Hate Crime Definitions and Trends
Hate on the Internet
Hate Crime Definitions and Trends
What is a hate crime?
These are crimes committed against individuals or groups or
property based on the real or perceived race, religion,
gender, sexual orientation, disability, national origin, or
ethnicity of the victims. The role played by these personal
characteristics in motivating the offender is the key
difference between hate crimes and other crimes.
Why do hate crimes occur?
Hate crimes often occur as a result of prejudice and
ignorance. A lack of understanding about differences among
people and their traditions contributes to fear and
intolerance. Left unaddressed, these sentiments may often
lead to acts of intimidation and ultimately hate-motivated
How often do hate crimes occur?
According to the FBI, reported hate crimes increased
slightly, from 7,462 in 2002 to 7,489 in 2003. The 7,489 hate
crime incidents reported to the FBI involved 8,715 separate
offenses, 9,100 victims, and 6,934 known offenders. Racial
bias represented the largest percentage of bias-motivated
incidents (51.3%), followed by Religion Bias (17.9%), Sexual
Orientation Bias (16.5%), Ethnicity Bias (13.7%), and
Disability Bias (0.4%). Anti-black bias was the most
prevalent racial motivation, with 2,548 incidents (34% of all
hate crimes); anti-male homosexual bias was the most common
sexual orientation motivation, with 783 incidents (10.5% of
all hate crimes). The number of reported anti-Islamic crimes
decreased from 155 in 2002 to 149 in 2003, a decrease of
0.4%. In addition, the number of hate crimes directed at
individuals on the basis of their national origin/ethnicity
also decreased ¬¬- from 1,102 in 2002 to 1,026 in 2003.
Who commits hate crimes?
Of the 6,934 identified hate crime offenders, the majority
were white (4,317, or 62.3%); 1,286 (18.5%) were black, 61
(0.9%) were American Indian or Alaskan Native, 93 (1.3%) were
Asian or Pacific Islander, 741 (10.7%) were of unknown race,
and the remaining 436 (6.3%) were of other races or multiple
races. The five states with the highest numbers of hate crime
were: California (1,472 incidents, 19.7% of total reported
incidents), New York (602, 8%), New Jersey (594, 7.9%),
Michigan (427, 5.7%), and Massachusetts (403, 5.4%). These
five states comprise 46.7% of all incidents reported in the
Where do hate crimes usually occur?
According to the FBI, the highest percentage of reported hate
crimes (32%) occurred on or near residential properties. The
FBI also reports that 19% of hate crimes committed took place
on highways, roads, alleys, or streets. Another 11% of those
crimes took place at schools and colleges, while 28% were
widely distributed across different locations.
Are hate crimes decreasing or increasing?
It is difficult to tell if hate crimes are on the rise or on
the decline. On the one hand, reporting hate crimes is a
voluntary action taken by States and localities. Some States
with clear histories of racial prejudice and intolerance have
reported zero incidents of hate crimes. At the same time,
many victims of hate crimes are often reluctant to come
forward -- a direct result of the trauma caused by the crime.
Although the Hate Crime Statistics Act was passed in 1990,
States have only been collecting and reporting information
about these crimes to the FBI since 1991. It appears that for
those States and localities that have reported hate crimes,
the number of incidents nationwide has continued to hover
annually somewhere between 6,000 and 8,600. Again, this may
be indicative simply of the reporting or non-reporting trends
of different localities
Is there an increase in hate crimes following a national
crisis or during other difficult times?
While direct correlations are always difficult to establish,
there is strong evidence that when the country is faced with
traumatic events, such as the tragic events at the World
Trade Center, Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania on September 11,
2001, hate crimes escalate. In the weeks following the events
of September 11th, for example, the FBI initiated numerous
hate crime investigations involving reported attacks on Arab-
American citizens and institutions. These attacks ranged from
verbal harassment to physical assaults. There were also
reports of mosques being firebombed or vandalized. Attacks on
people with no cultural, political, or ethnic affinity with
any Middle Eastern group, but who 'looked Arab' or 'looked
Muslim' also became common following the emotional upheaval
that followed the attack. In the wake of the overwhelming
response to the toll-free hotline established to document
claims of discrimination, harassment, and hate crimes
following the September 11th terrorist attacks, the United
States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) expanded its
capacity to collect information by initiating a second
toll-free hotline. During one 12-hour period following the
attacks, the volume of calls peaked at approximately 70 calls
per hour. [NOTE: For more information on hate crimes
following the acts of terrorism on September 11, 2001, visit
the USCCR Web site at www.usccr.gov.]
