Hate crime can be defined as “Criminal acts motivated by bias or prejudice towards particular groups of people. To be considered a hate crime, the offence must meet two criteria: First, the act must constitute an offence under criminal law; second, the act must have been motivated by bias.” “A hate crime has taken place when a perpetrator has intentionally targeted an individual or property because of one or more identity traits or expressed hostility towards these identity traits during the crime.”, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). 

Experiencing hate crime can be a particularly frightening experience as victims are targeted because of who they are, or who attackers think they are. Hate crimes can take the form of name calling, assault or bullying, hate speech such as online abuse using social media (though this is not considered a crime in all countries), among others. The circle of impact of the crime also extends beyond the victim to whole communities – if you are targeted for being gay, Muslim, a foreigner, or for any other characteristic, those with the same characteristics may experience the impact of the crime as well.

Hate speech can be defined as “The act of creating and/or spreading hateful messages towards an individual or a group, based on a particular attribute, such as ethnicity, religion, belief, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, nationality, country of origin, disability, etc. Hate speech includes communication that is abusive, threatening or insulting.” (Source: Victim Support Europe (VSE), ‘Crime is Crime, Even Online’ campaign).  

Hate speech can be a form of hate crime, though not all countries criminalise hate speech. To know whether (online) hate speech is a crime in your country, contact your local victim support service. 

Anybody can be a victim of hate crime, based on a particular bias towards someone’s characteristics. This section includes some examples of manifestations of hate crime 

Racist hate crime 

Racialisation refers to the process by which societies construct races as real, different and unequal in ways that matter to economic, political and social life. Certain communities are racialised, meaning they are not inherently of a different race, but are perceived as such, and thus considered by some people as different, inferior or even less human. This may lead to racist hate crime based on certain bias created against that community. 

The European Network Against Racism has produced a report on racist crime and institutional racism in Europe: https://www.enar-eu.org/wp-content/uploads/shadowreport2018_final.pdf. It details the number of hate crime reports for racism and xenophobia in each Member-State, showing however that many do not even collect this data. There is thus a long way to go to know the real numbers of racist hate crime across the EU. 

Here you can find several national reports on racist and xenophobic hate crime: https://hatecrime.osce.org/racist-and-xenophobic-hate-crime  

Hate crime against religious communities 

People may be targeted by perpetrators due to their religious beliefs. Islamophobia and antisemitism are commonly understood as pervasive in the European context, but anyone can be the target of hate crime based on their religious belief or affiliation.  

Here you can see what actions the EU is taking to fight anti-muslim hatred: https://ec.europa.eu/info/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/combatting-discrimination/racism-and-xenophobia/combating-anti-muslim-hatred_en  

Here you can access data from the Fundamental Rights Agency on anti-muslim hatred across Member-States: https://fra.europa.eu/en/databases/anti-muslim-hatred/  

In terms of fighting antisemitism, the EU has developed its first-ever Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_4990  

Hate crime against LGBTQI+ people  

According to the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), LGBTIQ persons are particularly vulnerable to hate crime, hate speech and violence (Source: FRA’s second LGBTI survey). Reinforcing legal protection for LGBTQI+ people against these threats is a priority for the EU, in line with the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025. If you want to know more about the laws protecting LGBTQI+ people in your country, visit https://rainbow-europe.org/ and their interactive map. 

People can be targets of hate crime due to their sexual orientation – including homophobia and biphobia (discrimination towards homosexual and bisexual people, respectively), for instance – and due to their gender expression – including transphobia and interphobia (discrimination towards transgender and intersex people, respectively). One of the particular issues faced by LGBTQI+ persons, though not exclusively, is that they are vulnerable to violence both at home and outside, from their families and loved ones as well as from society as a whole.   

ILGA Europe is an umbrella organization advocating for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people in the EU. They stress that the consequence of hate crime is more than personal – it implies that a particular social group does not deserve recognition, respect, equality and tries to legitimise attacks on members of that group. Hate crime keeps people afraid of being themselves, with 66% of respondents to the Fundamental Rights Agency’s LGBT survey in 2012, across all EU Member States, stating that they were scared of holding hands in public with a same-sex partner. For gay and bisexual men respondents the figure was about 75%. This is why protecting and supporting victims of hate crime and their communities is so important, as every community deserves equality and everyone deserves a life free from hate. 

