, and religion. Some laws also include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. The federal hate crime system includes laws, acts, and data collection statutes. The current federal hate crime law permits federal prosecution of crimes committed based upon the victim’s race, color, religion, or nation of origin when the victim is engaging in a federally protected activity (e.g., attending a public school; working at a place of employment). The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2007 (i.e., the Matthew Shepard Act), which is under consideration as of this writing, would extend the existing federal hate crime law to include crimes based upon the victim’s gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, and would drop the existing requirement that the victim be involved in a federally protected activity. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 requires that the U.S. Sentencing Commission enhance criminal penalties (up to 30%) for offenders who commit a federal crime that was motivated by the victim’s race, religion, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation.

There are two federal data collection statutes. The first, the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, requires that the U.S. Attorney General collect data on all crimes that are motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Since 1992, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have jointly published hate crime statistics on an annual basis. The Campus Hate Crimes Right to Know Act of 1997 requires college and university campus security authorities to collect and report data on crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability.

The majority of states have some sort of hate crime legislation, but it differs from state to state. For example, some states treat hate crimes as low-severity offenses, while other states have more general hate crime laws or sentence enhancing for crimes that are motivated by bias. In some states, maximum criminal sentences may be doubled, tripled, or increased even more for a hate crime. The states also differ in the subordinate groups that transform a general crime to a hate crime and as to what degree this bias must be shown (e.g., beliefs, character). All state statutes include at least race, religion, and ethnicity, but differ on inclusion of other subordinate groups. For example, about 70% of the states also include gender and sexual orientation, while fewer include disability, political affiliation, or age.

Hate Crime Statistics

At the national level, data on hate crimes come from two principal resources: the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). In addition, several anti-hate groups collect data and report rates of hate crime victimization at both the national and regional levels. It is important to note that each agency collects the data in a different manner and thus, each report varies in terms of rates, types, and focus of hate crime. For example, since the NCVS collects information through anonymous surveys, the rates of hate crime are significantly higher than the official police records reported in the UCR. Also, since state laws differ, what is considered a hate crime in one state may not be considered a hate crime in another state and therefore may not be counted in the UCR. Thus, data reporting sources differ on the number and types of hate crimes reported.

National Hate Crime Statistics Reported through Summary UCR

Based on the hate crime reports from law enforcement agencies across the United States, the UCR data reflect aggregate frequencies of incidents, victims, suspected offenders, and categories of bias motivation. Since 1991, participation in the program has increased substantially from 29% to 85% of the United States population being represented. Nationally, the number of hate crimes reported has fluctuated between about 6,000 and 10,000 incidents annually since 1991 (U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, 2008).

Historically, racial animosity consistently has been the leading motivation for hate crime, followed by religious intolerance, and sexual orientation bias motives. According to the FBI’s most recent report,Hate Crime Statistics, 2006, a total of 7,772 criminal incidents involving 9,080 offenses and 9,652 victims were reported in 2006 as a result of bias against a particular race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or physical or mental disability. The majority of hate crime incidents, 51.8%, were motivated by racial bias, and an additional 12.7% were driven by hatred for a particular ethnicity or nationality. Roughly 19% were motivated by religious intolerance, and 15.5% were triggered by bias against a sexual orientation. One percent involved bias against physical or mental disabilities (U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, 2008).

Sixty-six percent of racial bias incidents were antiblack, and 22% were anti-white. Fifty-eight percent of ethnicity bias incidents were anti-Hispanic. Sixty-six percent of religious bias incidents were anti-Jewish, while 11% were anti-Islamic. According to data for the 7,330 known offenders reported in 2006, an estimated 58.6 percent were white, and 20.6% were black. The race of the offender was unknown for 12.9%, and other races accounted for the remaining known offenders. The majority (31.0%) of hate crime incidents in 2006 occurred in or near residences or homes; followed by 18.0% on highways, roads, alleys, or streets; 12.2% at colleges or schools; 6.1% in parking lots or garages; and 3.9% at churches, synagogues, or temples. The remaining 28.8% of hate crime incidents occurred at other specified locations, multiple locations, or other/unknown locations.

