If Black Lives Matter then we have to tackle Hate Crime in Scotland

 Photo by Adam Wilson on Unsplash

Scotland is often considered to be one of the world’s most friendly, welcoming countries (as well as being voted as such), and having the best LGBT+ legal equality in Europe.

However, is this borne out in reality? Annual data published by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service demonstrates that hate crime and prejudice in all their forms continue to be lived, everyday realities for many of our citizens in Scotland, with an increase in the number of charges reported in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19 for all categories of hate crime.  There were 5612 charges in 2019-20, an increase of 698 from the previous reporting year. Worryingly, this will only ever be part of the picture – there is a consensus in the literature that it is under-reported (for many reasons), particularly hate crime relating to disability and transgender identity (Walters et al 2016).  It is also notable that the data gathered and published by the Crown Office reflects only the amount of charges and not convictions (these are typically far less), and does not account for crimes that have not been reported, the numerous hate incidents (any incident that is not a criminal offence, but perceived by the victim or any other to be motivated by hate or prejudice), or unconscious, institutional, and structural bias.

There are also troubling reports that hate crime has increased during (or as a direct impact of) the coronavirus pandemic, with England and Wales reporting a three-fold increase in hate crime, and anecdotal evidence on this emerging in Scotland.  This potentially reflects notions of ‘scapegoating’ when theorising the causes of hate crime, a blaming of ‘others’ for society’s ills (Roberts et al 2013). This is also against a backdrop of the growing body of evidence demonstrating that ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, highlighting fundamental socio-economic inequalities in the UK and beyond.

Of course, it’s not just about the numbers and statistics.  Research indicates that hate crime is more harmful to victims and communities than parallel offences, with wide-ranging emotional and psychological harms, and vicarious trauma felt by community members.  It’s damaging to community cohesion, and often aims to ‘send a message’ (whether literally, or symbolically) to individuals, groups, and communities that they are ‘not welcome’ (Walters et al 2016).  Many authors highlight that black and ethnic minority victims of hate offences are likely to be more negatively impacted by the offence than white majority group victims due to it constituting “a painful reminder of the cultural heritage of past and ongoing discrimination, stereotyping, and stigmatization of their identity group” (Iganski and Lagou 2015).  This is a potentially important point to note for practitioners working with people who commit hate crime belonging to ‘majority groups’, who may blame victims or groups for perceived slights and/or the offence(s) for which they have been convicted.

Recent events in the USA have served to bring racial prejudice, bias, and hate into stark relief, with people across the world mobilising like never before in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Scotland is not exempt from racial prejudice, injustice, and harm; racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime, with 3,038 charges relating to race crime reported in 2019-20, an increase of 4% compared to 2018-19 (with the aforementioned caveat relating to underreporting). These international events have sparked a much-needed interrogation of many of our own institutions and practices, and it remains vital that, despite improved responses to hate crimes/incidents by statutory agencies in Scotland, we must ensure we are not supporting the perpetuation of prejudice and take necessary action to prevent and reduce this.

Scotland is also at an important moment in time in terms of its innovative review of hate crime legislation, with the new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill being introduced to Parliament on 23 April 2020.  The proposed changes have not been without criticism, however, with concerns regarding freedom of speech coming from several quarters and potentially obscuring the positive changes the legislation seeks to bring.

In these troubling and challenging times, it is clear that hate and prejudice remain an issue at all levels of society, across the globe, and it appears to be more of an issue in Scotland than many of us may think.  For me, as a social work practitioner and researcher, it is therefore imperative to explore some key questions:

  • What drives people to target and harm other people on the basis of certain identity characteristics?
  • What are the individual/interpersonal, community-level, and wider structural ‘causes’ of hate crime?
  • Can we truly say that purely hate is the motivating factor?

The motivations or drivers that lead people to commit hate crime are an under-researched area. The very recent SCCJR report, ‘Taking Stock of Violence in Scotland’ recognises this, noting that existing inequalities and exclusion are exacerbated by the “repeat and routinised” nature of everyday hate crime and incidents in Scotland’s communities, many of which are not reported to the police as has been highlighted. The report emphasises that hate crime in Scotland should therefore be a focus for future research.

To this end, my social work PhD research is an attempt to shed further light on how and why hate crime occurs, by speaking directly to the very people convicted of hate crime in Scotland and gaining their accounts. This became of significant interest to me during my role as a Justice Social Worker, seconded to explore hate crime and our role in working with people who commit it, and led to the implementation of a restorative justice service within the statutory justice social work service I worked in to address the harms of hate crime. I feel it is vital to listen as closely as we can to the accounts of people who commit hate crime, in order to begin to truly understand the ‘motivators’ that underlie hate crime.  This will add to the body of research and interventions to address the harms of this type of offending, with the aim of reducing re-offending in this area.  I hope to be able to add depth to the existing research, and to explore the different intersecting levels that may contribute to hate crime occurring. Greater knowledge of the dynamics of hate crime may better inform our responses to it (including the wider use of restorative justice), and prevent further re-victimisation and harm.

The author of this blog is Rania Hamad, PhD Candidate in Social Work at the University of Edinburgh.   Follow her work on Twitter @RaniaHamad11

References:

Iganski, P and Lagou, S (2015) ‘Hate Crimes Hurt Some More Than Others: Implications for the Just Sentencing of Offenders’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2015 Vol 30(10): 1696-1718.

Roberts, Dr C et al (2013) Understanding who commits hate crime and why they do it.  Welsh Government Social Research Report No. 38/2013.

Walters, M, Brown, R and Wiedlitzka, S (2016) Causes and motivations of hate crime.  Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report 102.

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