Background on Hate Crimes

The Basics

            A hate crime is defined as any wrongdoing committed against a specific group of people. A type of prejudice, hate crimes are directed at a group of individuals because of their religion, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or any other significant characteristic. Here are some basic facts on hate crimes:

  • Hate crimes have been occurring since ancient civilization, like the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. 
  • 6,222 hate crime incidents involving 7,254 offenses were reported in 2011 alone.
  • Every hour in the United States, a hate crime is committed against another individual or group.
  • Half of all the hate crimes in the nation are committed by people between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • At least eight African Americans, three white people, three gay people, three Jewish people, and one Latino person are victim to hate crimes every day.

The Background

            Hate crimes have been occurring in the US since it was founded, festering in groups like the Klu Klux Klan. The term ‘hate crime’ did not enter the nation’s vocabulary until the early 1980’s—around the time when groups like the Skinheads launched a wave of bias-related crime. The FBI began investigating these hate crimes as early as World War I, when the Klu Klux Klan was at its height, marching in Washington DC and murdering both white and black people with impunity. However, hate crime legislation was not introduced in the House or Senate until the 1980s. In 1990, the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was passed, allowing the FBI to track hate crime statistics. In 1999, Congress passed a law that created harsher sanctions for countries that persecute religious freedoms. In October of 2009, the House and Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the Department of Justice the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence. However, more than 7,000 hate crimes still occur every year.

  • Hate crimes against people in 2009 easily outnumbered crimes against property: 7,789 offenses to 3,517.
  • Of the 7,789 hate crime incidents committed in 2009, 48.8 percent were racially motivated, almost 19 percent were religiously motivated, and 17.8 percent resulted from bias against sexual orientation.

The Psychological Effects

            Hate crimes are intended to intimidate both the victim and members of the victim’s community— sometimes even to intimidate members of other communities that are frequently victimized by hate crimes. Victims of hate crimes suffer from more psychological distress than victims of comparable violent crimes. The public acts of hatred and violence make the victim’s communities fearful, angry, and suspicious of other groups and the authorities that are charged with protecting them. Horrifying events, like the Nazi movement in Germany, dehumanize their victims, making them feel as if they are lesser than their perpetrators. Some hate crimes even shift the way the public views a specific group. In recent years, some anti-immigration groups, claiming to caution people about the impact of illegal immigration, have demonized immigrants as “invaders” who infect our communities with disease and corruption.  

The Social Effects

            Hate crimes have a major impact on society as a whole. These awful incidents isolate the targeted groups, which fragments our society. Specific groups are polarized, which only increases the impact that the hate crimes have on society. Hate crimes are intended to threaten an entire community of people, which makes the individuals within the community feel more closely bonded to the other members, and more distrustful and sequestered from the rest of society.

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Sources: The Crime Museum, The Leadership Conference, Human Rights Campaign, The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Human Rights First