Persons with disabilities  

According to the Fundamental Rights Agency and their 2021 survey on Crime, Safety and Victim’s Rights, persons with disabilities are particularly targeted by hate speech and bullying, including in education institutions. Persons with disabilities or with health problems experience a higher prevalence rate of violence (17% compared to 8% of non-disabled people) and harassment at a higher rate (50% compared to 37% of non-disabled people). They may also face additional practical and legal barriers to access to justice, such as inaccessible language, lack of wheelchair accessibility in police stations, courthouses and victim support services, among others. 

You can learn more about disability hate crime on this factsheet by the OSCE: https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/5/0/290021.pdf  

Intersectionality 

Some people may face intersecting grounds of discrimination in their lives and thus be particularly vulnerable to hate crime, and to other types of crime. A person  may, for example, be both disabled and transgender, or be both racialised and of a minority religion. When such individuals become victims of crime, not only do they face obstacles to accessing their rights, including the right to information, protection and support, but they are also at a greater risk of facing police violence when engaging with law enforcement agents, which often prevents them from reporting the crimes. Victim support services should be able to support any victim to find justice, regardless of gender, race, nationality, residency status, age, ability, or any other characteristic, and regardless of whether they wish to report the crime.  

Hate Speech and Hate Crimes According to the European Union 

Regarding racist hate crime and hate speech, while the European Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia is not a binding legislative act, it defines public encouragement of violence or hatred directed against a group, or one of its members, based on race, colour, descent, religion, belief or origin as “Hate Speech”. 

There is no common legal definition of Hate Crime within the European Union. There is currently a debate on the possibility to make hate crime and hate speech Eurocrimes, thus meaning its prosecution would not rely solely on national legislation and that there would be specific EU sanctions. VSE is closely following this debate and its implications for victims’ rights. This initiative is titled “A more inclusive and protective Europe: extending the list of EU crimes to hate speech and hate crime”.  

Victims’ rights in the EU are established under The Victims’ Rights Directive. The directive sets out the six key rights available to all victims of all crimes that take place in any Member State.  The following link will allow you to familiarise yourself with your rights as a victim of crime: https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/document.cfm?doc_id=43139. 

The Racial Equality Directive (Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin) states that “persons who have been subject to discrimination based on racial and ethnic origin should have adequate means of legal protection”.  

The EU’s High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance has been addressing this topic, and has produced the “Code of conduct on countering illegal hate speech online”, which engages large social media platforms (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube) in helping users notify illegal hate speech. 

Laws on hate crime differ from one country to another. To find out more about the legislation concerning hate speech in your country, contact your local victim support service.

Receiving hate messages, whether online or in person, can have a devastating effect on an individual, their acquaintances, the wider community and society. There are measures you can take to protect yourself against online hate speech: 

  • Speak out against hate and intolerance in your community, creating resilience and solidarity. 
  • Participate in or organise awareness raising campaigns. 
  • If you are a victim of online hate speech, save a screenshot of the content, flag the content and block the user to prevent more unwanted communication. 
  • When interacting with strangers, if you witness hate towards yourself or others, block them or report their posts/tweets/content. 

The following video from one of our members presents some ways to prevent, combat and react to online hate speech.  

VIDEO — Ways to prevent, combat and react to hate speech online | Victim Support Portugal (APAV) 

Hate speech can lead to (often physical) hate crime against individuals or groups. Here are some tips to help you stay safe: 

  • When in potentially dangerous situations, tell friends of your plans – use a buddy system so someone knows where you are.  
  • Protect yourself in the workplace – Report it to your supervisor and your HR department. National laws contain different measures for when discrimination and hatred occurs in the workplace. 

It is important to note that the impact of crime is felt differently by each person. Every reaction of victims is normal when faced with an unexpected and potentially painful experience of crime.  

The impacts of crime can be physical, psychological, social and economic, among others, and can last for long after the event. In the immediate aftermath, physical effects can be an increased heart rate, heavy or shallow breathing, sweating, dry mouth, tense muscles, feeling unable to move, feeling jittery or shaky, as the body is on high alert for further threats. These immediate effects can impact the psychological state of the victim and may lead them to act irrationally, to misunderstand information, to have issues remembering the event or what is communicated to them, and even act opposite to their best interest. Depending on the type of crime and the degree of physical violence, medical assistance might be necessary, as well as psychological first aid. 