National Hate Crime Statistics through NCVS

On July 1, 2000, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, initiated the addition of new items to the National Crime Victimization Survey that are designed to uncover hate crime victimizations that go underreported to the police. The NCVS hate crime questions ask victims about the basis for their belief that the crime they experienced was motivated by prejudice or bigotry, as well as the specific behavior of the offender or evidence that may have led to the victim’s perception of bias. Crimes reported to the NCVS—sexual assaults, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, or vandalism—with evidence of hatred toward any of these specific groups are classified as crimes motivated by hate. However, NCVS does not include crimes covered by the UCR, such as murder, arson, commercial crimes, and crimes against children under the age of 12. In addition, the NCVS does not include reports of crime from institutions, organizations, churches, schools, and businesses, although persons involved in these entities are included. The data for hate crimes from the NCVS include information about victims, offenders, and characteristics of crimes—both crimes reported to police and those not reported (U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2008).

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics special report on victims derived from the NCVS from July 2000 through December 2003, an annual average of 210,000 hate crime victimizations occurred. During that period, an average of 191,000 hate crime incidents involving one or more victims occurred annually in the United States. About 3% of all violent crimes and 0.2% of all property crimes revealed to the NCVS by victims were perceived to be hate crimes. Victims also indicated that 92,000 of these hate crime victimizations (approximately 44%) were reported to police. That is, NCVS data indicate that the majority of hate crime victims, like victims of many other crimes, do not report the incident to law enforcement. When the victims themselves reported to police, they did so primarily to prevent the offender from committing further offenses (35%) and to obtain help from the police (33%).

Hate Crime Theory

It is important to note that although several explanations may be applicable to prejudice and hate crime occurrence, no existing criminological theory can fully account for the transformation from prejudice into criminal behavior. Experts argue that in order to explain hate crimes, consideration of the interplay of a number of different factors (social, psychological, criminogenic, and contextual) as well as a wide range of aspects that contribute to hate crime (i.e., perpetrators’ motives, victims’ characteristics, and cultural ideologies about the victims’ social groups) is necessary. The criminological theories most often employed to explain hate crime are group conflict theory, social learning theory, and strain theory.

Group Conflict Theory

This theory is based on the fact that humans are more likely to have relationships with other humans holding similar presuppositions for the purpose of comfort, ease, and friendliness, which in turn contributes to the formation of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” The formation and development of in-group loyalty serve strong individual desires for relationship and acceptance.

In-group versus out-group conflict strongly facilitates group cohesiveness, affiliation, and identity. In addition, such conflict increases out-group rejection, as revealed by group members’ tendencies to stress between-group dissimilarities and ignore between-group similarities. Out-groups are often stereotyped, dehumanized, or perceived as dishonest or malicious, whereas the in-group is idealized as good, powerful, and wholly justified in its views and actions toward others. Previous research has consistently shown that organized in-group preferences and out-group prejudices, and sometimes hostilities, even when the out-group was one with whom in-group members had never met, had never interacted, and about whom they knew very little.

Social Learning Theory

Social learning theories suggest that attitudes, values, and beliefs about individuals who belong to specific groups are learned through interaction with influencing figures, such as peers and family who reward for adopting their views. Some of the literature on perpetrators of hate crimes stresses the impact of intimate acquaintances and family members, and the influence of localized social norms on the development of a child’s prejudice. According to social learning theory, the attitudes of parents profoundly affect a child’s prejudice, as a child grows up listening to those views. That is, prejudice toward specific targets is learned and reinforced through children’s interactions with their parents, and those relations may even provide both justifications and rewards for committing acts of violence or harassment against out-group members.

Strain Theory

Strain theory holds that crime is a product of the gap between the culturally emphasized goals (e.g., success, wealth, and material possessions) and the legitimate means available to individuals to achieve those goals (e.g., access to high-quality education, participation in social networks). While society by its very nature pressures everyone to achieve those valued goals, not everyone is able to legitimately achieve success because of unemployment, poor education, lack of skills, and so on. Those who are unlikely to legitimately achieve the goals valued by society, according to strain theory, would be placed under a “strain.” In essence, then, the frustration, or strain, caused by the desire for “success” and the inability to achieve it legitimately gives rise to criminal behavior. It is achieving society’s goals that is important and not the means of achieving them.

