Combatting Hate Crime Across Europe

Jennifer Schweppe & Amanda Haynes

A hate crime is an offence which is known to the criminal law and which is committed in a context which includes hostility towards difference. The category includes racist, religiously aggravated, transphobic, homophobic and disablist crimes for example. The OSCE describe hate crimes as: “… criminal acts committed with a bias motive. It is this motive that makes hate crimes different from other crimes. A hate crime is not one particular offence. It could be an act of intimidation, threats, property damage, assault, murder or any other criminal offence”. Those who have experienced hate offences report a wider range of negative psychological impacts which also last longer than those exhibited by victims of non-hate parallel offences. Victims of hate crime cannot simply assert that their experience was an unlucky occurrence - wrong place, wrong time – rather they have to contend with the fact that they were targeted because of who they are, because of fundamental and immutable aspects of their identity. In our research, the HHRG has found that, in addition to impacts on their mental health, victims report having actively responded to their experiences by developing practical strategies to manage the risk of repeat victimisation or to cope with the mental health effects of their experience. Strategies include relocation, restricting participation in public life, self-segregation and assimilation and shape how victims live their lives, sometimes in very consequential ways. In this manner, hate crime has additional ramifications personal freedoms, for public participation and for social cohesion.

Unusually in a European context, there is currently no legislation in Ireland which requires a court to take a bias motivation, or a demonstration of bias, into account when determining the appropriate sanction to impose in a given case. Nonetheless, a 2008 EU Council Framework Decision requires Member States to “take the necessary measures to ensure that racist and xenophobic motivation is considered an aggravating circumstance or alternatively that such motivation may be taken into consideration by the courts in the determination of the penalties”. The EU Victims’ Directive states that, in assessing the needs of victims with regard to particular “protection needs” and “special measures” in the course of criminal proceedings “particular attention should be paid to victims who “have suffered a crime committed with a bias or discriminatory motive, which could notably be related to their personal characteristics.” It goes on to note that, in this regard, victims of hate crime “shall be duly considered.”

The Hate and Hostility Research Group engage in original empirical research and analyses which investigate the lived realities of, and state and civil society responses to, hostility towards difference, hate crime and hate speech. The Group is committed to collaborative partnerships with academic colleagues and particularly with civil society actors working with and representing victim, offender and professional stakeholders. We are currently engaged in two separate funded research projects:

"The Lifecycle of a Hate Crime" (Funder: EU DG Justice Programme)    

In May 2015, the HHRG was awarded a prestigious funding grant from the European Union Directorate-General Justice under its Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme. The grant was made to support projects to prevent and combat racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, and the project itself seeks to determine best practices for preventing hate crime. Entitled “The Life Cycle of a Hate Crime”, the project proposes to examine the application of criminal laws and sentencing provisions for hate crime across 5 EU Member States, capturing best practice in the tools utilised to combat hate crime across Europe in relation to both the strategies of legal intervention and the implementation of these rules. By engaging with both actors in the criminal justice system and victims and perpetrators of hate crime, we will show how each participating State manages the prosecution of hate crime at key stages of the criminal process: (1) Proof Requirements and Making the Decision to Prosecute; (2) Court Procedure and Rules of Evidence; (3) Sentencing. The project partners include long term collaborators of the HHRG, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the University of Sussex, as well as In Iusticia from the Czech Republic, the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Umeå Universitet from Sweden.

"Monitoring Hate Crime" (Funder: Irish Research Council)

In association with ENAR Ireland, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, Inclusion Ireland and the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, the HHRG was awarded funding by the Irish Research Council under the Government of Ireland 'New  Foundations' Scheme 2014 to develop a uniform monitoring and recording instrument for hate crime which is adaptable to all community groups and which corresponds to European standards.The outputs of this project will include a  comparative analysis of existing hate crime data collected by ENAR Ireland, GLEN and TENI. Once again, we are indebted to our NGO partners for their assistance in developing the funding application, and for their support of the  initiative. Internationally, the underreporting of hate crime and hate incidents on an official basis is clearly acknowledged. Given the problems associated with official reporting and recording, the role of third party reporting and monitoring is  considered vital in determining what might be considered ‘true’ levels of victimisation.