Hate Crime Victimisation Study Uncovers the True Harms of Hate

 By Jon Garland

Jon Garland, Reader in Criminology, reports on the findings from the Leicester Hate Crime Project, the largest ever study of hate crime victimisation

Recently I was co-organiser of a highly-successful conference, held on 5 September, that launched the findings from the Leicester Hate Crime Project, a two-year study of hate crime victimisation funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Broadly speaking, the aims of the project were to examine people’s experiences of hate, prejudice and targeted hostility; to understand the physical and emotional harms suffered by individuals and their families; and to identify ways of improving the quality of support available to victims. The study, undertaken jointly with academics based at the University of Leicester, was conducted in Leicester due to its extraordinarily diverse population. The city is home to substantial minority ethnic populations that are both newly arrived and well-established, as well as a wide range of faith, sexual and other minority communities, and it is this rich diversity which made Leicester a highly appropriate site in which to explore experiences of hate, prejudice and targeted hostility.

The project used a deliberately broad and inclusive definition of hate crime in order to capture the experiences of anyone, from any background, who felt that they had been victimised specifically because of their identity or perceived ‘difference’. This framework enabled the research team to expand upon the range of victim groups and experiences typically covered within conventional studies of hate crime. Rather than focusing solely upon the five strands of victim identity (race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status) which are monitored by criminal justice agencies, we wanted to give a voice to victims who have tended to be peripheral or ‘invisible’ within academic research and official policy but whose victimisation can often bear all of the hallmarks of recognised hate crimes.

In order to achieve these aims the study used a mixed methods approach that included:

  • an online and hard-copy survey, translated into seven different languages;
  • in-depth, semi-structured face-to-face interviews; and
  • personal and reflective researcher field diary observations.

A total of 1,106 questionnaires were completed by people aged 16 and over who had experienced a hate crime in accordance with the definition employed within this study. In addition, interviews were carried out with 374 victims, and in combination with our survey respondents we heard from a total of 1,421 victims over the duration of the study[1].

The findings highlighted that acts of hate, prejudice and targeted hostility feature regularly in the lives of people from all kinds of different backgrounds and communities. Most of these incidents are not reported, with many victims feeling isolated, vulnerable and ignored by criminal justice agencies, local authorities and other organisations in a position to offer support. More specifically:

  • As many as 87% of victims had experienced verbal abuse and 70% had been harassed, often repeatedly.
  • 32% had experienced violent crime, 27% cyberbullying, and 10% a sexually violent hate crime such as rape or sexual assault.
  • All forms of hate crime had affected victims’ emotional and physical health, with particularly high numbers of victims of disablist and transphobic hate referring to feeling vulnerable, depressed or suicidal. 
  • Many victims had experienced hate incidents when travelling on public transport.
  • A surprisingly high proportion of hate crime perpetrators had been known to victims, either as acquaintances, neighbours, friends, work colleagues, family members or carers.
  • Less than a quarter of victims had reported their most recent experience of hate crime to the police, and fewer still had reported to other networks, organisations or individuals in a position of authority and trust.

The findings also revealed that around half of victims had been targeted due to more than one aspect of their identity (race and sexual orientation, or disability and race, for example). We also found that the targeted victimisation of communities not officially recognised as hate crime victim groups – such as goths and others with alternative dress, appearance or lifestyle, or those targeted due to their age or gender, for example – resembled that of the recognised groups in terms of its nature, extent and impact. Interestingly, when asked about why they felt hate crimes were perpetrated, victims across different communities pointed to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the background of others that fuelled suspicion and hostility between groups. Many victims therefore showed a strong preference for the use of educational interventions and restorative approaches to justice, rather than supporting the use of extended prison sentences or other forms of harsher punishment.

At the conference on 5 September I co-presented these findings while also taking part in a ‘Hate Crime Question Time’ panel that included the Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Simon Cole, and the Chief Executive of the Sophie Lancaster foundation, Sylvia Lancaster. Feedback from delegates regarding the quality of the research undertaken, and the findings themselves, was overwhelmingly positive, with one describing the project as ‘setting a benchmark for similar future work in the fields of sociology, criminology and law’. Although the research team was delighted with this response we are also very keen for the research itself to make a positive and lasting difference to the lives of victims of hate crime. To this end, as well as writing a Findings and Conclusions report and a series of briefing papers, we produced a 10-point Victims’ Manifesto that we are encouraging individuals and organisations to sign up to. The Manifesto embodies the needs and expectations of those whose lives have been directly affected by hate crime. It contains what we feel are an important, achievable and victim-centred set of recommendations whose implementation can help to deliver more effective services for victims locally and nationally.

To sign up to the Victims’ Manifesto, please visit http://tinyurl.com/mr5p2eb. For a full list of the publications from the project, including its Findings and Conclusions report and briefing papers, see http://tinyurl.com/nveskwm.

Jon is the co-editor of Responding to Hate Crime published by Policy Press in May 2014 (see http://tinyurl.com/k9z26tm).


[1] 59 of the 1,106 survey respondents also took part in face-to-face interviews with the research team.


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