Hate Crime Perpetrators

Although hate crime and prejudice theories provide hypotheses for why individuals develop hatred or biases toward others, there is little information on how this prejudice/bias translates into criminal or violent action. Research examining hate crime perpetrators has indicated the most common characteristic profile, situational factors associated with hate crime, an emerging typology, and knowledge of organized hate group members.

Characteristics of Hate Crime Perpetrators

Contrary to common belief, most hate crimes are not committed by people who belong to organized hate groups, but are generally perpetrated by individuals who are considered to be “average” teenagers or young adults. In fact, studies indicate that the most common profile of a hate crime perpetrator is that of a young, white male, who perpetrates with a small group of individuals, has had little previous contact with the criminal justice system, and is not a member of an organized hate group. Although examining overall data on hate crime perpetrators to form a broad picture of the offender may be important, it is cautioned that not all such perpetrators fit this profile. For example, a percentage of hate crime perpetrators do belong to organized hate groups, are non-white, and range in age from teenage to older adult.

Situational Factors Associated with Hate Crime

There are situational factors that seem to influence and interact with the human factors that affect the occurrence and the brutality of hate crime. These situational factors include that (a) the crime is often conducted in small groups, (b) the victim is most often a stranger, and (c) the crime is expressive (verbal harassment) rather than instrumental (physical aggression).

As previously mentioned, hate crimes are usually not committed by lone offenders, or by members of organized hate groups, but by small groups of young friends. This, coupled with the fact that most hate crime offenders do not have a history of hate crime perpetration, indicates that offender motivation for hate crime may have more to do with group dynamics than individual levels of bias or prejudice. Previous research on group and authority influence has unequivocally indicated its strong persuasive power. This strong influence stems from a few important dynamics. First, engaging in a group assault allows diffusion of responsibility. In other words, acting in a group allows each individual to “blame” the others and not take full responsibility for his or her actions or feel like he or she is anonymous. Second, since hate crime offenders are typically young males, there is a likelihood that each offender may attempt to impress the others as well as encourage another member in an effort to affiliate/identify with those individuals.

Two other factors that affect the brutality of hate crime are stranger victims and the motivation of offenders. Research indicates that it is much easier to dehumanize or hate a person who is not known personally. Thus, since hate crime perpetrators most often offend against strangers, this increases the likelihood that the victim will be dehumanized and hurt significantly more. In addition, since the motivation of the offenders is typically not instrumental (e.g., to gain money), there is no end point to the offending behavior. Offenses that are instrumental have a stopping point—the assault ends when the victim hands over his or her purse or wallet. Since hate crimes are expressive, there is no end point—making higher levels of brutality more likely.

Emerging Typology

In recent years, researchers have begun to examine possible types of hate crime offenders. Thus far, four types of hate crime perpetrators have been identified: thrill seekers, reactive/defensive, mission, and retaliatory (McDevitt, Levin, & Bennett, 2002). The most common type of hate crime offender is the thrill type. As stated previously, these are usually young males who act in groups. They do not belong to organized hate groups and describe their offense motivation as being bored or looking for some excitement. Although these individuals may have some level of prejudice/bias, their motivation seems to be influenced more by thrill seeking and peer influence. Studies indicate that this type of hate crime offender accounts for approximately two thirds of hate crimes.

The second type is the reactive or defensive type. This offender type commits a hate crime because the person feels that his or her rights or territory has been invaded. For example, the offender may engage in a hate crime because he doesn’t feel like a subordinate group member should live in his neighborhood. The third type of hate crime perpetrator is the mission type. This type is the least frequent and usually includes those individuals who are organized hate group members on a “mission” to rid the world of what/who they consider to be immoral or wrong, or to keep a race “pure” and separate. The fourth type, the retaliatory type, commits hate crime in order to “get back at” or “get even with” a group because the perpetrator witnessed or heard of this group committing hate crime against his or her own group.