On the long-term, physical effects can linger on. For example, victims can experience recurrent loss of energy, muscle pain, headaches and/or migraines, menstruation disorders, cold sensations, shivering and/or hot flashes, digestive problems and high blood pressure, even long after the crime has taken place. Psychological effects of crime can also persist, or develop, on the long-term. These effects can include anxiety, difficulty concentrating, guilt, depression, isolation, trouble while sleeping, post-traumatic stress disorder, among other reactions. 

There are also important possible social consequences of victimisation, such as the abovementioned isolation and tense relationships with those surrounding the victim. Victims have to rethink their relationship with the world around them, and the reactions of their surroundings may increase their inclination to isolate themselves. For instance, surroundings may misunderstand the victim’s reactions, or even blame the victim to preserve their own world views. Economically, the consequences of crime encompass the costs of medical or psychological support, or the costs of absenteeism from work due to the previous mentioned consequences of crime. 

If you witness or experience hate speech online, social media platforms often have mechanisms to report this content. Watch the following videos on how Youtube and Facebook handle hate speech. 

VIDEO — How We Tackle Hate Speech on YouTube
VIDEO — How We Tackle Hate Speech on Facebook 

If you are the victim of a hate crime, you may choose to contact the police either by phone or in person. If the crime is under way, you should use the emergency number, otherwise use the non-emergency police number to file your complaint.  If you decide not to report the crime immediately, you can do so later – contact your local victim support organisation for assistance. 

You also have the right to be informed on available Restorative Justice procedures in your country, according to the Victim’s Rights Directive. To learn more about how Restorative Justice can help victims of hate crime, visit the website of the project ‘Let’s go by talking’ and the European Forum for Restorative Justice. 

Upon reporting the crime, you will need to give details of the crime, such as: 

  • Date, time, and place/platform  
  • Do you know who carried out the crime? 
  • Were you injured, and if so did you go to the hospital or see a doctor? 
  • Were there any witnesses, and if so who were they?  

You will be given a crime report number and a police investigator will be allocated to your complaint, conducting an investigation, collecting evidence and witnesses, for example.  The officer will handle the progress of your file up to and including the trial stage, assuming your attacker is apprehended and brought to justice.  You will be expected to provide statements detailing the crime and its effect on you. You will be informed of your rights as a victim and you will be told what to expect if your case is brought before a jury.  Importantly, you have the right to legal assistance in all EU member states and the right to an interpreter if the trial takes place outside your own country. 

Being a victim of hate crime can be an emotional experience. You may be stressed and worried about your personal safety. It is important to reach out for help and to speak about what happened to you rather than remain silent: there are many organisations that can support you when you are ready to seek assistance. Hate crimes target your identity and may trigger your insecurities or fears, so psychological, social and legal support is important to help you regain your sense of self. Victim support services offer free, confidential advice and help to all crime victims and its staff will work with you in the aftermath of experiencing a hate crime. 

The following video shows how important psychological support can be after a hate crime.  

VIDEO — The Role of a Psychologist in the Aftermath of an Online Hate Crime 
VIDEO — If You Are a Victim of Online Hate in Germany | Victim Support Germany
VIDEO – Ways to prevent, combat and react to hate speech online | Victim Support Portugal (APAV)
VIDEO – How We Tackle Hate Speech on YouTube

If you’ve been affected by hate crime, there are a number of ways you can contact support services to get assistance or information. 

  1. Get support locally. Contact your nearest Victim Support team. 
  2. Report the crime to your local police station.
  3. Call 116 006 telephone number for the  victim support helpline. This helpline is available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden.

The 116 006 number provides information on victims’ rights, offers emotional support, and refers you to appropriate support organisations. As a single access point, it provides information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime. 

Watch Victim Support Malta’s video to find out how a victim service can support victims of online hate speech: 

VIDEO — If You Are a Victim of Online Hate in Malta | Victim Support Malta 

The 116 006 helps victims of crime by informing them of their rights and how to use these, offering emotional support, while also referring victims to relevant organisations. As a single access point, it will provide information about local police and criminal justice proceedings, possibilities for compensation and insurance matters, and other sources of help for victims of crime.