New hate crime figures: the tip of the iceberg?
As the public eye has been cast on racism in Scotland, its gaze stronger than anything we at CRER have seen since our organisation was founded 20 years ago, it’s possible that you missed the annual hate crime statistics being published.
Police Scotland defines hate crime as a crime against a person that is motivated by “malice or ill-will towards a social group”. A person can be a victim of a hate crime if either they or a witness believes they were targeted due to:
In the latest report from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), 3,038 charges were made for ‘race crime’ in 2019-20, making up 54% of the total hate crime charges.
To break this number down, 3,038 charges is approximately 8 charges for racist crime being made a day.
The 2019-20 figures represent a 4% increase from the previous year, and over the last 10 years racially motivated crime has been the most reported hate crime in Scotland.
While these numbers and an increase in racist crime are alarming, what’s more alarming is that these figures only document the crimes that were reported. The real number is likely to be much higher, and so any increase or decrease in these figures won’t be representative of what’s happening on the ground.
Lord Bracadale’s review of the Scottish hate crime legislation in 2018 reported that there are serious problems regarding the under-reporting of hate crime in Scotland. In his review, Lord Bracadale highlighted that under-reporting could be due to:
“…A lack of awareness of what hate crime is; an acceptance by people that certain types of abusive conduct was part of daily life and ‘just happened to people like us’; not knowing to whom to speak to report the crime or whether anything would come of doing so; a general lack of confidence in the police and a concern that no action would be taken by the criminal justice authorities; and the negative experience of others of criminal proceedings.”
Anecdotally, we have been aware that there is a particularly high rate of under-reporting of racist hate crimes in Scotland. Since it is up to the person who experienced the crime, or someone who witnessed it, to decide whether or not they believe they were targeted due to ethnicity, the term ‘hate crime’ is not useful. From engaging with people who have experienced racist hate crime, we’ve seen that there’s a hesitation to report and confusion as to what counts as a hate crime since ‘hate’ is such a strong term. This means that people may not report crimes against them as they’re not sure how they could prove that the perpetrator’s attitude constitutes ‘hate’.
While there needs to be wider public understanding as to what is meant by hate crime, this won’t solve under-reporting on its own. Those who experience and report hate crime also need to receive support throughout the process. If Black and minority ethnic people don’t believe that racist hate crime is being treated as a priority by the police, they may simply not report it or engage with the relevant authorities.
There is no one-size fits all strategy to reducing hate crime in Scotland, but we can start by trying to understand the full extent of it. The figures from COPFS are only the tip of the iceberg and, with the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill beginning its way through parliament, they only serve to emphasise why we need an effective range of legal avenues for prosecuting racist hate crime.
Yet we also need wider understanding from the public about what a racist hate crime is, and more support from police and relevant bodies to those who report a racist hate crime against them. Without pursuing all of these avenues, racist hate crimes will continue to go unreported; people will continue to be hurt; and Scottish society will continue to be unequal.