Organized Hate Group Members

The Southern Poverty Law Center indicates that there are approximately 670 different hate groups in the United States. Most organized hate crime groups focus on one or more of the following: racial bias (e.g., anti-white or antiblack), religious bias (e.g., anti-Jewish or anti-Catholic), ethnic/national origin bias (e.g., anti-Arab or antiHispanic), or sexual orientation bias (e.g., anti-gay or antitransgender). Although there is no single profile of an organized hate crime group member, research has indicated that it is not necessarily the individual’s bias/prejudice that gets the person involved, but the need to affiliate. It seems an individual’s need to belong may make the person more susceptible to recruitment and then, once a member, to become biased against particular groups. In other words, racism may not cause someone to join a hate group, but joining the hate group may cause racism.

Hate Crime Victims

Problems in Identifying Hate Crime Victims

While trends and patterns can be identified, it is impossible to know exactly what percentage of hate crimes get reported to police. In general, many victims of hate crimes do not report the crime. In addition, once a hate crime is reported, there remain problems in recording, processing, and accurately accounting for all hate crime.

There are a variety of reasons why victims of hate crimes may not report the offense to the police. Nonreporting of hate crimes is primarily a consequence of lack of trust of the police, fear of discrimination, abuse and mistreatment by law enforcement, or belief that the police are not interested in investigating such crimes. Members of certain groups that are frequently targeted for hate crimes are particularly unlikely to report a hate crime because they have poor relations with the police. This situation is reflected in the huge differences in figures that are consistently found between official police records of hate incidents against blacks or homosexuals and national and local victim surveys.

Even when hate crimes are reported to the police, many potential barriers exist between the reporting of the crime, and the offender’s eventual conviction and “counting” of the event as a hate crime. These potential barriers include police officer bias against victims and their avoidance of recording because of the additional paperwork required by the department’s hate crime policy. In addition, what is and is not classified as a hate crime varies greatly across different states. The way that hate crime is defined by different jurisdictions greatly affects what, and how much, is recorded in the official figures. Therefore, there are serious difficulties in interpreting the data because important differences exist from officer to officer and agency to agency, as well as among the various states’ records.

Hate Crime Victim Types

Little is known about the experiences of hate crime victims. It is clear, however, that race is the most common motivation for hate crime in the United States, followed by religion and sexual orientation. Depending upon the particular state law, disabled individuals and women are also common victims of hate crimes.

Hate Crimes Based on Race and Ethnicity

Racial and ethnic differences are by far the most common motivation for hate crime. Of the different races and ethnicities in the United States, African Americans have been the most common victims of hate crimes. In addition, hate crimes on the basis of ethnicity are far from rare. Americans of Hispanic/Latino, Asian, or Middle Eastern ancestries have been victimized because of their ethnicity, no matter how long their family may have lived in the United States. Hatred against these people has a long history in America. During the same time that blacks were being victimized in the South (following the conclusion of the Civil War and up to and including the 1960s), Asian Americans and Mexican Americans were receiving similar treatment in the West and Southwest. Official discrimination based on ethnic group membership went on throughout the 20th century and continues into the 21st.

Hate Crimes Based on Religion

In reality, the boundaries between race/ethnicity and religion may be especially unclear. Agencies may have trouble determining the group of the victim because individuals do not always fit neatly into predetermined categories. For example, in early United States history, Irish immigrants were discriminated against because of their adherence to Catholicism. However, it is clear that historically antiSemitism has been the most universal, deep, and persistent ethnic/religious prejudice, even predating the formation of the United States. Although the situation in the United States was considerably better than in Europe, anti-Semitism was common and served as the core of almost all white supremacist doctrine in the United States as well.

Anti-Semitism is hardly extinct today. A prime factor that contributes to the continuing existence of antiSemitism is the persistent belief by many non-Jews that Jews killed Christ. For members of the Christian Identity church, for example, hatred of Jews is not only acceptable, but it is actually required. Another factor contributing to modern-day anti-Semitism is Zionism. Many people equate Jews with Israel. When Israel takes action with which nonJews disagree, such as Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, some of the non-Jews blame all Jewish people.

Although anti-Semitism is the most common form of hate crime based on religion, since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon of September 11, 2001, there has been a drastic increase in hate crimes against people of the Muslim faith in the United States. For example, during 2001 (after 9/11), about 480 incidents were antiIslamic in nature (U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2008).

