Hate crime takes many forms, and only in recent times has the language of hate begun to be afforded the same sort of consideration as physical violence or acts of discrimination, and encompassed all the groups – gender, disability, and race – who find themselves under attack.
The report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hate Crime highlights what has been bleakly apparent for some time: hate crime is on the rise in Britain, and, in part, some of it can be attributed to the emotions stirred up by Brexit and the aftermath of the 2016 referendum. Or, rather, some of those leading the debate on Brexit have sent out entirely the wrong signals to their followers.
It might well be true that there is an increased willingness to report and to investigate hate crimes – a laudable fact in itself, and one that may have pushed the trend higher. It is also right to acknowledge that some communities have suffered a more marked increase in crimes in recent years compared with, say, the 1990s – the Jewish community, for example, where antisemitism has become a major issue of concern.
The ambit of hate crime has also been widened considerably, from race and religion, and rightly so, and this has also raised awareness of the problem of casual verbal abuse, or worse. The MPs find that, for example, women endure misogynistic abuse being hurled at them by men, including sexually explicit language. People with disabilities and with autism, shockingly and cruelly, are being targeted for abuse and financial and sexual exploitation through “mate crimes”.
Some of these changes will inevitably inflate the figures, but it is entirely right that these groups should be included within the definition. No matter what statistical adjustments are made, the fact remains that hate crime is rising, it is too high in any case, and the effects, on individuals and on society, are widespread, lasting and insidious.