How do hate crimes affect local communities?
Hate crimes are committed with the intent not only of sending
a message to the targeted victim, but also to the community
as a whole. The damage done to victims and to communities
through hate crimes cannot be qualified adequately if one
only considers physical injury. The damage to the very fabric
of a community where a hate crime has occurred must also be
taken into account. Hate crimes. in effect, create a kind of
public injury because they rapidly erode public confidence in
being kept free and safe from these crimes. To that extent,
crimes of this nature can traumatize entire communities.
What can we do to prevent the spread of hate-motivated
The most important thing that adults can do to reduce the
spread of hate-motivated behavior is to help young people
learn to respect and celebrate diversity. Research shows that
children between the ages of 5 and 8 begin to place value
judgments on similarities and differences among people.
Moreover, children's racial attitudes begin to harden by the
fourth grade, making the guidance of adults during this time
period particularly important. It is essential that adults
talk openly and honestly with children about diversity,
racism, and prejudice. In schools, teachers and
administrators should engage in educational efforts to dispel
myths and stereotypes about particular groups of people and
whenever possible work with parents and local law enforcement
authorities so that such an effort is supported on many
Are there any statistics available on youth-initiated hate
In 1990, the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations
reported that approximately one-third of all Los Angeles
County schools had experiences with hate crimes. The Bureau
of Justice Assistance reported that in 1994, young people
under the age of 20 carried out nearly half of all hate
crimes committed. According to the Chicago Lawyers Committee
for Civil Rights Under Law, the FBI, and other researchers,
hate crime perpetrators are usually under the age of 26.
These facts further underscore the importance of intervening
with young children as early as possible.
Can a hate crime be committed with words alone?
The use of bigoted and prejudiced language does not in and of
itself violate hate crime laws. This type of offense is
frequently classified as a bias incident. However, when words
threaten violence, or when bias-motivated graffiti damages or
destroys property, hate crime laws may apply.
Does bias have to be the only motivation in order to charge
someone with a hate crime?
In general, no, although the answer may depend on how courts
in a particular jurisdiction or State have interpreted its
hate crime laws. It is not uncommon for people to commit
crimes for more than one reason. Many hate crimes are
successfully prosecuted even when motivations in addition to
bias are proven.
Why can't the government ban use of the Internet to spread
hateful and racist ideology in the United States?
The Internet operates across national borders, and efforts by
the international community or by any one government to
regulate its contents would be virtually impossible, both
technologically and legally. In the United States, the First
Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of freedom
of speech to all Americans, even those whose opinions are
reprehensible by most people's standards. In a number of
recent decisions, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the
government may not regulate the content of Internet speech to
an extent greater than it may regulate speech in more
traditional areas of expression such as the print media, the
broadcast media, or the public square. While courts may take
into account the Internet's vast reach and accessibility,
they must still approach attempts to censor or regulate
speech online from a traditional constitutional framework.
Is there any kind of hate speech on the Internet that is
not protected by the First Amendment?
The U.S. Constitution protects Internet speech that is merely
critical, annoying, offensive, or demeaning. However, the
First Amendment does not provide a shield for libelous speech
or copyright infringement, nor does it protect certain speech
that threatens or harasses other people. For example, an
e-mail or a posting on a Web site that expresses a clear
intention or threat by its author to commit an unlawful act
against another specific person is likely to be actionable
under criminal law. Persistent or pernicious harassment aimed
at a specific individual is not protected if it inflicts or
intends to inflict emotional or physical harm. To rise to
this level, harassment on the Internet would have to consist
of a "course of conduct" rather than a single isolated
instance. A difficulty in enforcing laws against harassment
is the ease of anonymous communication on the Internet. Using
a service that provides almost complete anonymity, a bigot
may repeatedly e-mail his or her victim without being readily
Has anyone ever been successfully prosecuted in the United
States for sending racist threats via e-mail?
