Frequently Asked Questions About
Hate CrimesHate crimes--violent acts against
people, property, or organizations because of the group
to which they belong or identify with--are a tragic part
of American history. However, it wasn't until early in
this decade that the federal government began to collect
data on how many and what kind of hate crimes are being
committed, and by whom. Thus, the statistical history on
hate crimes is meager. Psychological studies are also
fairly new. Nevertheless, scientific research is
beginning to yield some good perspectives on the general
nature of crimes committed because of real or perceived
differences in race, religion, ethnicity or national
origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.
According to the FBI, about 30% of hate crimes in
1996, the most recent year for which figures are
available, were crimes against property. They involved
robbing, vandalizing, destroying, stealing, or setting
fire to vehicles, homes, stores, or places of worship.
About 70% involve an attach against a person. The
offense can range from simple assault (i.e., no weapon
is involved) to aggravated assault, rape, and murder.
This kind of attack takes place on two levels; not only
is it an attack on one's physical self, but it is also
an attack on one's very identity.
Who commits hate crimes?
How much hate crime is out there?
What is the emotional damage?
Why do people commit hate crimes?
Resentment of ethnic minorities
Disdain of gay men and lesbians
Scorn of people with disabilities
Does the economy play a part?
Is there anything we can do?
Who commits hate
Many people perceive hate crime perpetrators as
crazed, hate-filled neo-Nazis or "skinheads". But
research by Dr. Edward Dunbar, a clinical psychologist
at the University of California, Los Angeles, reveals
that of 1,459 hate crimes committed in the Los Angeles
area in the period 1994 to 1995, fewer than 5% of the
offenders were members of organized hate groups.
Most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise
law-abiding young people who see little wrong with their
actions. Alcohol and drugs sometimes help fuel these
crimes, but the main determinant appears to be personal
prejudice, a situation that colors people's judgment,
blinding the aggressors to the immorality of what they
are doing. Such prejudice is most likely rooted in an
environment that disdains someone who is "different" or
sees that difference as threatening. One expression of
this prejudice is the perception that society sanctions
attacks on certain groups. For example, Dr. Karen
Franklin, a forensic psychology fellow at the Washington
Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, has
found that, in some settings, offenders perceive that
they have societal permission to engage in violence
Extreme hate crimes tend to be committed by people
with a history of antisocial behavior. One of the most
heinous examples took place in June 1998 in Jasper,
Texas. Three men with jail records offered a ride to a
black man who walked with a limp. After beating the
victim to death, they dragged him behind their truck
until his body was partially dismembered.
Researchers have concluded that hate crimes are not
necessarily random, uncontrollable, or inevitable
occurrences. There is overwhelming evidence that society
can intervene to reduce or prevent many forms of
violence, especially among young people, including the
hate-induced violence that threatens and intimidates
entire categories of people.
How much hate crime
is out there?
Educated "guesstimates" of the prevalence of hate
crimes are difficult because of state-by-state
differences in the way such crimes are defined and
reported. Federal law enforcement officials have only
been compiling nationwide hate crime statistics since
1991, the year after the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was
enacted. Before passage of the act, hate crimes were
lumped together with such offenses as homicide, assault,
rape, robbery, and arson.
In 1996, law enforcement agencies in 49 states and the
District of Columbia reported 8,759 bias-motivated
criminal offenses to the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the federal government agency mandated by
Congress to gather the statistics. However, points out
the FBI, these data must be approached with caution.
Typically, data on hate crimes collected by social
scientists and such groups as the Anti-Defamation
League, the National Asian Pacific American Legal
Consortium, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
show a higher prevalence of hate crime than do federal
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1998, introduced
in both the House (H.R. 3081) and Senate (S. 1529),
seeks to expand federal jurisdiction over hate crimes
by (1) allowing federal authorities to investigate all
possible hate crimes, not only those where the victim
was engaged in a federally protected activity such as
voting, going to school, or crossing state lines; and
(2) expanding the categories that are currently
covered by hate crimes legislation to include gender,
sexual orientation, and disability.
As with most other offenses, reporting hate crimes is
voluntary on the part of the local jurisdictions. Some
states started submitting data only recently, and not
all jurisdictions within states are represented in their
In addition, time frames for reporting are uneven,
ranging from one month to an entire year, depending on
the jurisdiction. In 1996, only 16% of law enforcement
agencies reported any hate crimes in their regions.
