Hate crimes harm entire communities as they are crimes resulting from a type of messaging that insults all members of a group, not just the immediate victims, who would be unwelcome and at immediate risk.
The harm caused by bias victimisation is multiplied when victims and justice agencies fail to recognise and report hate crimes as such. In addition, in cases where police fail to respond to or investigate hate crimes, relations between law enforcement and affected communities can suffer, and public trust in the police can diminish.
Although it is known that hate crimes are underreported in the United States, there is no clear understanding of why reporting rates are so low, to what extent, and what could be done to improve them. An even more fundamental question, with no single answer, would be: What constitutes a hate crime? Different state statutes and law enforcement agencies have different answers to this question, and this makes the task of identifying hate crimes and harmonising data collection and statistics on these offences even more complicated.
A recent series of evidence-based research initiatives, supported by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), is contributing by narrowing this critical knowledge gap and charting a better path forward for the immediate future. The study’s findings provide essential details on the causes of underreporting of hate crimes in various communities, including:
- The reluctance of hate crime victims to engage with law enforcement.
- The inability of victims and police to recognize certain victimisations as hate crimes.
- A very significant deficit of hate crime reporting by law enforcement agencies of all sizes and different hate crime definitions across jurisdictions.
An increasing number of members of the Latino community, especially those who recently immigrated to the United States, reported experiencing bias victimisation, although African American communities suffer more hate crimes than any other racial or ethnic group.
Many Latino individuals, especially immigrants, often report bias victimisation only to friends and family members. Often, they are very reluctant to share incidents with law enforcement or other authorities.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community also reported a high rate of bias victimisation. Some victims hesitate to report hate crimes to the authorities for fear of retaliation by law enforcement or because, among other reasons, they do not want to expose their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Many hate crimes, especially those targeting the LGBTQ+ community, result from mixed motivations, e.g., hate and theft. This is probably due to the perception that certain groups of victims are vulnerable and less likely to report crimes.
Often, law enforcement officers do not have the training and expertise to investigate, identify and report hate crimes. If a fully dedicated officer or unit were present, it would enhance the police’s ability to identify, respond to and report hate crimes.
Law enforcement agencies with established policies that support the investigation and enforcement of hate crimes are more likely to report investigating potential hate crimes in their jurisdiction.
In the end, the knowledge gained from NIJ-supported research on bias victimisation and hate crimes can strengthen recognition, reporting, and response to these crimes.