Hate Crimes Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Similar to biases based on race and ethnicity, heterosexism remains persistent in the United States. Despite recent improvement in attitudes toward gays, antigay violence is still common and widespread. The official data imply that homosexuals are one of the primary victims of hate crimes. What is unique about sexual orientation and gender identity victims is that they can also be members of any of the groups discussed in this chapter, as well as be a minority within their own family.

Antigay ideology remains institutionalized throughout America. Those who are already homophobic can defend their behaviors as socially acceptable. To those who are not especially biased but who are seeking thrills and excitement, as appears to be the case with the majority of hate crime offenders, many believe that gays are suitable targets. Another influence on antigay sentiment is religion; many religious organizations continue to denounce homosexuality, and others have pursued a specifically antigay agenda. In many cases, antigay and antitransgender violence is probably also provoked by offenders’ perceptions that gays have violated gender roles, as gay men have voluntarily relinquished the privilege of male domination over women. Heterosexual men’s attitudes toward gay men are much more negative than those toward lesbians. Lesbians are seen as less threatening to masculinity and the male gender role. Thus, homosexual and transgendered men are significantly more likely to be victims of hate crime than lesbians and transgendered women.

As of 2006, a total of 29 of the 48 states that have hate crime laws include sexual orientation and 7 include gender identity. In addition, there are currently no federal hate crime laws that protect victims based upon sexual orientation or gender identity, even though these hate crimes tend to be the most brutal and deadly. In fact, transgendered males are significantly more likely to be murdered than all other groups including African American males (U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2008).

Hate Crimes Based on Disability

Each year the FBI records few hate crimes that were perpetrated based on the victim’s physical or mental disability. However, there is good reason to think that the true number is much higher. That is, some victims, especially those with mental disabilities, may be unable to report the crimes, police officers may be unlikely to categorize their victimization as a hate crime, and most states do not include disability in the law and therefore do not keep count of these crimes. Compared with all the other latent victims of hate crimes, disabled people are a highly vulnerable population. They are more likely to rely on other people who might take advantage of them for daily necessities, and they may be physically or mentally unable to protect themselves from predation. Some insist that crimes committed on the basis of disability should not be considered hate crimes because these offenders do not truly hate the victims; they are merely choosing them because they are vulnerable.

Hate Crimes Based on Gender

The inclusion of gender within hate crime laws has been controversial and currently is not included in federal law or in the UCR reporting of hate crime statistics. Some argue that there are potential dangers in treating genderbased crimes as hate crimes. One possibility is that, given the large number of rapes and domestic violence incidents, gender-based hate crimes could overwhelm the area of hate crimes, and other forms of bias-motivated crime might not get the attention they deserve. On the other hand, rape and domestic abuse, which surely merit consideration in their own right, could possibly receive less attention under the broader rubric of hate crimes.

Responding to Hate Crime

Crimes motivated by hate and prejudice are nothing new; however, recent hate crime legislation has presented the criminal justice system and society with a unique type of offender. As stated previously, these crimes are distinctive in that they concern both criminal behavior and the motivation behind the behavior. Thus, most agree that the criminal justice system needs to consider both when responding to this type of offender.

Police Response to Hate Crime

Many, if not all, subordinate groups within the United States have had a number of hostile and prejudiced encounters with the police that have increased the likelihood that they will hold negative perceptions of law enforcement. Subordinate group members have reported feeling both under-protected and over-policed by law enforcement. The issue of the over-policing of minority groups can be traced back over the course of the past century when minority communities felt that the police used oppressive tactics and operations disproportionately targeted at minorities. Subordinate groups describe under-policing as law enforcement delaying their response to incidents, not doing enough to apprehend the offender, being disinterested and impolite, and making mistakes or handling matters badly. In other words, minority communities increasingly saw themselves as the targets of policing. Because trust and confidence in the police is lost, the minority groups do not turn to the police for assistance when they are subjected to ongoing violence and harassment. In fact, hate crimes in general are significantly underreported.

