Hate crime can destroy people’s lives. It can also blight whole
communities and engender fear in anyone who is aware they could be
Since the 1990s, awareness of the extent of hate crime in
Britain has grown considerably. It often involves violence, verbal
abuse, or damage to property, and those most often victimised are
black people, lesbians and gay men, transgender people, religious
minorities, and disabled people.
Offences can range from “low level” harassment, where one
isolated incident can appear trivial, to murder. At present, racist
crime is the only category of hate crime for which figures are
consistently available. The table below shows the numbers of racist
incidents recorded by the police in England and Wales and the
number of subsequent referrals received by Victim Support.
It is likely that the dramatic increase in the numbers of racist
incidents recorded by the police is due to the adoption of the
Stephen Lawrence report’s definition of racist crime: “Any incident
which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”
This definition replaced an earlier one that required the
investigating officer – not the victim – to determine whether or
not the incident was racist.
Fewer than half the victims of recorded racist crime are
referred to Victim Support. Some victims may opt to receive support
from other voluntary organisations that specialise in racist crime,
or they might not acknowledge they are victims and therefore may
not wish to be referred for support.
Some victims believe that nothing can be done to help them, or
are reluctant to accept that the incident was motivated by hate.
This is often because it means accepting that they are likely to
continue being a target. There is evidence that the police do not
always make referrals even if victims want it, and sometimes they
forget to offer a referral.
It is likely that the true incidence of racist crime is much
higher than police figures would suggest. The British Crime Survey,
which asks people about their experience of crime, whether or not
they have reported it to the police, estimated in 2000 that there
were 280,000 racially motivated incidents in England and Wales.(1)
Comparing this with the table above, it appears that only about a
quarter of racist crime is reported to the police and recorded as
In Britain, the police and Victim Support have agreed the
following responsibilities in responding to hate crime:
The police record reports of incidents and crimes and
Provide protection and information to victims and witnesses.
Decide on charges and progress them with the Crown Prosecution
Refer victims to Victim Support.
For its part, Victim Support receives and records referrals
(from the police, or from other sources including victims
themselves); provides an independent and confidential service,
using a specially trained worker; provides emotional support; and
in some areas, where available, provides a third-party reporting
Third-party reporting allows victims of hate crime to report the
incident to a support organisation instead of the police. Victims
can report by completing a form, which is available in community
centres, housing offices, doctors’ surgeries, and libraries.
The form is posted to the support organisation, which contacts
the victim. In some areas, third party reporting is available
through the internet. Where Victim Support operates third party
reporting, the Victim Support hate crime officer receives referrals
and contacts the victim.
Support is offered and, if the victim consents, it is possible
to work with other local organisations to limit – or prevent –
further incidents. This can include approaching housing authorities
to monitor offenders and, if victims consent, informing the police.
In some circumstances the police can gather evidence without the
involvement of the victim.
Responses are provided in conjunction with police (including
hate crime officers), local authority and community organisations
that meet regularly to plan responses to hate crime incidents,
share intelligence and mobilise support for victims.
The information gathered can be used to prevent further hate
crime, even when criminal prosecution is not possible, by for
example, evicting racist tenants.
The development of services to victims of homophobic and
transphobic (hatred of transgender people) crime has been slow in
comparison with initiatives for helping people affected by racist
crime, and this is probably because of the dominance of
heterosexist values. Such values create invisibility, which deters
victims of homophobic crime from reporting it. It also makes
support organisations ignorant of their own prejudices and the role
this plays in deterring victims from using their services.
Linked to this, the slower development of services to victims of
homophobic crime may also be explained by the existence of a
hierarchy of discrimination. This can lead to some forms of
discrimination being seen as “more important” than others and
therefore deserving prioritisation. The existence of this type of
hierarchy also leads to the needs of people victimised on account
of their disability being accorded lowest priority. It is a
powerful argument for developing services that are effective in
supporting victims of all types of hate crime, particularly as some
people may be targeted for multiple reasons. Multiple victimisation
was explored in research by Galop, a London anti-violence charity,
which found that young black lesbians and gay men had experienced
more hate crime than young white lesbians and gay men.
Victim Support has developed service standards and practice
guidance for developing our work with lesbians, gay men, bisexuals
and transgender people to ensure that our services are as relevant
and accessible to these people as they are to the heterosexual
majority – whether victims have experienced hate crime or any other
type of offence.
Those of us involved in supporting victims of hate crime must be
clear about the values and principles that underpin our services,
address discriminatory attitudes among our managers, staff and
volunteers, and develop the particular expertise needed to
understand victims’ services needs and provide effective
Most importantly, we must involve all sections of the community to
help shape, evaluate, and then reshape the services we provide.
This article provides definitions of hate crime, information
about its extent, and considers why services for victims of some
forms of hate crime have developed faster than others. It also
describes the nature and development of Victim Support’s services
to victims of hate crime in England and Wales.
(1) H Salisbury, A Upson, Ethnicity, Victimization and Worry
about Crime: Findings from the 2001-2 and 2002-3 British Crime
Surveys, Home Office, 2004.
- Galop: www.galop.org.uk
for information about supporting victims of homophobic crime and
for research on that issue.
- G Lemos, Racial Harassment: Action on the Ground, Lemos &
for resources and networks on tackling racist crime and
- K Chahal, Racist harassment support projects: their role,
impact and potential, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2003.
- G Herek, K Berrill, Hate crimes: confronting violence against
lesbians and gay men, Sage 1999.
Contact the Author
On 020 7896 3758 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Dunn is head of research and development at Victim
Support. His interests include service delivery,
anti-discriminatory practice and combating hate crime. He is a
trustee of Galop, the London-based lesbian and gay anti-violence
charity, and adviser to Support After Murder and