Hate Crime: Cause and Effect

Ebony Riddell Bamber, our Research and Impact Director, shares her thoughts from our first seminar on hate crime. Addressing hate crime is one of EDF’s 2016-2017 strategic priorities – get in touch if you’d like to get involved.

We held our Hate Crime: Cause & Effect seminar on 12 June, slap-bang in the aftermath of the election – which had left many of us bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed – myself included.  Our audience included a multi-disciplinary mix of academics, NGO practitioners, researchers, policy makers and funders. If you missed it, don’t worry – it was live tweeted via #HateCrime17 and links to the presentations are below.

There were a number of the questions floating in the air as we took our seats and prepared to get our heads around some new research on hate crime, led by academics from the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex:

  • What would the election mean for hate crime policy work?
  • Was the election result, in part, a rejection of some of the hateful rhetoric that has been prominent in some parts of the mainstream media and the EU referendum campaign?
  • Would the PM still be able to “tear up human rights laws as she has pledged to do following the terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Manchester?

Dr Susann Wiedlitzka and Josh Smith from Demos took us through their research on anti-Islamic hate on twitter, looking at the quantity of tweets over a 53 week period, as well as analysing the content types, and geographical origins of these tweets.  The spikes in anti-Islamic content following terrorist incidents – such as the murder of MP Jo Cox or the Nice attacks in France – were perhaps not surprising, but the data evidencing the powerful prevalence of counter-speech, people who stand up online and tackle the trolls and spreaders of hate, was heartening and welcome.

The researchers had expected that offline anti-Islamic incidents and offences may have been committed following tweets of the same nature, but the opposite relationship was borne out by the research.  They concluded with a timely reminder that victims of hate crime are four times more likely to suffer anxiety and depression than other victims of crime.

Dr Jenny Paterson from Sussex University took us through her research which aimed to examine whether the assumption that hate crimes affect entire communities – such as through spreading fear and messages of intolerance – could be demonstrated using evidence.  The approach draws on intergroup emotion theory (pdf) – which basically says that: ‘If I identify with a group (in this case through sharing the specific protected characteristic around which the abuse is framed) then if they get hurt, it hurts me too.’  The research covered both anti-islamic and LGBT hate crime through large scale surveys, experiments and interviews.  It identified that people that indirectly experience hate crime feel as vulnerable, anxious and angry as the direct victims.  It also identified that feelings of anger can be channelled in a proactive way into activism to counteract the problem and support others.

Paul Giannasi, Head of the Cross-Government Hate Crime Programme, gave us an informative overview of the UK government’s response to hate crime, including prevalence rates and types of hate crime.  He highlighted that the government had taken a human rights approach to tackling hate crime, which had contributed to its favourable performance in comparison to other countries globally.

A key point he wanted to emphasise was that to prove a hate crime has been committed, there does not need to be evidence of ‘hate’.  Rather, you need to prove ‘hostility’, based wholly or partly on a person’s protected characteristic.

He took us through some data outlining peaks in hate crime – such as during summer 2016 following the referendum, when there was a 27% increase in hate crime over an 11 week period.  He acknowledged the need to build trust, share data and work constructively with both general and specific support providers within civil society.

For the final part of the seminar, participants split into groups to look at various issues; including political leadership, how to effectively support victims, approaches to tackle online and offline hate crime, and EDF’s strategic communications approach to equality and human rights issues.  Each group came up with three key actions which we have compiled into an action plan on hate crime (pdf) which the EDF’s Hate Crime Contact Group and others will look at taking forward in their policy and advocacy work.

Key themes were: the need for approaches to be community-led; for partnership working between specialist and generalist providers (both of which are needed); for greater accountability within the criminal justice system (including equalisation); and for much improved political leadership.

A huge thanks to all our speakers, our funders – the Aziz Foundation and the University of Sussex – and all those that participated in the event.

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Presentations