Eighty-four percent of participating
jurisdictions-including states with well-documented
histories of racial prejudice-reported zero hate crimes.
Another obstacle to gaining an accurate count of hate
crimes is the reluctance of many victims to report such
attacks. In fact, they are much less likely than other
victims to report crimes to the police, despite-or
perhaps because of-the fact that they can frequently
identify the perpetrators. This reluctance often derives
from the trauma the victim experiences, as well as a
fear of retaliation.
In a study of gay men and lesbians by Dr. Gregory M.
Herek, a psychologist at the University of California,
Davis, and his colleagues, Drs. Jeanine Cogan and Roy
Gillis, about one-third of the hate crime victims
reported the incident to law enforcement authorities,
compared with two-thirds of gay and lesbian victims of
nonbias crimes. Dr. Dunbar, who studies hate crime in
Los Angeles County, has found that victims of severe
hate acts (e.g., aggravated and sexual assaults) are the
least likely of all hate-crime victims to notify law
enforcement agencies, often out of fear of future
contact with the perpetrators.
It also appears that some people do not report hate
crimes because of fear that the criminal justice system
is biased against the group to which the victim belongs
and, consequently, that law enforcement authorities will
not be responsive. The National Council of La Raza holds
that Hispanics often do not report hate crimes because
of mistrust of the police.
Another reason for the underreporting of hate crimes is
the difficulty of identifying an incident as having been
provoked by bias.
What is the
Intense feelings of vulnerability,
anger, and depression, physical ailments and learning
problems, and difficult interpersonal relations-all
symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder-can be brought
on by a hate crime.
Dr. Herek and his colleagues found that some hate crime
victims have needed as much as 5 years to overcome their
ordeal. By contrast, victims of nonbias crimes
experienced a decrease in crime-related psychological
problems within 2 years of the crime. Like other victims
of posttraumatic stress, hate crime victims may heal
more quickly when appropriate support and resources are
made available soon after the incident occurs.
Why do people
commit hate crimes?
Hate crimes are message crimes,
according to Dr. Jack McDevitt, a criminologist at
Northeastern University in Boston. They are different
from other crimes in that the offender is sending a
message to members of a certain group that they are
unwelcome in a particular neighborhood, community,
school, or workplace.
By far the largest determinant of hate
crimes is racial bias, with African Americans the group
at greatest risk. In 1996, 4,831 out of the 7,947 such
crimes reported to the FBI, or 60%, were promulgated
because of race, with close to two-thirds (62%)
targeting African Americans. Furthermore, the type of
crime committed against this group has not changed much
since the 19th century; it still includes bombing and
vandalizing churches, burning crosses on home lawns, and
Among the other racially motivated crimes, about 25%
were committed against white people, 7% against Asian
Pacific Americans, slightly less than 5% against
multiracial groups, and 1% against Native Americans and
Resentment of ethnic minorities
Ethnic minorities in the United States often become
targets of hate crimes because they are perceived to be
new to the country even if their families have been here
for generations, or simply because they are seen as
different from the mainstream population. In the first
case, ethnic minorities can fall victim to
anti-immigrant bias that includes a recurrent
preoccupation with "nativism" (i.e., policies favoring
people born in the United States), resentment when
so-called "immigrants" succeed (often related to a fear
of losing jobs to newcomers), and disdain or anger when
they act against the established norm. In the second
case, negative stereotypes of certain ethnic groups or
people of a certain nationality can fuel antagonism.
Hispanics. People from Latin America are increasingly
targets of bias-motivated crimes. Of 814 hate crimes in
1995 motivated by bias based on ethnicity or national
origin, the FBI found that 63.3% (or 516) were directed
against Hispanics, often because of their immigration
Attacks on Hispanics have a particularly long history in
California and throughout the Southwest where, during
recurring periods of strong anti-immigrant sentiment,
both new immigrants and long-time U.S. citizens of
Mexican descent were blamed for social and economic
problems and harassed or deported en masse.
Asian Pacific Americans. Bias against Asian Pacific
Americans, which is increasing today, is long-standing.
The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 barred Chinese
laborers from entering this country. Along with
trepidation that these workers would take jobs away was
the feeling expressed by one Senator during the
Congressional debate and reported in Chronicles of the
20th Century, that members of this group "do not
harmonize with us." The act was not repealed until 1943.
Moreover, although the act specifically referred to the
Chinese, Japanese people were also affected because most
people could not tell the two groups apart. To this day,
according to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights,
hostility against one Asian Pacific American group can
spill over onto another.
