An Exploration of the Needs of Victims of Hate Crimes
In the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Jenny Ardley argues in a discussion piece, that victims of hate crimes can be doubly victimized as
"their ethnicity sexual orientation or race is not merely a demographical statistic in connection with the crime, but it is the reason for their victimization" and goes on to argue that
"this not only has a deep and long lasting impact on the victim, but also on their community and the wider community around them" (Ardley 2005, 62). This concept and sentiment is echoed throughout several articles and studies that have been conducted in the United States and the international community.
In the spring and winter of 1999 in Boston, Massachusetts, researchers undertook a series of interviews with 16 key informants that were designed to examine the perceived value of hate crime legislation. Building on the information gathered for this study, Iganski (2001, 629) argues in the article, "Hate Crimes Hurt More", that there are five "waves of harm" created by hate crime:
- harm to the initial victim,
- harm to the victim’s group (neighbourhood),
- harm to the victim’s group (outside the neighbourhood),
- harm to other targeted communities, and
- harm to societal norms and values.
At the level of the individual, there is psychological and possible physical distress and harm. At the level of the neighbourhood group, there is a potential for
"retaliation and communal tension" (Iganski, 2001, 630). At the level of the group outside the neighbourhood, there is further evidence of how hate crimes serve as
"particularly cases of hate crimes given a high profile by the news media" (Iganski 2001, 631). The waves of harm then extend to other targeted communities, and risk affecting the norms and values of greater society. Iganski also argues that
"the distinctiveness of hate crimes is not about the severity of the injury sustained by the individual victim…it is instead about the injuries inflicted over and above the circumstances of any particular crime" (Iganski 2001, 635).
Through a theoretical discussion of the concept of social identity, Blake maintains that hate crime is based on the concept that
"the victim is attacked solely in [sic] virtue of membership in some socially disfavored group" (2001, 123-124). The crime is committed on a basis of characteristics or aspects of the victim which are "immutable" or
"exceptionally difficult or costly to change" and usually characteristics which are ascribed to "identity" groups which offer their members means by which they might understand their place in the social world" (Blake 2001, 125). Blake (2001, 133) goes on to argue that:
…one does not have to believe in one’s membership in the group or endorse that group as a fundamental part of one’s identity, in order to be made aware that one is vulnerable in virtue of the perception of membership. An attack upon a socially isolated individual creates an awareness in other socially marginalized individuals that they are vulnerable to violent attack.
In discussing the argument surrounding the punishment of hate crime offenders and its relation to the concept of equality, Adams argues that,
"Hate violence indisputably has severe consequences for those who are its victims; and it is easy to agree with those who have argued that victims of hate attacks experience emotional trauma, feelings of humiliation, insecurity, and distrust, and are left to struggle with a diminished sense of self-worth" (2005, 26). He continues to argue that
"these experiences and feelings arise out of the awareness of the role that hatred or prejudice has played in the attacker’s reason for action" (2005, 26).
In a 1989 study, McDevitt (1989) found that victims of hate-motivated violence experience 21% more of the standard psychological symptoms associated with stress than non hate crime victims. Data for the study were taken from police incident reports and thus, were limited to only those cases that were reported to the Boston Police Department between 1983 and 1987. Using information drawn from the National Crime Survey, Levin and McDevitt (1993) suggest that for victims of hate crimes, feelings of stress and fear can be persistent over a long period of time. Schaffer argues that,
"These results provide additional support for viewing hate-motivated violence as different from and more severe than other forms of violence" (1995, 212).
A 1998 position paper by the American Psychological Association entitled, Hate Crimes Today: An Age-old Foe in Modern Dress, shows that hate crime victims often express emotions of
"….vulnerability, anger, and depression which subsequently can lead to the formation of a number of physical ailments, learning problems, and interpersonal conflicts" (American Psychological Association 1998, para.18). The paper provides a good overall summary of research on hate crime and victimization in the nineties.
With a sample of 59 victims of hate crimes from 9 cities across the United States, Barnes and Ephross were able to identify several reactions of victims following victimization. While most victims (68%) felt anger towards the perpetrator, many (51%) felt fear that either they or their families would be injured further (Barnes and Ephross 1994). Many reacted by increasing their home security through buying security devices or guns, or even moving out of the neighbourhood in which the attack took place.
