Hate Crime – What is it?

In the UK, a hate crime is understood as when someone commits a crime against someone because of their disability, gender identity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other perceived difference. This can be physical violence, offensive language, or harassment due to physical characteristics. Online, these can be the posting of abusive or offensive messages about a person based on certain characteristics. When we look at the legal considerations, a court must be able to determine that not only has a crime has been committed, but also that the victim was targeted due to their membership of a particular group. Since 2002, the police in England and Wales have been using specific guidelines to report these crimes.

The UK lacked any consideration for hate crime until the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the following Macpherson Inquiry in 1999. The hate crime policy itself has been an evolving piece of legislation over time. In the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, specific offences, racially aggravated offences were outlined. In 2001, as a response to the revenge attacks carried out against Muslims and those believed to be Muslim following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, these laws were expanded to include religiously aggravated crimes.

In 2003, the Criminal Justice Act included prejudicial crimes based upon disability and sexual orientation, and in 2012 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act added transphobic hate crime. These laws allow for harsher sentencing for those who have committed hate crimes, however the powers to extend the sentences of hate crime perpetrators are not always used.

This legislation has created a perceived hierarchy amongst hate crime victim groups, with victims of racially motivated crimes at the top receiving the most attention, and victims of disablist hate crime at the bottom. The ad-hoc construction of legislation as constantly evolving phenomenon has created the desire for recognition by the victim groups currently neglected by the legislation, resulting in competition for inclusion between victim groups. A recent example of this is the petition to have gender and elderly abuse included as a monitored hate crime strand within the UK, as they both can be argued as occurring within social contexts where women, men or the elderly are not valued. These groups are stigmatised, and marginalized, in a similar manner to those of acknowledged hate crime victim groups. The same point can be made about crimes committed against the homeless. They have a history of being a socially excluded population suffering from acts of harassment and violence; the homeless therefore remain a neglected group within the hate crime debate.

There are some issues with how the police record and understand hate crimes. It assumes individuals do not have intersecting identities which could – each or collectively – be the cause of their victimisation. It has also been argued that the act of reporting a hate crime also requires the crime to be simplified to a point where it may not accurately capture and reflect the individual’s experience of the crime they have experienced.

For instance, the transgender experience of racial violence is often ignored, or has to be simplified to be categorised and recorded as motivated either by transgender or racial prejudice, there is no accommodation for a hate crime to be classified as being motivated by both. This is a problem that exists during the recording and categorisation of a hate crime by UK police. As they must select one of the hate crime strands when they are documenting the crime, there is no way to catalogue a combination if there is more than one motivator for the crime.

There have been some initiatives to address the non-reporting of hate crime, some seeing more success than others. One of the more successful approaches has been the establishment of Third Party Reporting Centres which allow victims to report their crime using community services such as mosques, community centres, libraries etc. Many of these are listed below. However, what must be noted is that many regions do not have any of these centres and so many communities are not supported. Another way in which reporting of hate crimes have been addressed is through the use of local initiatives. These are generally organised by city councils and range in focus and length. Common initiatives are usually those that aim to get members of different religious groups to meet each other. As these initiatives are organised at the local level, there are no common initiatives that are present across them. This will be discussed in a future blog post.

Ms Sadie Chana is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a doctoral candidate at Rutherford College, University of Kent. Her profile can be found here:

© Sadie Chana. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

Do you believe you have been a victim of hate crime? You can seek advice and report through the following:


True Vision

Crime Stoppers

Stop Hate UK

Victims First

Age UK

Report Hate


Hate Crime Scotland

Police Scotland






Local Police Station

Dial 101