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The Meaning And Reasons Of Hate Crimes

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There has been a drastic rise in hate crimes over the last decade and it does not look like slowing down. Just shortly before writing this there was an attack on different mosques in New Zealand where over fifty people have died and forty plus more have been injured and are in critical condition.

There is no doubt that this was a heinous hate crime. These atrocious acts were committed by a white supremacist with a message to share to the world, which was that Muslims needed to be eradicated in order to make the world a better place. The most shocking thing about these acts is that the terrorist live streamed his acts via Facebook for millions across the world to see before it was taken down by the social media giants. This means that there were bystanders, in the non-strictest way, witnessing these attacks all over the world from those in the same city to those in different countries.

Many called the police from the safety of their homes to alert them of what was happening and where it was happening, many chose to act in order to stop the vicious acts. This brings me to question whether these people would still act if they were on the street with the gunman or would they act if it wasn’t a gunman but rather just a bully beating up a victim.

The sad reality is that bystanders rarely act when faced with a situation like this in front of them and the action of them not doing anything is valuable to the criminal but when they do act that value goes to the victim. That is what this essay will address whether bystander action can be particularly valuable in instances of hate crime, not only to the victim but also to the criminal. I will first explain what is meant by hate crime and what it involves, then I will explain what bystander action is. When all that is cleared, I will then explain what the reasonings are to suggest that bystander action can be particularly valuable in instances of hate crime, not only to the victim but also to the criminal, as bystander action affects them both. After that, I will then delve into my conclusion and bring this essay to an end.

The first question we need to unravel is what hate crimes are and what they involve. Lim explains that “Although hate crimes tend to be random events, victims of hate crimes are not attacked for random reasons.” (Lim, 2009, p. 109) Chakraborti expounds on hate crimes by stating “Hate crime cuts through numerous themes central to social scientific enquiry, whether this be ‘race’, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or simply ‘otherness’ per se.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 2).

It is clear that hate crimes targets specific people that are “different” or diverse and it is not only those with a different race or a different ethnicity as is popularly thought but rather it affects those with a different religion, sexuality or gender. It is largely thought that hate crimes only affects or has an impact on the direct victims but this is untrue, Lim affirms this by saying “Hate crimes impact society on three interrelated levels: the direct victim, the targeted community group (the victim’s shared community), and intergroup relations.” (Lim, 2009, p. 119) It is clear that hate crime goes beyond the direct victim, those within the same “difference” with the victims will begin to fear if they are next and this affects them mentally. The hate crime also affects the relationship between those in the victim’s community and the larger community in general as those afraid to be targeted next distrust those in the general community. That is not the only myth surrounding hate crimes,

Chakraborti debunks another myth in which many people think a hate crime involves hate, “Hate crimes are not crimes in which the offender simply hates the victim, and in reality crimes do not need to be motivated by hatred at all in order to be classified as a hate crime.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 4). When asked what entails a hate crime, it is popular opinion that hate has to be involved, for obvious reasons, however in actual reality it is not the fundamental principal of the crime.

Previously the Association of Chief Police Officers have defined hate crimes as “Any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by prejudice or hate.” (Association of Chief Police officers, 2018). However, it was deemed to be wrong because as Chakraborti puts it “hate is a slippery, emotive and conceptually ambiguous label that can mean different things to different people, and this has important implications for the way in which we conceive of the offences that fall under its umbrella framework and the actors involved in a hate crime, whether these be victims, perpetrators or agencies of control.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 3).

Hate is a word that means different things to different people and the thing about the law is that the law must be consistent, all the offences and the meanings behind them must be uniform in order for the law to work efficiently and proficiently. Thus, they were faced with a situation where hate is not essential to the commission of a hate crime and that in reality crimes need not be motivated by hatred at all to be considered as a hate crime (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 8) and the word hate itself was rather unclear and erroneous in defining what hate crime consists of as an offence. “We have seen that the term ‘hate’ is a problematic, ambiguous, and in many cases inaccurate label used to describe the offences with which it is commonly associated, and there is considerable disparity between the various academic and official interpretations of what constitutes a hate crime.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 14)

This problem was swiftly resolved by the Association of Chief Police officers when they changed the definition of hate crime to “Any criminal offence or incident, which may or may not constitute a criminal offence, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, as being motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.” (Association of Chief Police officers, 2018, p. 7). The question faced now is that when it is clear that the word hate is a problematic term and it has been removed in totality from the definition, then why do people still call the offences hate crimes. The simple answer is that the media still chose to use the word “hate” in their products because it is dramatic, powerful and sounds violent and we all know words like hate help to sell news and whatever else the media are putting across to viewers. Even if hate crimes were to be changed in name officially, media outlets would still input the hate factor in order to sell what they need to. Hence why hate crimes are still called so.