There are a number of positive activities that the police can undertake to improve their response to hate crimes. While the police cannot directly lessen hate, they can contribute considerably to the establishment of an environment that lessens the chance that hatred will result in interpersonal violence by providing a fair, effective, and open service to all members of their community. If the police can be fair, effective, and open, then it follows that subordinate group members will be more willing to report crimes as well as assist law enforcement efforts. In addition, if police utilize a deliberately broad and inclusive, but specific, definition of hate crime, it would restrict the discretion of individual officers and possibly encourage better recording of hate crimes. Several jurisdictions have responded to the need by requiring hate crime training while police officers are at the law enforcement academy, using specially trained investigators for hate crime, or forming specialist investigative units with officers dedicated to hate crime investigations.

Courts’ Response to Hate Crime

As with other types of crime, the courts main response to hate crime is to mete out punishment. However, since hate crimes include both motivation and illegal behavior, rehabilitation is also necessary. The following methods have been utilized or discussed as ways to work with the hate crime offender: the punishment model, the restorative justice model, counseling or education programs, and civil remedies.

Hate crime offenders can be responded to by simply placing them in prison as punishment. However, few believe that prison punishment alone will be enough to increase the offender’s tolerance of others—and may even increase a hate crime offender’s bias, since most prison situations are quite segregated along racial and ethnic lines. In fact, many prisons are rife with hate group recruitment and membership. Most agree that some form of rehabilitation of the hate crime perpetrator in addition to the punishment is warranted.

The restorative justice model emphasizes the restoration of the victim and community as much as possible. One component of restorative justice includes victim–offender mediation. During mediation, the offender and victim come together; the victim has the opportunity to explain how the offense impacted him or her and ask any questions of the offender, and the offender has the opportunity to provide apologies and explanations. This offers the venue for the victim to speak of his or her experience and allows the offender to understand his or her impact on the victim and to obtain a more realistic picture of the victim (which is helpful because much prejudice against the victim is based on stereotypes and myths of that particular subordinate group). The goal is for the people involved to reach an agreeable reconciliation.

Another approach to rehabilitating hate crime offenders is to provide them with some sort of educational or counseling program. Depending on the offender’s unique circumstances, the rehabilitation could involve several aspects such as diversity education, individual or group treatment of prejudice, mentorship of the offender by a member of the victim’s subordinate group, and visiting relevant museums (e.g., the Holocaust Museum). Because a portion of hate crime offenders have a history of violence, it may be important to not only focus treatment on bias but also to provide anger management or interpersonal effectiveness treatment as a part of the offender’s rehabilitation.

Finally, some states offer civil remedies to the victims of hate crime. For example, the state of Illinois offers victims of hate crimes free attorneys that will sue hate crime offenders for physical and emotional damage (in addition to free attorneys for criminal court). Previous victims of hate crimes have been successful at suing both hate crime offenders as well as organized hate groups to which the offender belonged.

Preventing Hate Crime

While responding to hate crime involves working or dealing with offenders or victims once a crime has happened, preventing hate crime focuses on making appropriate changes in society that would prevent future violence related to hate and bias. Since it is known that individuals are not born with prejudice, bias, or hate—that these things are learned—it becomes obvious that these harmful attitudes and feelings can be prevented. Thus, educating individuals to value and embrace diversity would work to reduce prejudice and bias. Several anti-hate organizations have developed in response to hate crime in order to track these crimes and offer prevention services.

Preventing Hate Crime through Education

Education and training of individuals to prevent future hate crime and decrease prejudice may take several forms, including school curriculum change, training for educators, specific classroom/school experiences and programs, and public awareness campaigns. Researchers, educators, and individuals who work with specific anti-hate groups have suggested curricula, programs, and exercises that have either been demonstrated to reduce prejudice or seem promising to do so.

Research indicates that typically a certain type of interaction is needed to change bias—specifically, individuals who are different from one another working together to complete a goal. For example, Jigsaw Classrooms have been developed and utilized that reduce stereotypes. In the Jigsaw Classrooms, children are placed in diverse small groups that require each child to “teach” the other children part of the lesson that they are required to learn. In order for the children to do well, they have to rely on the others in the group—as each student holds a piece of the “puzzle.” Examining the effectiveness of this technique has indicated it serves to help the children’s willingness to work together, increase friendship between diverse students, and increase subordinate group children’s grades.