In May 1997, a 62-year-old Korean
American woman, in the United States since 1939, was
attacked on a San Francisco street and her hip was
broken. The man who assailed her thought she was
According to the National Asian Pacific
American Legal Consortium, 461 anti-Asian incidents were
reported in 1995, 2% more than in 1994 and 38% more than
in 1993. Moreover, the violence of the incidents
increased dramatically; aggravated assaults rose by 14%,
and two murders and one firebombing took place. The
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other experts
in the field find that present-day resentment is
frequently fueled by the stereotype that Asian Pacific
Americans are harder-working, more successful
academically, and more affluent than most other
Arab Americans. Another growing immigrant group
experiencing an upsurge in hate crime, largely as a
result of Middle East crises and the September 11, 2001
terrorist attacks, are people of Arab descent. Often
they are blamed for incidents to which they have no
connection. The hate crimes following the 9/11 terrorist
attacks, which included murder and beatings, were
directed at Arabs solely because they shared or were
perceived as sharing the national background of the
hijackers responsible for attacking the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
Most religiously motivated hate crimes
are acts of vandalism, although personal attacks are not
uncommon. The overwhelming majority (82% in 1996) are
directed against Jews, states the FBI. The 781 acts of
vandalism that year represent a 7% increase from 1995.
However, acts of harassment, threat, or assault went
down by 15%, to 941, from a total of 1,116, a decline
that the Anti-Defamation League attributes to stronger
enforcement of the law and heightened educational
Most of the property crimes involve vandalism. In 1997,
for example, SS lightning bolts and swastikas were among
the anti-Semitic graffiti discovered in Hebrew and
Yiddish books in the University of Chicago library, and
an explosive device was detonated at the door of a
Jewish center in New York City. But personal assaults
against Jews are not uncommon. That same year, two men
with a BB gun entered a Wisconsin synagogue and started
shooting during morning prayers. In 1995 in Cincinnati,
a gang member revealed that one of the victims of his
group's initiation ceremony was chosen just because he
People of other religions in the United States also
experience hate crimes. The FBI reported a
seventeen-fold increase in anti-Muslim crimes nationwide
during 2001, largely due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Muslims were also victims of harassment in the period
immediately following the bombing of the Murrah federal
building in Oklahoma City; an Iraqi refugee in her
mid-20's miscarried her near-term baby after an attack
on her home in which unknown assailants screaming
anti-Islamic epithets broke the window and pounded on
her door, reports the Leadership Conference on Civil
Gender-based violence is a significant social and
historical problem, with women the predominant victims.
Only recently, however, have these acts of violence been
characterized as hate crimes. The Hate Crimes Prevention
Act of 1998 would make gender a category of
Except for crimes against homosexuals, the federal Hate
Crimes Statistics Act does not collect data on gender.
However, a recent national survey found that 7.2 of
every 1,000 women each year are victims of rape. In
testimony for a Congressional hearing on domestic
violence, University of Maryland psychology professor
Dr. Lisa Goodman reported that two decades of research
indicates that at least two million women in the United
States may be the victims of severe assaults by their
male partners in an average 12-month period. At least
21% of all women are physically assaulted by an intimate
male at least once during adulthood. More than half of
all women (52%) murdered in the United States in the
first half of the 1980s were killed by their partners.
The more violence a woman experiences, the more she
suffers from psychological distress that spills over
into many areas of life. Most violence against women is
not committed during random encounters but by a current
or former male partner. Exposed to attacks and threats
over and over again, victims often live with increasing
levels of isolation and terror. Typical long-term
effects of male violence in an intimate adult
relationship are low self-esteem, depression, and
posttraumatic stress disorder. These problems are
compounded by psychophysiological complaints such as
gastrointestinal problems, severe headaches, and
Disdain of gay men and lesbians
The most socially acceptable, and probably the most
widespread, form of hate crime among teenagers and young
adults are those targeting sexual minorities, says Dr.
Franklin. She has identified four categories of
assaulters involved in such crimes, as follows:
Ideology assailants report that their
crimes stem from their negative beliefs and attitudes
about homosexuality that they perceive other people in
the community share. They see themselves as enforcing
Thrill seekers are typically
adolescents who commit assaults to alleviate boredom,
to have fun and excitement, and to feel strong.
Peer-dynamics assailants also tend to
be adolescents; they commit assaults in an effort to
prove their toughness and heterosexuality to friends.