In a national telephone victimization survey with 2,078 respondents, Ehrlich et al. (1994, 27) found significant differences in the impacts of hate violence. Among four subgroups (non-victims, group defamation victims, personal crime victims, and bias crime victims), bias crime victims showed the most number of symptoms and behaviours variations on a scale of 19 psychophysiological symptoms of posttraumatic stress and 12 social and behavioural changes.
In her article,
"Defending the Color Line: Racially and Ethnically Motivated Hate Crime," Perry examined white violence against racial and ethnic minorities. She argues that this racially motivated violence is
"itself a mechanism of social power" (Perry 2002, 84). She reinforces the concept of community victimization as an individual who belongs to a victimized group does not need to be a victim herself, rather
"they are all too aware of their consistent vulnerability because of their race" and
"the immutability of their racial identity invokes hopelessness - they are victimized for reasons they cannot change" (Perry 2002, 85). Perry identifies the results of this victimization as being the reinforcement of
"the subordinate status of minority communities" (Perry 2002, 85).
In a study published in 2004, "Distinctive Characteristics of Assaults Motivated by Bias," Messner, McHugh and Felson looked at the relationship between the offender and the victim. This study looked at how assaults motivated by hate/bias differ from conventional assaults. Using a large data set, the National Incident Based Reporting System for 11 states, they examine factors such as substance use, demographics of victims and offenders, victim/offender relationship, location, and injuries. They also distinguish between assaults motivated by racial bias and those motivated by bias of other types (sexual orientation, religion, etc.). They found that African Americans, as well as other ethnic minorities, were more likely to be a victim of a bias crime than white Americans, and the results of this study also show that males, who already show a higher risk of assault than females,
"run a particularly high risk of bias crime victimization" (Messner, McHugh, and Felson 2004, 607). They also found that victims of bias crimes were more likely to be injured by their offender than victims of non-bias crimes (2004, 608). The authors note that this type of quantitative research is very limited and it is also to be noted, that this type of research would not be possible in Canada because the Criminal Code does not have a specific offence of hate-motivated assault.
These results are similar to those found by McDevitt, Balboni, Garcia, and Gu (2001). McDevitt et al. sent a survey by mail to each victim of bias motivated aggravated assault in the years 1992-1997 and took a 10% random sample of non-bias assault victims as comparison. Despite attempts to improve the low response rate, the ultimate number of respondents was 91 bias victims and 45 non-bias victims. The authors provide a good discussion of the challenges of recruitment and ethical issues for studies of this type (2001, 48-49). The study looked at demographic variables, relationship to the offender, how victims reacted to the assault, if they sought medical attention, if they reported the incident to the police.
Forty-six percent of victims of non-bias crime felt unsafe after the attack; however a significantly higher number of victims of bias crime felt unsafe (59%) (McDevitt et al. 2001, 54). Also, through utilizing Horowitz’s Impact of Event Scale, while only 6 items showed significant differences between the bias crime group and the non-bias crime group,
"every psychological impact measure from this scale had a higher mean value from the bias group than from the non-bias group" (McDevitt et al. 2001, 53). The authors summarize that,
"these conclusions support the claim that bias crimes do in fact affect their victims differently and that consequently law enforcement and social service agencies should be cognizant of these differences in assisting bias crime victims" (2001, 56).
In studying the psychological impact of hate crimes based on sexual orientation in Sacramento in the mid 1990s, Herek found that victims of hate crimes based on sexual orientation were more likely to have higher or more signs of distress than lesbian or gay victims of similar non-bias motivated crimes. Herek uses interview data from 450 volunteers. The larger sample (n=2,259) of sexual minority adults in Sacramento completed a lengthy survey about victimization and mental health. This sample was recruited through a variety of outreach methods and those who indicated they were willing to be interviewed were then contacted.