An increasingly popular way to reduce hate and bias has been through public awareness campaigns. These campaigns may consist of mass media publicity (e.g., MTV playing The Matthew Shepard Story and listing names of hate crime victims as part of an anti-hate campaign) or specific drives by independent organizations, advocacy groups, or government or law enforcement agencies. These campaigns and drives may provide information and awareness through literature, media programming, advertising, and fund-raising. Research has generally indicated positive outcomes from these types of campaigns.

Anti-Hate Organizations

As there are several hundred organized hate groups, fortunately there are also numerous organized anti-hate groups. These anti-hate organizations range from local and regional to national and international groups. The largest of them will be discussed briefly.

Partners Against Hate (PAH) is an organization funded by the U.S. government that offers education and tools for young people and professionals who work and interact with youth, parents, law enforcement officials, educators, and community leaders. The Partners Against Hate Web site provides numerous links to educational materials, training programs, and tools for individuals interested in reducing bias and hate.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a Jewish group initially founded in 1913 to reduce Jewish stereotypes and prejudice. During the 1960s, the ADL broadened its scope to include civil rights issues. Today, the ADL is one of the United States’ largest civil rights/human relations agencies that fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. The ADL develops materials, programs, and services through over 30 regional and satellite offices throughout the United States and abroad.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was founded in 1971 as a civil rights organization. The SPLC is headquartered in Alabama and monitors organized hate. As the organization was founded by two civil rights attorneys, the SPLC has provided legal counsel in a number of prominent cases against white supremacists and hate group organizations. Since its development, the organization has also become active in educational efforts through publishing resources for educators, parents, and children. The SPLC publishes a semiannual magazine aimed at teachers called Teaching Tolerance.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) was founded in 1973 to promote the civil rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. This organization tracks antigay and -transgendered violence, advocates for rights, and provides educational activities and information. The NGLTF’s Web site provides information on each state’s legal issues related to the rights of gays and lesbians, information on gay violence and hate crime in general, and links for several informational documents and manuals.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) was founded in 1977 by a rabbi who was a Holocaust survivor and is an international Jewish human rights organization. This antihate organization focuses its efforts on education by operating the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. The SWC also offers training to educators and law enforcement officials on diversity and hate crime.

There are several other anti-hate organizations and agencies throughout the United States that focus both generally on combating hate and specifically on particular hate problems. For example, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is committed to empowering Arab Americans, defending the rights of Arab Americans, and advocating a balanced Middle East policy. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) works to foster sound public policies, laws, and programs to safeguard the civil rights of Hispanics/Latinos living in the United States and to empower that community to fully participate in U.S. society. All of these organizations, big and small, work to offer knowledge and aid to diverse groups within the United States and to serve communities by providing resources.


Hate crime is defined as an illegal act against a person, institution, or property that is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against the victim’s group membership. Although hate crime is a relatively new category of crime, the United States has a long history of biased actions against individuals because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and gender. Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, the federal government and states have collected data on hate crime occurrences as well as developed specific laws against such crimes. There are differences between the federal and state laws as well as differences among the states. Most differences include varied group coverage in the law. Because of these differences and the underreporting of incidents, the true rates remain unknown.

Research in the last few decades has indicated that African Americans are the most likely victims of hate crime in the United States, followed by people of the Jewish faith and individuals of differing sexual orientation or gender identity. Initial typology study has indicated the most common type of hate crime offender commits hate crime because of thrill/excitement, followed by defensive, retaliatory, and mission reasons. Research has also specified that the most common hate crime perpetrator is a young, white male, who is not associated with an organized hate group. Research also shows that brutality is more likely for this crime because of the group perpetration, victims are typically strangers, and the crime is expressive rather than instrumental in nature.

Law enforcement, the overall criminal justice system, and anti-hate organizations have developed programs and tools to help respond to and prevent hate crime. For example, several police agencies have developed hate crime teams, several jurisdictions require treatment for hate crime perpetrators, and both national and regional anti-hate organizations have developed Web sites to provide communities with information and aid in the prevention of these horrific crimes. It is encouraging to know that as hate organizations have developed over the United States’ history, so too have anti-hate groups that work just as hard in prevention.