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Hate crimes differ from ordinary crimes in many ways and one of these ways is that with hate crimes there is more psychological damage done, “There is some empirical evidence that hate crimes are more psychologically damaging to the victims than non-hate crimes.” (Rayburn, et al., 2003, p. 1056). This is due to the fact that the victims know that they are being targeted because of a specific characteristic about them. Thus, they blame themselves for having this different characteristic, they believe that they deserve the hate they get and this leads to lower self-esteem and mental problems. Craig confirms this when he maintains that “Their misfortune establishes them as different from others, and this self-perception of deviance contributes to a negative self-image.” (Craig-Henderson, 2009, p. 22) Hate crimes are not just ordinary crimes but they are also “message crimes,” Chakraborti explains this when he asserts that “hate crimes are acts of violence and intimidation directed not only towards the victim but towards the wider community to which he or she belongs, and thereby these crimes are designed to convey a message to this community that they are somehow “different” and ‘don’t belong’.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 5). These are crimes that send a message, and in the case of hate crimes it is not only the victim that gets the messages but also their community group, “As ‘message’ crimes, acts of hate reach ‘into the community to create fear, hostility and suspicion’ and in so doing reaffirm ‘the hegemony of the perpetrator’s and the “appropriate” subordinate identity of the victim’s group.” (Chakraborti & Garland, 2009, p. 5) Hate crimes have the damaging consequences on communities of breaking the communities’ sense of union and cohesion by creating group-based partitions that hinder social relations and incite intergroup violence. (Lim, 2009) It is clear now what hate crimes are, what they entail and who they affect, but before we can proceed to answering the question posed, we must first define what bystander action is and what it entails.

When I searched up bystander in the Oxford English Dictionary, this is the definition I came across “a person who is present at an event or incident but does not take part.” ( Oxford English Dictionary, 1884) It seems to be self-explanatory. When we refer to bystander action, we are referring to what they chose to do in that moment, when they are witnessing an event or an incident, if they chose to act then they took action but if they chose not to act then that in itself is an action, an action of choosing to ignore what is going on. Bystanders are not obliged by law to do anything when witnessing a crime, Laurel gives more details, “The law does not impose a duty to intervene, to rescue, or to prevent harm where doing so poses a risk to oneself.” (Fletcher, 2005, p. 1030) The law is very clear on this point and there have been numerous cases where bystanders could have stopped atrocious acts, such as the murder case of Kitty Genovese in 1964, in which it was claimed that 38 witnesses watched or heard her repeatedly get stabbed and every single bystander failed to intervene. (, 2018) But none of these bystanders faced any charges for failing to act. Thus, it is clear that bystanders can take any course of action that they choose without having to fear the consequences and more over if they do choose to act it will be from a sense of morals rather than obligations.

Now that hate crimes and bystander action have been explained sufficiently, we can deal with what reasoning there is to suggest that bystander action can be particularly valuable in instances of hate crime. When it comes to hate crimes bystander actions are particularly important because according to bystanders are present in 86% of hate crimes, “Most hate crimes and incidents take place in public space, such as [public transport], streets, shops, and bars. It is hard to imagine those completely deserted. In fact, bystanders are present in up to 86% of cases of crimes.” (, 2018) Meaning bystanders and the actions that they take can affect up to 86% of hate crimes, this can either be positively or negatively. I will first deal with why bystander action is valuable to the victim before then turning to examining why it could also be valuable to the perpetrator of the hate crime.

When a bystander witness’s a hate crime and decides to act, rather than ignore, their actions can have a positive effect on both the circumstances the victim is facing and the victim themselves in numerous ways. By acting the bystander can halt the unpleasant incident or stop it from intensifying. (, 2018) This is valuable to the victim because it stops them from getting more physically hurt in the incident or stops them from getting hurt at all.

This is important and valuable to the victim because then the victim will not have to face medical issues or even mental issues because a bystander acted before the crime could have been escalated to a level where they would have these issues. When considering hate crimes this is even more valuable because the consequences, whether physical or psychological, are more serious for the victims of such. An additional reason to why bystander actions are particularly valuable to victims is because they support the victim (, 2018).

