Working with victims of crime: A manual applying research to clinical practice (Second Edition)

9.0 Victims of Hate and Hate Crimes


Helping victims of any crime can be a challenging, but rewarding activity. Although one is focused on the criminal event and helping the person make sense of this potentially traumatic experience, it is even more important to focus on the person. With victims of hate crimes, the personal/professional relationship can be even more delicate and important, as both of you face the impact of what has happened. This chapter focuses on the issues that workers need to think about when working with victims of hate and hate crime, raises important treatment issues, and gives workers some ideas about how to work with this group of victims and help them reconnect to their lives.

In the review of the research, hate crimes were explored as a whole and not broken down by specific types of victimization based on, for example, race, religion, or sexual identity. Although there are special issues and elements to each group, such as historical treatment in society, the goal of this chapter is to pull out issues that are likely important to working with any victim who feels that bias and prejudice are part of the reason they were victimized. Readers are strongly encouraged to look into research and issues specifically related to each client’s needs. This chapter is a springboard to discuss the issues in general and give workers a framework to follow-up with their own learning.

Finally, a quick note on working with victims of hate crime, cultural issues and working with victims from these communities: Most victims of hate crimes are also members of groups that are not part of dominant culture. This is why the perpetrator targeted them. Prejudice and discrimination are issues that many people in these groups deal with on a daily basis. This daily reality will act as a lens that the hate crime victim uses to understand the criminal justice system, the police, and victim services workers and when asking for help. Workers can use this chapter to decide how they might best help the person cope with that victimization, as well as to understand the social reality the victim faces each day.

This chapter first focuses on the definition of hate crimes, to give workers­ an idea of the scope of what might happen to victims. The chapter then moves to general issues that workers need to understand when dealing with sensitive issues around culture, prejudice and society. The chapter continues with a focus on the psychological impact of being a hate crime victim, including suggestions on what workers might do. Finally, service-provider issues are reviewed and a resources section is provided for workers seeking additional information on this topic.

Definition of Hate Crime

For the purpose of this chapter, the following definition of “hate crime”[6] will be used:

[A] criminal violation motivated by hate, based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.

Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2.2 Definition[7]

Hate crime is addressed through sections 318 (advocating genocide) and 319 (public incitement of hatred) of the Criminal Code (R.S. 1985, c.C-46), as well as through the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code, found in subsection 718.2 (a)(i). Those sentencing provisions provide that courts should consider “evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor” as an aggravating factor when determining the sentence to be imposed. Further, there is a specific provision found in subsection 430 (4.1) with respect to mischief against property used for religious worship.

As a clinician, however, my approach does not come from a legal or policy position; it comes from the victim’s definition of the crime. If the victim believes hate, bias or prejudice was part of the reason for being victimized, then I would work with him or her, using many of the principles and issues raised in this chapter, even if I did not agree with that assessment. Victims of all crime need empathy and understanding, and allowing them to explore their experience of the crime will help them better understand what has happened (Teyber 2006).

Part of developing this understanding involves looking at the range of criminal behaviour that might be seen as a hate crime. Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino (2002) point out that hate crimes can range from almost meaningless juvenile delinquency (such as causing damage to a synagogue during a night of general vandalism) to a more organized political statement (such as the burning of a synagogue by an organized hate group). Much of the research and writing in the area discuss intimidation, harassment, vandalism (homes/business), vandalism of religious property, personal assaults (physical and sexual) and homicide (Barnes and Ephross 1994; Cheng 2004; Garnetts et al. 1990; Jacobs and Potter 1998; McPhail 2002). Although most research is on hate crime within communities, the Internet has been identified by several authors as a new medium through which hate groups and individuals can promote their views (Adams and Roscigno 2005; Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino 2002; Glaser et al. 2002; Mock 2000). The Canadian Human Rights Act, in subsection 13(1), prohibits hate messages; it was amended in 2002[8] to make clear that hate messages include Internet messages (see Mock (2000) for a discussion on free speech versus hate speech). Workers are reminded that all hate crimes involve illegal behaviour. In the case of hate crimes, however, the perpetrator’s motivation involves bias and prejudice against the victim or the group.[9]

Another element of hate crimes is that they send a message to the greater community. Although the specific crime may target an individual, the perpetrator's goal is to spread fear into the victim’s community (Blee 2007; Dauvergne et al. 2008; Mock 1995, 2002; Petersilia 2001). A central element of understanding hate crimes is what Berk, Boyd and Hamner (1992) refer to as the “but for” characteristic of hate crimes: “But for” the biased view of the perpetrator, the crime would not have occurred. The focus is on harming the person because of his or her group membership, not individual characteristics (Blake 2001). The victim is targeted to bring about harm to the group represented, not the individual. This interchangeability of a victim as a representative of the larger group is another marker of a hate crime (Jacobs and Potter 1998; McDevitt et al. 2001).

Although strangers committed 77% of violent hate crimes reported to police in Canada (Dauvergne et al. 2008), sometimes the crime can have a personal element. There is research that suggests that many victims who report hate crimes do know the perpetrators, even if only casually (Mason 2005).  For example, the victim may be a known lesbian in the community who is being harassed by a neighbour. In fact, research specifically on lesbian victims shows that they are more likely to be targeted by family, friends and acquaintances than strangers (Stermac and Sheridan 1993). Thus, workers should be mindful when gathering information and not assume that the hate crime was a “stranger” crime.

Common Issues


Culture refers to a set of shared meanings that form a structure for social relationships (Truscott and Crook 2004). Each of the communities targeted in hate crimes (race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor) can be seen from a cultural perspective as being different from the dominant culture or as having different norms. Workers, however, must not make the same mistake as the hate crime perpetrators: each victim is an individual and cannot simply be seen as a member of the group. Workers need to be aware of community norms, but must also keep in mind that this person has a unique perspective that must be the focus (Truscott and Crook 2004).

For the purposes of this chapter, we will be taking a broad definition of culture that includes many elements of identity. When references are made to the dominant culture or the dominant group, these terms represent­­ those in the general culture. This would be roughly defined in Canada as the white (Northern European), middle-class, hetero­sexual and able-bodied group. However, it is important to note that the values and specific make-up of a dominant culture will vary in different parts of the country. Readers are reminded that dominance does not refer to the most numerous, but to those who have more power (social/economic/political) and define what is “normal.”

Prejudice in society

All crimes occur within a social context. There are social, economic, family and personal pressures on both the victim and the perpetrator of crime. However, many argue that hate crimes also need to be understood within the context of living in a prejudicial society (Garnetts et al. 1990; Herek et al. 1997; Perry 2002; Willis 2004). That is, within our society there are people and behaviours that are seen as acceptable and “normal” and those that are seen as “different.” Often those seen as different can be the target of prejudice and, potentially, hate-motivated crimes. Reviewing the list of those who are the victims of hate crimes, workers will notice that all of them are typically people who are seen as outside or on the fringe of society (Kaysen et al. 2005). Beyond the context of crime, workers need to realize that this in-group/out-group dynamic may cause a great deal of distress to the victim and his or her family (Ardley 2005; