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Research Report: Causes and motivations of hate crime

July 29th 2016

This report is the result of work commissioned by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, hereafter the Commission) on the causes and perpetration of hate crime in Great Britain, based on the five protected characteristics covered by current hate crime law: disability, gender reassignment, race, religion, sexual orientation.

The report gives an overview of hate crime evidence to inform criminal justice agencies in their approach, with thoughts from the law, policy and social science.

This is the first time that evidence and emerging insights on the causes and perpetration of hate crime has been brought together in this way, with insights from the law, policy and social science.

This work complements the Commission’s other evidence-led work to understand effective levers, tactics and intervention approaches, to respond to and reduce identity-based harassment and violence. This report provides an oversight of the evidence on hate crime with the intention to inform criminal justice agencies in their approach and use of preventative measures.

Key insights

The key points in this report are as follows:

  • Perpetrators of hate crimes are not always motivated by a single type of prejudice or hatred but can be influenced by a combination of different prejudices.
  • There is no single type of hate crime perpetrator. Research shows that in order to fully understand the nature of hate crime, practitioners need to appreciate that situational factors (that is, location and victim–perpetrator relationships) may differ depending on the type of offence (for example, verbal abuse, harassment etc.) and the type of hate-motivation (for example, homophobic, disablist etc.).
  • There is no single type of hate crime. Research shows that some of the most common types of hate crime involve: 1. Incidents that occur during an ongoing local conflict (for example, between neighbours) that has escalated over time; 2. Incidents that form part of a targeted campaign of abuse directed against certain individuals within a neighbourhood; or 3. Incidents that occur in public spaces and are perpetrated by individuals who feel somehow aggrieved by the victim – sometimes occurring during commercial transactions or on public transport.
  • Hate crimes may also be the product of our social environments. Some researchers assert that hate crimes are more likely to occur where society is structured in such a way as to advantage certain identity characteristics over others (for example, white, male, heterosexual). Systemic discrimination, typically codified into operating procedures, policies or laws, Causes and motivations of hate crime may give rise to an environment where perpetrators feel a sense of impunity when victimising certain minority group members.
  • Perpetrators of hate crime can be motivated by a variety of different factors. Some research (from the US) suggests that there are four ‘types’ of perpetrators, including: thrill seekers (those motivated by a thrill and excitement); defensive (those motivated by a desire to protect their territory); retaliators (those who act in retaliation for a perceived attack against their own group); and mission (perpetrators who make it their mission in life to eradicate ‘difference’).
  • Cyber hate is a growing phenomenon which, reporting figures suggest, vastly outnumbers offline hate crime. There is some research suggesting that perpetrators of cyber hate crime have similar motivations to those who act offline.
  • Evidence of hate crime causation is not yet conclusive. However, there is some evidence within social psychology to suggest that perpetrators may be influenced by their perception that certain groups pose a threat to them. These threats can be divided into ‘realistic threats’ – such as perceived competition over jobs, housing and other resources, and physical harm to themselves or others – and ‘symbolic threats’ which are concerned with the threat posed to people’s values and social norms.
  • Though there are some dissimilarities between types of hate crime, we suggest that most, if not all, hate crimes are linked by perceptions of threat. Threats can be linked to economic stability, access to social/state resources, people’s sense of safety in society, and/or values and social norms.

Some differences in the nature and dynamics of hate crime can be observed across the protected strands. Research suggests that both anti-Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual (LGB) and transphobic hate crime can involve a greater propensity towards physical violence. Disability hate crime evidence shows high levels of sexual violence and property offences. Certain trigger events (such as global terrorist attacks) have been linked to sharp rises in anti-religious hate crime.

Download Research Report 102:Causes and motivations of hate crime

Tackling Hate Crime within Equinet

The EHRC participates in the thematic platform on Hate Crime, run by the Council of Europe (CoE), European Network of Equality Bodies (Equinet), European Network of National Human Rights Institutions (ENNHRI) and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

The aims of the Platform on hate crime are to address gaps in combating hate crime, to contribute to a better understanding of the nature of hate crime and to contribute to improvement of recording and reporting of hate crime. The Platform will aim to enhance coordination, cooperation and exchange of information between national level institutions and European level institutions and structures, as well as to facilitate the cooperation between national level institutions.