Victim Support Scotland calls for ‘public health approach’ to hate crime

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Victim Support Scotland will unveil its 93-page report, Fostering a Victim-Centred Approach to Hate Crime in Scotland at its first dedicated hate crime conference in Glasgow today (Thursday, September 28).

The report and conference are part of Victim Support Scotland’s drive for the concerns and experiences of victims to be at the centre of any new hate crime policy or legislation in Scotland.

Hate crime legislation in Scotland is currently undergoing an independent review by Lord Bracadale, who has been asked to consider whether current laws are fit for purpose; if they should be simplified or harmonised, and if new categories of hate crime, such as age and gender, should be created.

Victim Support Scotland’s report includes a number of recommendations, such as removing barriers to reporting hate crimes; recognising marginalised victims of hate crimes who ‘fall between the cracks’ of existing legislation and ensuring that any implementation of restorative justice is designed with victims at the heart of the process.

In 2016-17, a total of 5,708 hate crime charges were made in Scotland. This included 3,349 racial, 673 religious, 1,075 LGB, 40 transgender and 188 disability hate crimes. It is widely accepted that the real levels of hate crimes are far higher than reported in official statistics, as a significant number of hate crimes go unreported.

Alan McCloskey, director of operations at Victim Support Scotland, said: “Most of the policy and research relating to hate crime focuses on the perpetrators and the criminal justice response and, while that has value, we would like to see a shift that keeps victims, and their experiences, at the forefront of all discussions.

“We must tackle the barriers that prevent victims from reporting crime. Victims don’t report for a number of reasons. It could be that they fear they won’t be taken seriously, they lack trust in the authorities or they are apprehensive about disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to authorities.

“The frequency of ‘low level’ hate incidents could mean it is impossible for a victim to report them all, and for them it becomes part of day-to-day life and normalised.

“There is no place for hate crime in Scottish society and in order to tackle it, we must first of all know the scale of the issue. We want victims of hate crime to come forward, have confidence they will be believed and supported by Victim Support Scotland and the criminal justice system.”

Victim Support Scotland is calling for the recognition of hate crimes against the homeless, elderly, asylum seekers and refugees, and gypsies and travellers. These groups are excluded from existing policy and legislation frameworks and therefore ‘fall between the cracks’.

The organisation believes that hate crime should be approached from a public health perspective involving collaboration between different organisations to support victims and their communities.

Alan McCloskey explained: “Hate crime is a complex issue that can have long-lasting effects on the victim and on social cohesion as a whole.

“We should be looking towards a long-term approach that addresses the cultural and social conditions in which hate crime occurs and ensure that schools, social services, health organisations and civil society work together with the criminal justice sector to address this issue.”

Victim Support Scotland is launching a hate crime training course that will provide comprehensive, specialised training on hate crime and can be rolled out in schools, local authorities, third sector and other relevant organisations. The course will cover how to provide support to victims with a focus on the ways in which hate crime impacts victims, witnesses and communities across Scotland.

Lord Bracadale said: “Hate crime legislation is a key way in which our society recognises the impact that hate crime can have on victims and our communities. Since I was appointed by Scottish Ministers to review hate crime legislation, I have deliberately spent time listening to victims and representatives of communities affected by hate crime, as well as those who work in the criminal justice system. I have published a consultation paper which is the product of what I have heard. It is informed by concerns that people have raised and tries to identify issues that should be explored further.

“The report which Victim Support Scotland are publishing today will make an important contribution to the independent review of hate crime legislation which I have been asked to conduct. I am delighted to be taking part in the conference on hate crime which Victim Support Scotland have organised, and look forward to hearing the views of those present about how to ensure that our legislation is fit for the twenty first century.”

To read the report in full, visit: www.victimsupportsco.org.uk/hate-crime