Self-defense assailants typically
believe that homosexuals are sexual predators and say
they were responding to aggressive sexual
Lesbian and gay victims suffer more
serious psychological effects from hate crimes than
they do from other kinds of criminal injury. In their
case, the association between vulnerability and sexual
orientation is particularly harmful. This is because
sexual identity is such an important part of one's
Of nearly 2,000 gay and lesbian people
surveyed in Sacramento, California, by Dr. Herek,
roughly one-fifth of the women and one-fourth of the men
reported being the victim of a hate crime since age 16.
One woman in eight and one man in six had been
victimized within the last 5 years. More than half the
respondents reported antigay verbal threats and
harassment in the year before the survey.
Scorn of people with
Congress amended the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1994
to add disabilities as a category for which hate crimes
data are to be collected. Because the FBI only began
collecting statistics on disability bias in 1997,
results are not yet available. However, we know from
social science research that the pervasive stigma that
people apply to both mental and physical disability is
expressed in many forms of discriminatory behaviors and
practices, including increased risk for sexual and
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law,
a national organization representing low-income adults
and children with mental disabilities, holds that such
hate crimes are motivated by the perception that people
with disabilities are not equal, deserving, contributing
members of society, and, therefore, it is okay to attack
economy play a part?
Although racial and ethnic tensions are
thought to increase during economic downswings, Dr.
Donald P. Green, a political scientist at Yale
University, has found that a weak economy does not
necessarily result in an increase in hate crimes. His
analysis of past incidents shows scant evidence that
lynchings of black people in the pre-Depression South
increased "in response to downturns in cotton prices or
general economic conditions." Monthly hate crime
statistics gathered by the Bias Crime Unit of the New
York City Police Department show similar results: High
unemployment does not give rise to hate crimes
"regardless of whether we speak of black, Latino,
Jewish, Asian, gay and lesbian, or white victims,"
according to Green.
However, one form of economic change that may set the
stage for racist hate crimes occurs when minorities
first move into an ethnically homogeneous area.
According to Dr. Green, the resulting violent reaction
seems to be based on a visceral aversion to social
change. The offenders frequently justify the use of
force to preserve what they see as their disappearing,
traditional way of life. The more rapid the change,
holds Dr. Green, the more likely violence will occur.
The 1980s, for example, witnessed the rapid
disappearance of homogeneous white enclaves within large
cities, with an attendant surge in urban hate crimes. A
classic example is the Canarsie neighborhood in
Brooklyn, which was primarily white until large numbers
of nonwhites arrived. The influx led to a rash of hate
Conversely, says Dr. Green, integrated neighborhoods,
sometimes characterized as cauldrons of racial
hostility, tend to have lower rates of hate crime than
neighborhoods on the verge of integration.
anything we can do?
Because of insufficient information on
the extent of hate crimes, it is likely that many law
enforcement agencies and communities are not taking the
necessary steps to stamp out these violations of law and
order. It is also likely that only a small percentage of
hate crime victims receive the medical and mental health
services that public and nonprofit agencies make
available to victims of violent crime; thus, their pain
and suffering is more likely to become a heavy burden
and last many years longer than is typical for other
The American Psychological Association, therefore, has
urged that Congress undertake the following actions:
Support federal antidiscrimination
laws, statutes, and regulations that ensure full legal
protection against discrimination and hate-motivated
violence. Most important, enact the Hate Crimes
Prevention Act of 1998.
Increase support of the Community
Relations Service (CRS), an arm of the Department of
Justice that works with local officials to resolve
racial and ethnic conflicts and is often seen as the
federal government's peacemaker.
Law enforcement officials, community
leaders, educators, researchers, and policymakers must
work together to halt hate crimes. Failure to enforce
the law against these crimes leaves entire groups of
people feeling isolated and vulnerable.
Support programs that offer training for
police and victim-assistance professionals on early
intervention techniques that help hate crime victims
better cope with trauma. The curriculum could be similar
to one developed by the CRS.
Encourage communities to launch educational efforts
aimed at dispelling minority stereotypes, reducing
hostility between groups, and encouraging broader
intercultural understanding and appreciation.
Specifically, according to Dr. Franklin, it is important
that school administrators, school boards, and classroom
teachers constantly confront harassment and denigration
of those who are different. Antibias teaching should
start in early childhood and continue through high
school. Teachers must also know that they have the
backing of administrators and school board members to
intervene against incidents of bias whether inside the
school or on the playground.