There is legal precedent for such a prosecution. In 1998, a
former student was sentenced to one year in prison for
sending e-mail death threats to 60 Asian-American students at
the University of California, Irvine. His e-mail was signed
"Asian hater" and threatened that he would "make it my life
career [sic] to find and kill everyone one [sic] of you
personally." That same year, another California man pled
guilty to Federal civil rights charges after he sent racist
e-mail threats to dozens of Latinos throughout the country.
Has anyone ever been held liable in the United States for
encouraging acts of violence on the World Wide Web?
Yes. In 1999, a coalition of groups opposed to abortion was
ordered to pay over $100 million in damages for providing
information for a Web site called "Nuremberg Files," a site
which posed a threat to the safety of a number of doctors and
clinic workers who perform abortions. The site posted photos
of abortion providers, their home addresses, license plate
numbers, and the names of their spouses and children. In
three instances, after a doctor listed on the site was
murdered, a line was drawn through his name. Although the
site fell short of explicitly calling for an assault on
doctors, the jury found that the information it contained
amounted to a real threat of bodily harm.
Can hate crimes laws be used against hate on the Internet?
If a person's use of the Internet rises to the level of
criminal conduct, it may subject the perpetrator to an
enhanced sentence under a State's hate crime laws. Currently,
40 States and the District of Columbia have such laws in
place. The criminal's sentence may be more severe if the
prosecution can prove that he or she intentionally selected
the victim based on his or her race, nationality, religion,
gender, or sexual orientation. However, these laws do not
apply to conduct or speech protected by the First Amendment.
Can commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) prevent
the use of their services by extremists?
Yes. Commercial ISPs, such as America Online (AOL), may
voluntarily agree to prohibit users from sending racist or
bigoted messages over their services. Such prohibitions do
not implicate First Amendment rights because they are entered
into through private contracts and do not involve government
action in any way. Once an ISP commits to such regulations,
it must monitor the use of its service to ensure that the
regulations are followed. If a violation does occur, the ISP
should, as a contractual matter, take action to prevent it
from happening again. For example, if a participant in a chat
room engages in racist speech in violation of the "terms of
service" of the ISP, his or her account could be cancelled,
or the person could be forbidden from using the chat room in
the future. ISPs should encourage users to report suspected
violations to company representatives. The effectiveness of
this remedy is limited, however. Any subscriber to an ISP who
loses his or her account for violating that ISP's regulations
may resume propagating hate by subsequently signing up with
any of the dozens of more permissive ISPs in the marketplace.
How does the law in foreign countries differ from American
law regarding hate on the Internet? Can an American citizen
be subject to criminal charges abroad for sending or
posting material that is illegal in other countries?
In most countries, hate speech does not receive the same
constitutional protection as it does in the United States. In
Germany, for example, it is illegal to promote Nazi ideology,
and in many European countries, it is illegal to deny the
reality of the Holocaust. Authorities in Denmark, France,
Britain, Germany, and Canada have brought charges for crimes
involving hate speech on the Internet. While national borders
have little meaning in cyberspace, Internet users who export
material that is illegal in some foreign countries may be
subject to prosecution under certain circumstances. American
citizens who post material on the Internet that is illegal in
a foreign country could be prosecuted if they subjected
themselves to the jurisdiction of that country or of another
country whose extradition laws would allow for arrest and
deportation. However, under American law, the United States
will not extradite a person for engaging in a
constitutionally protected activity even if that activity
violates a criminal law elsewhere.
Can universities prevent the use of their computer services
for the promotion of extremist views?
