Posted on 16 October 2018 by Hannah Piggott, Researcher
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of the Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has warned of a strong possibility that the UK will see a rise in hate crime following Britain’s exit from the European Union. As such, the need to understand victims and provide a fair, representative and quality service to them is of paramount importance.
Why is it that many victims of these incidents do not report their experiences to the authorities? What can be done to properly support those who do come forward? Our report on the experiences of victims of Hate Crime can shed further light on these issues.
The National Centre for Social Research was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) to conduct research into victims’ experiences of hate crime. In the first half of 2018, we interviewed people who had experienced a hate crime in the last two years. As part of these discussions, victims talked about how they decided whether to report their experiences to the police. We also asked them how they were treated by the police, criminal justice system, and support organisations.
Our research provides insight into factors that might prevent a victim of a traumatic crime from reporting the incident to the police. It also reveals some actions that agencies can take to ensure those who do report have a positive experience.
What discourages victims from reporting?
A number of key factors emerged that either discouraged or prevented victims from reporting a hate crime to the police:
- Seeing the incident as insufficiently serious to report – sometimes because they experienced hate crime so regularly they felt it was an inevitable part of their life
- Thinking the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, or that reporting would be a waste of time, because of limited evidence
- Anticipating that reporting to the police, and the potential follow-up process, would be long-winded and demanding
- Being put off by previous negative experiences with the police
- Not being able to access the reporting facilities they knew were available, due to geographical distance and/or limited mobility
- Fearing personal or wider repercussions, such as intensifying their attacker’s prejudice or drawing unwanted attention to themselves by highlighting a well-known individual’s wrongdoing
- Feeling ashamed or blaming themselves for what had happened.
How to support victims who do report
Our research suggests that when interacting with victims who report a traumatic experience, communication is key, as is the behaviour of police officers or other agency representatives who take these reports.
Communication: Being told what to expect, being given a realistic timeframe for further steps and being kept up-to-date with developments contributed to a positive reporting experience– even when the ultimate outcome was not what the victim hoped for. If a victim experiences inaccurate or inconsistent communication they might feel they are not being taken seriously or prioritised. This loss of confidence can reduce willingness to take the case forward. It was particularly important that victims were told if no further action would be taken on their case, and that clear explanations were provided.
Victim-officer interactions: How police officers interacted with victims when they reported their experience was very important. Those who felt they were treated with understanding, politeness and professionalism viewed their reporting experience positively. Our research brought up three key points to consider when a victim is reporting their experience:
- Show empathy towards the victim
- Take care not to downplay the individual’s experience or doubt their definition of what happened
- Ensure the officers responding to those reporting traumatic experiences have sufficient knowledge to deal with the situation sensitively.
Recognising and understanding the damaging effect of hate crime on victims, but also the wider community, is critical. Beyond the personal effects the experience may have on victims, there are consequences for intergroup relationships and community cohesion. These crimes target individuals on very personal levels, attacking fundamental parts of who they are and what they represent, preventing their full participation in society. Moving forward, it is important that the voices of victims are heard and acknowledged. It is our hope that these findings will support the police and other related criminal justices agencies in their interactions and service provision to victims of hate crime. Nearly twenty years on from the release of the MacPherson report, our communities are more diverse than ever. Ameliorating the response to victims of hate crime will involve balancing their safety and wellbeing as citizens, while promoting equality and diversity within all our communities.
Read our full report.