It’s national Hate Crime Awareness Week – a big event in the calendar of so many people and organisations (including my own) when we can show our solidarity and unity in fighting hatred.
It is a time when the police and criminal justice family join others in the public and charitable sector to send out a powerful message to all communities that those who breed hatred and contempt have no place in society and that we will work together to expose and punish such bigotry.
Each year Hate Crime Awareness Week gets bigger and reaches a wider audience. It is a fantastic opportunity to show victims of this awful crime that we treat seriously their experiences, thus encouraging more people to come forward and get help if they haven’t already done so. Of course, I suspect there will be many of you reading this article and asking ‘what is a hate crime?’
Well, the definition is a crime which the victim (or any other person) perceives to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards any aspect of that person’s identity. The police monitor and report on five types of hate crime: disability; gender identity; race, ethnicity or nationality; religion, faith or belief and sexual orientation.
So, when you read headlines such as ‘Hate crime goes up in XXXXXX’ – that refers to reported crime and all police forces, as well as police and crime commissioners, would say an increase in reported hate crime is a good thing. That increase means that communities which have previously lacked confidence in talking to the police now feel more comfortable to do so. It also means that the police have built good relationships so have a better understanding of community issues and are working more closely to solve them. The two go hand in hand.
Very often victims and witnesses of hate crime do not want to report it directly to the police and are more comfortable telling someone they are familiar with. To ensure all victims and witnesses are able to report hate crimes, the police work in partnership with a wide variety of partners who perform the role of third party reporting centres. Staff in these centres have been trained to help victims or witnesses to submit a report to the police. Below there is a link to third party reporting centres in Devon and Cornwall.
The majority of the public is repugnant of hate crime crimes, and perpetrators should be in no doubt that their actions will be condemned and punished using the full arm of the law. When people choose to target people because of their sexuality, the colour of their skin, their gender, their different religion, or even the country where they are born – community groups, youth leaders, charities, volunteers and many other right minded people will join forces, strengthen their resolve and to call-out those actions. I have seen lots of examples where this is true.
After a man attempted to start a fire at the synagogue in Exeter in July police worked quickly to find the offender and charge him. But it was the reaction of other faiths that perhaps best illustrates that communities will not back down in the face of intimidation as messages of support came in from Exeter Cathedral, from Exeter Mosque, from county hall, from police headquarters and from many other sources. And the message was the same – tolerance and mutual respect are the hallmarks of a civilised society – behaviour like this will not change our view that we can and should all respect religious beliefs in peace.
In May last year, when I visited Plymouth in the wake of the Manchester bombing to reassure the public that the police were doing everything they could to keep people safe – it brought community leaders together informally at Drake’s Circus and, there and then, a pledge was given to ensure the city’s Respect festival would happen again. I am so proud to say that my office managed to play a part in making this happen and in July we saw the city’s biggest celebration of diversity for many years.
There is still work to do and I know that the police are looking long and hard at how they can help schools and universities to encourage their students to report hate crime.
Often young people are reluctant to report incidents for fear their concerns will not be taken seriously and the police are committed to working with educational establishments to make sure their staff have the right training to identify and report hate incidents and so they consider reporting a positive thing for their organisations.
If you are a victim of hate crime, or if you know somebody who has been, then do not be silent. The police will listen to you, you will be believed and the crimes committed against you will be investigated. But that can only happen if you take the first step and report the crime, or find a way that you are comfortable for it to be reported.
Please, don’t let the perpetrators of hate crime get away with it any longer.
You can find out more about third party reporting here: www.devon-cornwall.police.uk/others-who-can-help/safeguarding-links/hate-crime-minority-groups
If you want more general information about hate crime visit: www.stophateuk.org/what-is-hate-crime/