hate word abstract in vintage letterpress wood type blocks
Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

What do we know about hate crime?

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Review examines prevalence and reporting; police and prosecution; when and where offending happens and victim and perpetrator characteristics.

Hate crime updates

On Tuesday (16 October 2018), the Home Office published a progress update on its 2016-2020 hate crime action plan and a thematic review of the current evidence on hate crime.

This blog post concentrates on the thematic review which was authored by: Olivia Hambly, Joanne Rixom, Shivani Singh and Tamsyn Wedlake-James.


A hate crime is defined as any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability, or the perception of the person of having any of these characteristics. The review provides insight into current understanding and remaining challenges around the following themes: prevalence and reporting; police and prosecution; when and where offending happens; characteristics of victims and perpetrators; and wider community impacts.

Although the paper makes for an interesting read, the main message is that we still know surprisingly little about hate crime. 

Prevalence and reporting

Current data limitations mean that understanding the true prevalence of all forms of hate crime remains a challenge. The most up-to-date estimate for hate crime by the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) is for 2012/13 to 2014/15, and suggests a decline in incidents. The highest proportion – roughly half – of CSEW hate crimes were motivated by race, followed by disability, religion, and sexual orientation. An updated estimate will be published in autumn 2018.

The CSEW results also estimate that half of the offences captured were brought to police attention. However, wider research indicates barriers to reporting to the police remain, such as the perception that some offences are too minor to report.

Police practices and the criminal justice system

There were increases in the volume of police recorded hate crime across all five strands in 2016/17 compared to the previous year. This is thought to reflect both genuine spikes in hate crime around specific events such as the EU referendum and terror attacks, and more general improvements in crime recording by the police. Greater public awareness may also have increased the likelihood of cases being reported, and recent research indicates that individual forces have been proactively encouraging reporting. However, practices are inconsistent and flagging of cases is not always accurate.

Of the hate crimes recorded by police in 2016/17, nine in ten (89%) were either public order offences (56%), or involved violence against the person (33%). In 2016/17, exploratory analysis of hate crimes flagged by police as having an online element was completed for the first time. A total of 1,067 (2%) of all hate crime offences recorded in 23 police forces had an online element, compared to 1% of online offences in recorded crime overall. In terms of volume, race was the most common motivating factor among hate crime offences with an online element, accounting for 671 crimes. The proportion of online offences that were racially motivated was lower than for hate crime offences overall (63% compared with 78%). However, this flag is thought to be currently underused and the Home Office continues to work with police to improve accuracy

The volume of cases flagged as hate crimes received by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has fallen. However, both conviction rates and use of sentence uplifts in cases resulting in a conviction have risen.

When and where hate crime happens

Spikes in hate crime and abuse, both online and offline, have been associated with high profile ‘trigger events’ such as terror attacks. For instance, there was a spike in racially or religiously motivated hate speech on Twitter following the 2013 Woolwich attack. This accounted for 1% of all original Tweets identified as associated with the attack.

As might be expected, some of the highest volumes of hate crime are recorded by police force areas with large urban populations. There is also some evidence of a link between hate crime offending and alcohol, as well as the night time economy. However, the evidence around prevalence in specific settings and online platforms is patchy.

Perpetrator and victim characteristics

Research suggests that hate crime perpetrators share similarities with non-hate crime perpetrators in terms of their characteristics. In addition, studies have found that those who commit hate crimes often also commit other kinds of offences.

In terms of victim characteristics, the CSEW 2012/13 to 2014/15 prevalence estimates identified that minority groups and younger people were more likely to be targeted. Wider evidence has suggested visibility of characteristics, for example, skin colour or dress, may be linked to greater risk of victimisation.

Wider community impacts

There is evidence that hate crime can have serious and pervasive implications for victims. For some hate crime victims, the distress caused can be more severe than for equivalent offences that are not motivated by hostility towards their personal characteristics.

Research suggests that knowledge of and/or exposure to hate crimes against others may elicit strong emotional reactions. This can in turn lead some victims and members of the wider community to modify their behaviour, such as changing how they dress or avoiding certain locations. As with victims, responses vary between members of the community.

Related posts you might like:

Hate crime in Europe

Following the recent depressing inspection report that found British criminal justice agencies are doing very little to tackle disability hate crime, I thought it might be interesting to look more generally at the prevalence of hate crime within the European Union. As you can see, even with the acknowledged under-reporting of hate crimes, the figures are extremely worrying.

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