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Hate crimes are generally defined as crimes motivated by bias or prejudice against the victim’s real or perceived race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. Hate crime legislation varies by state according to the victim characteristics protected, as well as by requirements for data collection and law enforcement training. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes comprise less than 1% of all reported crimes. However, hate crimes are believed to be underreported, and the National Crime Victimization Survey reported over 200,000 hate crime victimizations from mid-2000 through December 2003. Since hate crimes are perceived by many as qualitatively different from nonhate crimes, it is logical to expect unique physical and emotional responses to victimization experiences.
The health effects of hate crimes may be felt by both the individual victim and the broader community. Proponents of hate crime legislation argue that the harm extends beyond the individual victim to members of the group that share the victim’s real or perceived characteristics. However, there has been a dearth of research on the effects of hate crime on communities at large. Additionally, early researchers focused on the physical harm experienced by victims of hate crimes, which has been characterized as excessively brutal. Media coverage of high-profile cases— such as the murder in 1998 of Matthew Shepard, a gay university student in Wyoming who was severely beaten and died from his injuries, and James Byrd, an African American man in Texas who was dragged to his death the same year—highlights the extreme cruelty inflicted on some hate crime victims.
Some researchers have found that hate crime victims suffer more severe physical injuries than those who are the victims of nonhate crimes. A study in the 1990s by Jack Levin and Jack McDevitt on hate crime assaults in Boston found that a higher percentage of hate crime victims than nonhate crime victims required medical treatment. Similarly, a 2005 study of National Incident-Based Reporting System data on hate crime assaults found that hate crime victims were more likely to be seriously injured than nonhate crime victims. However, not all studies confirm that hate crime victims suffer more severe physical injuries than nonhate crime victims, and the vast majority of reported hate crimes are low-level offenses, such as harassment and intimidation, in which no injuries are sustained.
In addition to examining the physical effects of hate crime victimization, researchers have explored the psychological effects of victimization, finding some indication that hate crime victims report higher levels of psychological harm. Studies have found that hate crime victims report feeling more nervous, having trouble concentrating, and feeling more angry than nonhate crime victims. A victim survey conducted by researchers at Northeastern University measured psychological and behavioral responses of victims of both hate- and nonhate-motivated incidents of aggravated assault. The researchers found that hate crime victims suffered more severe and longer-lasting psychological effects than victims of nonhate crimes, but there was little difference between the victims’ behavioral responses. Hate crime victims reported psychological effects, such as having trouble concentrating at work, experiencing intrusive thoughts about the crime, feeling depressed or sad, and feeling more nervous than usual. However, there was no difference between hate and nonhate crime victims’ behavioral responses, such as avoidance, relocating, attempted suicide, or taking self-defense classes.
Overall, more research is needed to investigate the physical and psychological health consequences of hate crimes. In general, there is little research to support the contention that hate crime victims suffer more severe injuries than nonhate crime victims. However, some research bears out that hate crime victims may in fact experience greater psychological harm.
- Garcia, L., McDevitt, J., Gu, J., & Balboni, J. (2002). Psychological and behavioral effects of bias and nonbias motivated assault. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.
- Garofalo, J. (1997). Hate crime victimization in the United States. In R. Davis, A. Lurigio, & W. Skogan (Eds.), Victims of crime (2nd ed., pp. 134—145). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Harlow, C. W. (2005). Hate crime reported by victims and police. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Herek, G., & Berrill, K. (1992). Hate crimes: Confronting violence against lesbians and gay men. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Herek, G., Cogan, J., & Gillis, J. (2002). Victim experiences in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 319-399.
- Lawrence, F. (1999). Punishing hate: Bias crimes under American law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
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