The role of social work in tackling hate crime

With hate crime on the rise in Scotland and elsewhere, Rania Hamad undertook a literature review exploring hate crime, and the causes, motivations and effective interventions for criminal justice social work, which was published by CYCJ. Here, she summarises the key findings of her work, and the important role CJSW can play in working with victims and offenders.

What do you think of when we use the term ‘hate crime’?  I asked some social work colleagues, and they talked of racism, and crimes against the person such as assault, and sectarianism, and fear.  Before this research, I would not have fathomed the sheer magnitude and complexity of ‘hate crime’ and all that it may entail.  Defined by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland as “a crime motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group”, reports of hate crime are increasing, with Edinburgh seeing a rise in all reported hate crimes over the last five years.

National and international events, as well as political climates and media rhetoric, can influence rates, with a reported spike in hate crime following the EU Referendum vote and the recent terrorist incidents in Manchester and London.

Hate crime can range from verbal abuse, damage to buildings and property, ‘minor’ violence, sexual offences, exploitation, and very serious violence including murder.  Extremist, or “mission”, offenders constitute a very small proportion of hate offenders but they can serve to instil fear and anxiety amongst minority communities and can influence wider ideologies and ‘justify’ other forms of hate offending.

Just under half of hate crime victims will know the perpetrator, increasing as much as 75% for anti-LGBT hate crime.  There are definitional issues with the term ‘hate crime’, of course – perpetrators may not be truly motivated by hate for their victims, and there is potential for obscuring the everyday, ‘ordinary’ experiences of prejudice that people may encounter which do not constitute a ‘crime’.  The notion of ‘Intersectionality’ adds to the complexity – victims may be targeted due to more than one of their identity characteristics, therefore it cannot be neatly reduced to simplistic categories or victim ‘types’.  The use of the internet as contributing to hate speech and hate crime is an increasing issue; yet it is unknown if the sharing of hate-based ideologies online leads to offending behaviour in the physical world.

Crucially, research indicates that the trauma experienced by victims can be more enduring and harmful than non-hate related offending, and hate crime also has detrimental effects on communities as well as individuals.  Tackling hate crime is deemed as an “absolute priority” for Police Scotland, and the review of existing hate crime legislation in Scotland by Lord Bracadale to ensure it is fit for purpose is a welcome move – due to be completed by January 2018.

Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) Services in Edinburgh decided to use Scottish Government funding to explore how we can strengthen our response to hate crime in order to reduce the harm caused to victims and communities, and promote offender rehabilitation and reintegration. I was tasked with undertaking research into hate crime and exploring effective interventions with perpetrators, with guidance via the Knowledge Exchange Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh.

When exploring the different causes of hate crime, it is evident that the formation of prejudice and prejudice-related offending can occur at individual and structural levels, linking to the role of shame (felt by perpetrators due to their own difficulties and status in life), social hierarchies, ‘ingroups’ and ‘outgroups’, socio-economic disadvantage, perceptions of threat and loss, and peer group influences, as well as wider political rhetoric and the media.

The literature agrees that those who commit hate crimes tend to be young, white males who may be unemployed or in low-income employment, with their offending potentially exacerbated by substance use and with previous convictions for general offending.  However, reducing offenders to a type or category is cautioned against due to the range of offenders, offences, and causal factors we may deal with.  Nevertheless, a ‘typology’ of hate crime offenders was proposed by McDevitt et al in 2002, based on their research of 169 case files from the Boston Police Department: Thrill-Seeker; Defensive; Retaliatory; and Mission offenders, with thrill-seekers being the most common.  This typology, however, does not fully account for offences against disabled people, where exploitation may be a key motivation.

It became apparent from the literature that there has been a distinct lack of research on CJSW and how it fits in tackling hate crime.  There is also very little research on assessing risk with hate crime perpetrators – my review mainly draws on work undertaken by the London Probation Trust in this area. This demonstrated that offenders tend to minimise and deny the aggravated offending and engage in victim-blaming; have an absence of victim empathy and distorted sense of provocation, leading to a tendency towards violence as a form of conflict resolution; and have a sense of entitlement and alienation and a poor sense of their own identity, as well as a distorted idea about the victim and perceived difference.  These risk factors would therefore shape any intervention undertaken with the offender.  Working with offenders in a non-judgemental, non-labelling way will be crucial, in order to develop a positive working relationship and allow for appropriate challenging and, ultimately, a change in attitudes and desistance from offending.

I undertook an overview of nine hate crime interventions for perpetrators (in Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland), which highlighted that the main Scottish programme, Anti-Discriminatory Awareness Practice Training (ADAPT), is not widely-known amongst practitioners.  Overall, there’s been limited research and evaluation undertaken in relation to the true efficacy of most of the programmes.  When exploring the key factors in effective interventions, it is of particular interest that the addition of restorative practices could lead to better outcomes for victims and a potential reduction in analogous offending.

As such, a Restorative Justice and Hate Crime pilot service is being developed by CJSW in Edinburgh to bring together perpetrators and victims in an attempt to address the harm caused.  This is something that has never been attempted in a statutory adult criminal justice setting within Scotland, and particularly important in the light of the 2016 Report of the Independent Advisory Group on Hate Crime, Prejudice and Community Cohesion’s recommendation that “the Scottish Government and partners should explore the use of restorative justice methods with victims and perpetrators of hate crime”.

For CJSW in Edinburgh, I have organised training in relation to the nature, harms, causes, and motivations of hate crime, as well as in the ADAPT intervention, to aid assessment and intervention with hate crime perpetrators.  I am now seeking an appropriate measure to assess prejudice at the
pre-sentence stage – a very difficult area to assess.    The ultimate aim is to ameliorate the harms caused by prejudice-motivated offending.

About our blogger

Rania Hamad is a Senior Practitioner in Criminal Justice Social Work (Hate Crime) with the City of Edinburgh Council. She was supported in this work by colleagues at the University of Edinburgh. Listen to her IRISS podcast here.


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