What Is a Hate Crime?

Hate crimes occur against certain groups.

 Jack Taylor / Stringer / Getty Images News

A hate crime is bias-motivated crime that occurs because the perpetrator has a prejudice against the victim’s membership to a group.

Hate crimes may be directed toward individuals because of their sex, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, language, physical appearance, or nationality.

What Constitutes a Hate Crime?

While the word “hate” is often used to describe rage, anger, or general dislike, in the legal sense, hate refers to the bias against people or groups of people with specific characteristics that are defined by law.

Current federal hate crime laws in the United States cover crimes committed on the basis of a victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. States may have their own laws that may not include the same categories as federal laws.

Motivation

While it’s difficult to understand why anyone would commit a hate crime, extensive research has gone into trying to better understand the motivation behind hate crimes.

Studies conducted by the FBI found four main motives for hate crimes:

  1. Thrill-seeking: Perpetrators may be looking for excitement and drama. They pick on vulnerable populations as a way to gain attention. Quite often, thrill-seekers engage in physical attacks on individuals.
  2. Defensive: Some perpetrators believe they are protecting their communities against a group by committing a hate crime. They sometimes think that society supports them but they believe other individuals don’t dare step forward and take action like they do.
  3. Retaliatory: Perpetrators who commit hate crimes are sometimes looking for revenge. This may be in response to anything from a personal slight to an act of terrorism.
  4. Mission offenders: Some perpetrators engage in hate crimes for ideological reasons. They consider themselves crusaders. They sometimes target symbolically important sites to try and maximize damage. This form sometimes overlaps with terrorism and the FBI considers the rarest and most dangerous kind of hate crime.

Hate Crime Laws

Hate crime laws are intended to deter bias-motivated crimes. They enhance penalties associated with crimes. They also help protect victims and those around them.

Hate crimes don’t just impact individuals but they also affect other members of the group—from loved ones to entire communities.

If an assault is determined to be a hate crime, for example, the perpetrator may face harsher legal consequences than if it were just an assault that didn’t involve a hate crime.

Many countries, including the United States, have hate crime laws. Many individual states have adopted their own hate crime laws.

Statistics

Hate crimes are divided into three main categories: crimes against persons, crimes against property, and crimes against society.

Crimes against persons include crimes that involve a victim or multiple victims, such as an assault. These may also be directed toward organizations, such as a financial or religious institution.

Crimes against property may include things like vandalism or arson. And crimes against society which may include things like weapon law violations or animal cruelty.

Each year the FBI releases national hate crime statistics, but the latest report is from 2018.

Single-Bias Crimes

There were 7,036 single-bias incidents reported in the United States in 2018. Here’s a breakdown of those crimes:

  • 58% were motivated by a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias
  • 20% were prompted by religious bias
  • 17% resulted from sexual-orientation bias
  • 2% were motivated by gender-identity bias
  • 2% were prompted by disability bias
  • 1% were motivated by gender bias

Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry Bias Crimes

In 2018, law enforcement reported 4,954 single-bias hate crime offenses were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry. Of these offenses:

  • 47% were motivated by anti-Black or African American bias
  • 20% stemmed from anti-White bias
  • 13% were classified as anti-Hispanic or Latinx bias
  • 4% were motivated by anti-American Indian or Alaska Native bias
  • 4% resulted from anti-Asian bias
  • 3% were a result of bias against groups of individuals consisting of more than one race (anti-multiple races, group)
  • 2% were classified as anti-Arab bias
  • 0.5% (26 offenses) were motivated by bias of anti-Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • 6% were the result of an anti-Other Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry bias

Religious Bias Crimes

Law enforcement reported 1,550 hate crimes motivated by religious bias in 2018. Here’s a breakdown of those crimes:

  • 58% were anti-Jewish
  • 15% were anti-Islamic (Muslim)
  • 4% were anti-Sikh
  • 4% were anti-Catholic
  • 3% were anti-multiple religions, group
  • 3% were anti-Other Christian
  • 3% were anti-Protestant
  • 2% were anti-Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Other)
  • 1% (14 offenses) were anti-Hindu
  • 1% (10 offenses) were anti-Buddhist
  • 1% (9 offenses) were anti-Mormon
  • 1% (9 offenses) were anti-Jehovah’s Witness
  • 0.4% (6 offenses) were anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc
  • 6.2% were anti-other (unspecified) religion

Sexual-Orientation Bias

In 2018, law enforcement agencies reported 1,404 hate crime offenses based on sexual-orientation bias. Of these offenses:

  • 60% were classified as anti-gay (male) bias
  • 25% were prompted by an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias
  • 12% were classified as anti-lesbian bias
  • 2% were classified as anti-bisexual bias
  • 1% were the result of an anti-heterosexual bias

Gender Identity Bias Crimes

Of the single-bias incidents, law enforcement reported 184 offenses were a result of gender identity bias. Of these offenses:

  • 157 were anti-transgender
  • 27 were anti-gender non-conforming

Disability Bias

There were 177 reported hate crime offenses committed based on disability bias. Here’s the breakdown of those crimes:

  • 110 offenses were classified as anti-mental disability
  • 67 offenses were reported as anti-physical disability

Gender Bias

There were 58 offenses of gender bias reported in 2018. Of these:

  • 32 were anti-female
  • 26 were anti-male

Preventing Hate Crimes

According to the FBI’s 2018 hate crime statistics, over 15% of hate crimes were committed by juveniles. Just over 9% of hate incidents occurred at schools or colleges.

Strong partnerships with anti-bullying campaigns may prevent hate crimes. Of course, not all bullying constitutes a hate crime, but addressing bullying behaviors early on may be a good step in preventing hate crimes later in life.

Increasing public awareness can also help. When community members understand what’s going on and how they can help other groups who may be targeted, they can become allies.

Law enforcement presence and partnerships can also help. It’s likely that many hate crimes go unreported. Support from law enforcement may encourage people to report crimes when they witness them or experience them.

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Article Sources
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  1. 2018 Hate Crime Statistics. Federal Bureau of Investigation.