Britain today is a multicultural society with people from all backgrounds living side by side; however when tensions rise we see multiple news stories displaying crimes motivated by prejudice towards race, religion, sexuality and disability. Fortunately I have never been the victim of hate crime but know what it feels like to be targeted and singled out because you are different, whether that be because of race or religion.
There is a thin line between these kinds of crimes and harassment, even though most are not reported at all. A recent crime survey shows there were at least 260,000 hate crimes in the UK – this is six times the amount reported to the police.
According to the legal definition 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 religion, race, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity”.
What is important to recognise is that while this definition includes a number of groups vulnerable to hate crime law, the punishment for each category is often applied unequally. For example, hate crimes committed against racial and religious groups can result in a maximum sentence of 7 years for the perpetrator; while sentencing for hate crimes based on someone’s sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity has a maximum sentence of 5 years only.
It was at IARS’ workshop that I was able to learn more about the topic of hate crime. This workshop took place last Monday, 9th September and was a fantastic opportunity for young people to voice their opinions to policy makers who are currently considering changes to improve hate crime legislation.
An important point in the workshop was when Rotherhithe Councillor, Wilma Nelson talked in depth about her experiences of hate crime when she first moved to the UK and how she persevered to turn her situation around. After many years of abuse she applied for funding to run her own project that would involve the very people causing her such grief. She still lives there today and is now a full time elected representative for the area.
The chair of the Speaking Up Southwark charity, Richard Walker whose focus is on learning disabilities, talked of the struggles and abuse he suffered from professionals when growing up with his disability in the 80s. “More needs to be done to prevent hate crime”, he said, “starting with education in schools.”
The role of the media was also brought up. Advertising, TV programmes and the news can have a major influence over us from a young age. With the media being such a powerful tool, it should be used more effectively. Through playing on stereotypes the media is able to feed a “panic” or negative view about a certain group of people, doing most of the work for political figures who encourage discrimination by carefully selecting stories that will play to people’s fears. The reaction to “deviance” is often overplayed compared to the actual threat presented and can cause us to “take some things too seriously and others not seriously enough”, as Stanley Cohen argued in 1972. In tackling hate crime we should first tackle the state of the media.
It was evident that people wanted harsher sentences and a more specific definition of hate crime to ensure that it is properly recorded. Others suggested restorative justice, which is a form of rehabilitation that requires those convicted to talk with their victims, and also education on the impact of hate crime. Another great instrument in combat to this issue is technology. There has been an app developed that enables the public to help the police, more details can be found on: www.witnessconfident.org.
The most potent thing I will take from the workshop is the experiences of others who have overcome hate crime. Their positive and moving stories are a source of inspiration to us all.
This post was written by Kassandra Miles, Editorial Team Member of the 99% Campaign.
For those individuals either, experiencing some form of hate crime or for those who know someone suffering from it, please contact the number below for support.