Race and Identity Racism What Is a Hate Crime? By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief Updated on June 10, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Cara Lustik Fact checked by Cara Lustik LinkedIn Cara Lustik is a fact-checker and copywriter. Learn about our editorial process Print Jack Taylor / Stringer / Getty Images News Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Constitutes a Hate Crime? Motivation Hate Crime Laws Statistics Preventing Hate Crimes 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: 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.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.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.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 2020. Single-Bias Crimes There were 8,052 single-bias incidents reported in the United States in 2020. Here’s a breakdown of those crimes: 5,227 were motivated by a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias1,244 were prompted by religious bias1,110 resulted from sexual-orientation bias75 were motivated by gender-identity bias130 were prompted by disability bias266 were motivated by gender bias Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry Bias Crimes In 2020, law enforcement reported 5,227 single-bias hate crime offenses were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry. Here’s a breakdown of those crimes: 2,871 were motivated by anti-Black or African American bias869 stemmed from anti-White bias517 were classified as anti-Hispanic or Latinx bias279 resulted from anti-Asian bias211 were a result of bias against groups of individuals consisting of more than one race (anti-multiple races, group)96 were motivated by anti-American Indian or Alaska Native bias71 were classified as anti-Arab bias298 were the result of an anti-Other Race/Ethnicity/Ancestry bias Religious Bias Crimes Law enforcement reported 1,244 hate crimes motivated by religious bias in 2020. Here’s a breakdown of those crimes: 683 were anti-Jewish110 were anti-Islamic (Muslim)73 were anti-Catholic40 were anti-multiple religions, group50 were anti-Other Christian89 were anti-Sikh30 were anti-Protestant43 were anti-Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Other)7 were anti-Mormon11 were anti-Hindu9 were anti-Jehovah’s Witness15 were anti-Buddhist Sexual-Orientation Bias In 2020, law enforcement agencies reported 1,110 hate crime offenses based on sexual-orientation bias. Of these offenses: 673 were classified as anti-gay (male) bias306 were prompted by an anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias103 were classified as anti-lesbian bias17 were classified as anti-bisexual bias11 were the result of an anti-heterosexual bias Gender Identity Bias Crimes Of the single-bias incidents, law enforcement reported 266 offenses were a result of gender identity bias. Of these offenses: 213 were anti-transgender53 were anti-gender non-conforming Disability Bias There were 130 reported hate crime offenses committed based on disability bias. Here’s the breakdown of those crimes: 77 offenses were classified as anti-mental disability53 offenses were reported as anti-physical disability Gender Bias There were 75 offenses of gender bias reported in 2020. Of these: 50 were anti-female25 were anti-male Preventing Hate Crimes According to the FBI’s 2020 hate crime statistics, just over 4% 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. 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. U.S. Department of Justice. Learn about hate crimes. Levy BL, Levy DL. When love meets hate: The relationship between state policies on gay and lesbian rights and hate crime incidence. Soc Sci Res. 2017;61:142-159. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2016.06.008 Southern Poverty Law Center. Hate crimes, explained. U.S. Department of Justice. Hate crime laws. U.S. Department of Justice. Hate crime statistics. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). FBI Crime Data Explorer. By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk, "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.