VII. Hate Crime Victims
A. 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.
B. 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.
1. 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.
2. 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 anti- Semitism 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 anti- Semitism 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 non- Jews 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 anti- Islamic in nature (U.S. Department of Justice, BJS, 2008).
3. 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 research paper, 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 anti-transgender 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).
4. 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.
5. 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 gender-based 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.