Rayburn explains the intentions of the perpetrator when committing a hate crime, “The intent of the act is to express condemnation, hate, disapproval, dislike, and or distrust for that victim and the group that they are part of.” (Rayburn, et al., 2003) This is made clear to the victim who then goes on to blame themselves, they blame whatever part it is that makes them different, this leads to lower self-esteem and negative thoughts about themselves that can lead to issues such as suicide. Craig enlightens on this “In the wake of a hate crime, victims’ views of themselves are especially likely to be deflated relative to their esteem before victimization. Not only is the hate crime victim likely to feel powerless in the wake of the incident, but because they know that they have been deliberately singled out, they are apt to experience a sense of deviance.” (Craig-Henderson, 2009, p. 22)

However, with bystander action it assures the victim that it is not their fault because it shows that not everyone in that town, city or environment thinks the same thing or are prejudice against them. Rayburn explains this importance “A particularly crucial element in the recovery process appears to be bystanders’ non-judgmental attitudes that reassure the victim’s innocence.” (Rayburn, et al., 2003, p. 1056) It comforts the victim to know that there are people on their side and this allows them to recover from the ordeal quicker because they now know they are not alone and not everyone in their community is prejudice against them. “The feeling of being valued that comes from meaningful social support helps to soothe social pain; people regularly derive a great deal of solace from other people when they are distressed.” (MacDonald & Leary, 2005, p. 207) MacDonald explains that any social anxiety or pain that the victim was facing because of the hate crime will be easier dealt with because of the bystander action. This is very valuable to the victim and the victim’s community. Bystander action is also valuable to victims because it empowers the victim to report the incident, it allows the victim to realise that such events should not be occurring and that it is against the general consensus. This allows the victim to be braver and to take action knowing that others will back them and be behind them. This also applies to the victims’ group, when they see one of their own that has been targeted for hate crime being defended by those that aren’t in the group it gives them confidence to know that the larger community is generally behind them and this confidence allows them to report any incidents, they face no matter how small. This keeps the community intact and does not allow hate crimes to spread.

I have shown reasoning and evidences to suggest that bystander action can be particularly valuable in instances of hate crime for the victim, however a victim is not the only party in a hate crime, there is also the perpetrator or perpetrators and bystander actions are equally valuable to them.

Technically it is not bystander actions that are valuable to them but rather it is the action of the bystanders choosing to ignore their crime that is valuable to them. When a perpetrator is in the act of committing a hate crime and the bystanders chooses to act by ignoring the crime it empowers the criminal. “When people turn away, it gives the message to the offender that their behaviour is normal and acceptable.” (, 2018) When they believe that what they are doing is the norm and that people do not have a problem with it or moreover support what they are doing, then this encourages them to continue or even to go and commit another crime. This kind of encouragement is dangerous because it leads to higher rates of hate crime and moreover for the victim it shows to them that the perpetrator is right about them and that the community would rather support acts of crime than support the victim, it leads to lower self-esteem for the victim because they blame themselves and there is no one to show them the support they need but rather it is the perpetrator that is getting the support. “If hate crimes indeed result in a less favourable impression of the victim by third parties, this may partially explain why they are more psychologically damaging to the victim.” (Rayburn, et al., 2003, p. 1057)

This response by the victim is also what makes bystander action valuable to the culprit. The criminal came out with an intention to “send a message,” Perry expounds “Hate crime provides a context in which the perpetrator can reassert his/her hegemonic identity, and at the same time, punish the victim(s) for the individual or collective performance of their identity. In other words, hate motivated violence is used to sustain the privilege of the dominant group, and to police the boundaries between groups by reminding the other of his/her ‘place’.” (Perry & Alvi, 2012, p. 61) With the victims reacting to bystanders action in this way it is clear to the perpetrator that their message has been received loud and clear by them, this is what is valuable to the perpetrator of hate crimes that the message they plan to send through the heinous crimes have been received loud and clear.

In this essay I have clarified the meaning of hate crimes, why it is that people commit such crimes, who they target and indeed what the crimes involve. I have also explained what a bystander is, what bystander action means and involve, even how the non-action by a bystander is indeed still an action. I was asked the question of what is the reasoning to suggest that bystander action can be particularly valuable in instances of hate crime. I have expressed that, first off it is not only valuable to victims as one would think but that it is also valuable to the perpetrators of the crimes. I have shown that when bystanders act in favour of the victim It is valuable because it can halt the unpleasant incident or stop it from intensifying, it can support the victim and it leads to the empowers of the victim to report the incident and heinous crimes they face. Bystander action of ignoring the crime is also valuable to the perpetrator because it empowers the criminal, it makes them believe they are doing the right thing and that they have the support of their community, it also causes the victim to lose self-esteem and this is valuable to the culprit because it makes it clear to them that their message has been received loud and clear by the victims. It is clear that bystander action is valuable to both parties depending on the actions that the bystander takes, I have laid out the reasonings to suggest so and the reasonings are sound.

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The Meaning And Reasons Of Hate Crimes. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
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