Herek describes this heightened distress as potentially a result of a
"heightened sense of personal danger and vulnerability that becomes associated with their identity as a gay man or lesbian" (Herek 1999). These victims are also likely to link this feeling of vulnerability or helplessness with their gay or lesbian identity. While other groups may not have the same experiences with hate crime as gay or lesbian people, Herek states that: it is reasonable to expect that victims of hate crimes based on race, ethnicity, religion, or another comparable characteristic may also experience heightened psychological distress because the incident represents a serious attack on a fundamental aspect of the victim’s personal identity. (Herek 1999, 2)
Herek and his colleagues found that victims of hate crime based on sexual orientation displayed
"significantly less belief in the benevolence of people," increased fear of crime, and increased feelings of vulnerability than other victims of comparable non-bias motivated crime (Herek et al. 1999). The authors further note that "hate crime survivors have special concerns in addition to those of victims of other crimes" (Herek et al. 1999) and therefore may require additional, specialized services in addition to those that already exist for all victims of crime. He also noted that there exists justification in identifying and differentiating hate crime from other types of victimization as "hate crimes appear to have a more serious impact on the victim than other crimes" (Herek et al. 1999). There may be a need for the expansion of existing victim services or development of new victim services geared towards the identified needs of victims of hate crime.
In a more recent article drawing upon the same data, "Victim Experiences in Hate Crimes Based on Sexual Orientation" (2002), Herek, Cogan, and Gillis suggest that the labelling of the victim’s experience of crime as a hate crime is generally well founded, as
"typically, the perpetrators made explicit statements, the attack occurred in a gay-identified location, or the crime was closely associated with behaviors by the victim that identified her or him as gay" (2002, 332). While Herek and his associates did not record significant differences in levels of fear during the attack, they were surprised by the
"physical and psychological brutality of the hate crimes described in the interviews" which resulted in
"heightened and prolonged psychological distress after the crime" (2002, 336).
Importantly, the researchers note that,
"Because research on the psychosocial impact of antigay [sic] crimes is still in its early stages, systematic description of the experiences associated with such crimes is needed." (Herek et al. 2002, 320). They note the value of close-ended questionnaires, but argue that qualitative, in-depth data from in-person interviews are data needed to fully understand the intricacies of hate crime victimization.
Cogan, in a 2002 article entitled, "Hate Crime as a Crime Category Worthy of Policy Attention," identified two specific impacts of hate crime. The first is the impact on the community, which Cogan argues is particularly devastating, as hate crimes are
"message crimes in that the perpetrator is sending a message to the members of a certain group that they are despised, devalued, or unwelcome in a particular neighbourhood, community, school, or workplace" (Cogan 2002, 177-178). The second impact, the impact on the individual victim, may result in the rejection of
"the aspect of themselves that was the target of the attack or associating a core part of their identity with fear, loss, and vulnerability" (Cogan 2002, 178).
In an article entitled, "Psychological Distress, Crime Features, and Help-Seeking Behaviors Related to Homophobic Incidents", Rose and Mechanic identified that
"homophobic sexual assaults…resulted in significantly more Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms than other types of bias crime" and that
"this effect was long term, lasting even for assaults occurring more than 2 years" prior (2002, 22). While victims of hate based threats of violence may not receive the most attention, they were the largest victim group according to this study (49%) and the authors argue that
"under some circumstances, even threats of assault could be quite distressing for victims" (2002, 24).
In 2005, Alden and Parker argued that even the study of hate crime itself has experienced little empirical testing with regard to the motivations of offenders and the effectiveness of hate crime legislation (Alden and Parker 2005). Much of the research reviewed herein is from the United States. While Canadians have been working on many elements of hate crime (investigation, reporting, prevention, research, etc.) for years, research on victims is only emerging. Janoff’s (2005) multi-method approach to documenting the tragedies of hate-motivated crime against one particular group of individuals provides one example of how to address the challenges of straightforward data collection. The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics data collection initiative, funded by Heritage Canada, is another example and will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.
Clearly, more research can be done in Canada and elsewhere to better understand the issue from all perspectives. The importance of quantitative and qualitative data has been identified as this is an emerging area of research (Herek et al. 2002, 320). The discussion section of this report will suggest research that can support and respond to the needs of victims of hate crimes.
 Horowitz, M., Wilner, M., and Alvarez, W. (1979). Impact of Event Scale. The Impact of Event Scale was developed by Horowitz, Wilner, and Alvarez to measure distress associated to a specific event. It is a self-reporting measure which consists of 15 items which subjects are asked to rate on a 4 point scale as to how often each item has occurred within the past week.
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