Because private universities are not agents of the
government, they may forbid users from engaging in offensive
speech using university equipment or university services;
however, public universities, as agents of the government,
must follow the First Amendment's prohibition against speech
restrictions based on content or viewpoint. Nonetheless,
public universities may promulgate content-neutral
regulations that effectively prevent the use of school
facilities or services by extremists. For example, a
university may limit use of its computers and server to
academic activities only. This would likely prevent a student
from creating a racist Web site for propaganda purposes or
from sending racist e-mail from his or her student e-mail
account. One such policy -- at the University of Illinois at
Champaign-Urbana -- stipulates that its computer services are
"provided in support of the educational, research and public
service missions of the University and its use must be
limited to those purposes." Universities depend on an
atmosphere of academic freedom and uninhibited expression.
Any decision to limit speech on a university campus -- even
speech in cyberspace -- will inevitably affect this ideal.
College administrators should confer with representatives
from both the faculty and student body when implementing such
May public schools and public libraries install filters on
computer equipment available for public use?
The use of filters by public institutions, such as schools
and libraries, has become a hotly contested issue that
remains unresolved. At least one Federal court has ruled that
a local library board may not require the use of filtering
software on all library Internet computer terminals. A
possible compromise for public libraries with multiple
computers would be to allow unrestricted Internet use for
adults, but to provide only supervised access for children.
Courts have not ruled on the constitutionality of hate speech
filters on public school library computers. However, given
the broad free speech rights afforded to students by the
First Amendment, it is unlikely that courts would allow
school libraries to require filters on all computers
available for student use.
What exactly are Internet "filters" and when is their use
Filters are software that can be installed along with a Web
browser to block access to certain Web sites that include
inappropriate or offensive material. For example, parents may
choose to install filters on their children's computers in
order to prevent them from viewing sites that contain
pornography or other problematic material. ADL has developed
the HateFilter�, a filter that blocks access to Web sites
that advocate hatred, bigotry, or violence towards Jews or
other groups on the basis of their religion, race, ethnicity,
sexual orientation, or other immutable characteristics.
HateFilter�, which can be downloaded from ADL's Web site,
contains a "redirect" feature that offers users who try to
access a blocked site the chance to link directly to related
ADL educational material. The voluntary use of filtering
software in private institutions or by parents in the home
does not violate the First Amendment because such use
involves no government action. There are also some
commercially marketed filters that focus on offensive words
and phrases. Such filters, which are not site-based, are
designed primarily to screen out obscene and pornographic
material. [NOTE: For more information about the ADL
HateFilter�, contact www.adl.org.]
Besides filters, what are some other ways that adults,
especially parents, can protect children from the dangerous
aspects of the Internet?
The fist and most important step is to help children
understand that online hate exists. At the same time, help
children recognize that as much as responsible citizens may
abhor the fact that hate groups and hateful individuals use
this medium to spread messages of bias, hatred, and
disharmony, the U.S. Constitution protects their right to do
so. This is an important lesson in democratic values. By no
means do fair-minded people condone hate behavior, but this
must be weighed against the importance of protecting free
speech. Help children develop the critical thinking skills
necessary to counter all of the hateful things that they will
see and hear -- on the Internet as well as in other media --
with accurate knowledge and a commitment to respecting all
people. Additional recommendations for helping children
safely navigate the Internet include the following:
Talk with children about the dangers of the Internet
before they begin using it. Tell children that not all of the
information on the World Wide Web is accurate. Stress the
importance of not revealing personal information to strangers
over the Internet. Place computers in common areas so that
what is on the screen can be easily seen by adults. Set clear
rules and limits for Internet use. Carefully monitor
children's use of chat rooms. Talk to children about their
experiences on the Internet; ask them about sites that they
are visiting for schoolwork or for personal enjoyment.
- Encourage children to ask questions about what they see
on the Internet.
- Participate in children's Internet explorations by
visiting and discussing Web sites together.
- Expose children to Internet sites that enable them to
create, to design, to invent, and to collaborate with
children in other communities in ways that contribute to
society in positive ways.
- Become familiar with basic Internet technologies and
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