The phenomenon of hate-motivated crimes

A criminological overview on the subject of hate crime can be found in a paper (German) published by the by the German Forum for Crime Prevention in 2006.

In a German-speaking context , the terms ‘hate crime’ (Hasskriminalität) and ‘hate-motivated crime’ (hassmotivierte Kriminalität) are used. The English term ‘hate crime’ is also prevalent. ‘Hate crime’ (Hasskriminalität) does not always convey the motivation for a crime (in this case, hatred of or aversion towards certain groups), whereas ‘hate-motivated crime’ (hassmotivierte Kriminalität) refers clearly to both elements of the definition of this phenomenon as presented above.

In Germany, there is no way of knowing exactly how many hate-motivated crimes are committed. German legislation places racist hate crime in the category of ‘politically motivated crime’, with the result that statistics are only collected for that, much broader, category. Other hate-motivated crimes only appear in the statistics corresponding to existing statutes; the crimes’ motivation is not taken into account.

Hate crimes are not easy to define as criminal offences. They can be cases of intimidation, threats, property damage, physical attacks, murder or other crimes.

When a hate crime is committed, the perpetrator intends to harm the victim not only as an individual, but as a member of a group which the perpetrator hates and perceives as being inferior. This kind of crime is not individual; it concerns society as a whole, as such, entails a responsibility to prosecute instances of such acts.

A study conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights indicates that in the EU, many hate-motivated crimes are neither reported nor followed up on, and thus remain hidden from the public. The reason for this seems to be the limited willingness of victims and witnesses to report them to the police.

Hate-motivated crimes target an identifying feature over which the victim usually has no control. Physically handicapped persons, to name an example, do not choose their disability. This type of crime is traumatic for its victims. The effects can negatively influence their quality of life.

To the same extent, this type of crime can come to possess a symbolic meaning; hate-motivated violence sends the message that any other person in the group could have been the victim.

© Büro zur Umsetzung von Gleichbehandlung e.V. 2011