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.”
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
Hate crimes can take the form of graffiti, property vandalism, name calling, assault or bullying, or online abuse using social media.
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.”
Victim Support Europe (VSE), ‘Crime is Crime, Even Online’ campaign
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. The general understanding of Hate Crime relates to offences based on hatred, contempt or hostility towards those with certain sexual preferences or disabilities, or those of different ethnicities (Credit: Osbourne Clarke).
The legal right to freedom of expression is a fundamental principle of a democratic society but it is open to question. It is enshrined in the constitutions of European nations and documents such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights. However, multicultural societies – like the EU – must define what is an acceptable expression of personal freedom as there is a fine line between freedom of expression, parody, political speech and hate speech. The European Court of Human Rights considers expressions concerning encouragement of ethnic hatred or violence and support for terrorist activity, the distortion of facts, racial or religious hatred, encouragement of violence towards a specific sex / gender or religious intolerance to be violations of the freedom of expression.
Victims’ rights in the EU are established under The Victim’s Rights Directive. The directive sets out the 6 key rights available to all victims of all types of crime that take place in any member state. The following link will allow you to familiarize yourself with your rights as a victim of crime: https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/document.cfm?doc_id=43139. 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.
Member states each have their own legal code that will apply to the hate speech and hate crime. Punishment, whether custodial or financial, will depend on the severity of the crime and on the outcome of any court case. However, all victims of crime in Europe are entitled to compensation and restitution under the Victim’s Rights Directive.
The European Commission has introduced guidelines and standards on the prevention, detection and removal of illegal online content, including hatred, violence and terrorist propaganda (Terrorist Content Regulation). There is a Code of Conduct between the EU and major IT companies such as Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Instagram or Dailymotion to ensure requests to remove illegal content from their online platforms are dealt with quickly.
The Audio Visual Media Services Directive was established regulate the use of video sharing platforms and to prevent hate speech via such platforms.
However, there are some legal gaps regarding online Hate Speech. The first is the interpretation or bias of Hate Speech. As the concept of Hate Speech is generally interpreted by national courts we sometimes see (cultural) differences throughout European Member States: socially acceptable freedom of expression in one country might be considered Hate Speech in another. Internet platforms from outside the EU are widely available and Member States have no jurisdiction over them, making effective removal of Hate Speech content difficult. The EU is working with Member States to provide extra-territorial powers to law enforcement agencies to deal with this issue
A further problem is a lack of cooperation from platform providers. Some are reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement agencies and delete Hate Speech based on a misconception of freedom of expression as they do not wish to ‘police’ the internet nor do they want to expose themselves to liability.
Finally, in some instances, archaic national provisions hinder the effective prosecution of Hate Speech.
Credit: Osbourne Clarke
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 Hate Speech online: you should ensure that your online interaction is reserved for friends, family members and trusted users. If you receive instances of Hate Speech online, save a screen print of the content, flag the content and block the user to prevent more unwanted communication.
Hate speech and hate crimes are not confined to the online world nor are they confined to the actions of adults. Hate speech can be used by children in the playground and, if not checked, can escalate into bigoted behaviour as adults, which can take place in the street, at football grounds, even in the workplace. Hate speech can lead to (often physical) hate crime against individuals or groups. It can be difficult to protect yourself from hate speech or hate crime when you are targeted because of your race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability: here are some commonsense tips to help you stay safe:
- Stay alert to who you interact with on the internet
- Only allow trusted contacts to connect with you online or by phone
- Keep a note of all instances of hate speech directed at yourself or your child
- Improve your home security, perhaps install security systems
- Avoid putting yourself into dangerous situations – keep to well-lit populated areas
- Tell friends of your plans – use a buddy system so someone knows where you are
- Take self-defense classes – keep yourself fit and aware.
If you are physically assaulted, you should defend yourself:
- Attract attention – scream and shout for help
- Get yourself to a public area – run and don’t look back
- Use what comes to hand to protect yourself – keys, umbrella, handbag, books, etc.
- Aim for weak points – knees, arch of foot, eyes
- Use your elbow – it’s stronger than your fist
- Call the police
If the hate crime happens in the workplace, you should report it to your supervisor and your HR department.
A hate crime feels very personal as it is targeted at you because of who you are – because of your ethnicity, your beliefs, your gender, your disability, or your sexual orientation. If you receive a hate message online, it is often easier press the delete button than report the content, but the message has invaded your privacy and your thoughts about it may become impossible to ignore. So, while it is normal to feel affected by the message, it is important to act as well: take a screenshot for evidence, block the person who sent the message and make a report to the police.
Below, the CEJI, A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, explains the importance of reacting to online hate speech in order to beat it:
If the hate crime is carried out offline, whether the abuse is verbal or physical, you may feel violated and afraid of reprisals. You may feel the assault was your fault, you may fear going to the police, or you may not know how to make a report to the police. However, it is important that you report the assault as soon as you can as this will assist the police in apprehending your attacker.
You should 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 number to file your complaint. If you decide not to report the crime immediately, you can do so later – contact your local Victim Support organization for assistance.
You will need to give details of the assault, such as:
- Date, time, place of the attack
- Who carried out the attack
- What was your response
- What happened during the attack
- Were you injured, if so did you go to the hospital or see a doctor
- Was property stolen or damaged
- Were there any witnesses, who were they
You will be given a crime report number and a police investigator will be allocated your complaint. 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 assault and its effect on you, these will be used at any trial that takes place. 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 assault is an emotional experience, you will be stressed and worried about your personal safety. It is important to reach out for help: there are many organizations ready to support you when you are ready to ask for assistance. Victim Support offers free, confidential advice and help to all crime victims and its staff will work with you in the aftermath of your attack.
Many victims of hate crime often put off reporting hate crimes as they feel the police will not take them seriously, or that prosecution is unlikely. However, it is more important than ever to report a hate crime, as this will ensure this crime is made a police priority. If you, or someone you know, has been the victim of a hate crime and wishes to submit a report, you can find useful information in the following videos:
The Council of Europe has useful information on how you can report hate speech on Social Media Platforms.
You can also report a hate message to the platform on which you received it. Find out how to do so on Facebook and YouTube below:
If you have fallen victim to online hate speech, visit Europol’s website to discover how to make an online report of the crime in your country as reporting mechanisms can vary. In Member States that do not have a dedicated online option in place, you are advised to go to your local police station to submit a complaint.
The Council of Europe has introduced national reporting procedures and mechanisms for hate speech, hate crime and cyberbullying throughout Europe:
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 helplines for victim support.
Available in Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Portugal, 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:
- Expert Advice on Hate Crimes: https://crimeiscrime.vse-campaign.eu/video-gallery/
- LGBT Survey from Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union (results launched May 2013) – access the data on violence and harassment
- Latest OSCE/ODIHR reports on hate crime
- Legislationonline.org by the OSCE
- Factsheet on hate crime in the European Union
- Hate Crime page on the FRA’s website
- Hate Crime & Personal Injury Guide – contains a lot of good background information, however note that it is US based
- Hate Crime Report Card from Human Rights First – a unique online tool that examines hate crime laws in the 56 States that comprise the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
- Facing Facts by CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe
- OSCE/ODIHR tools to help participating States counter hate crimes
- The International Network for Hate Studies (INHS)
- V-Start Project aiming at improving the system of support services for victims of hate crimes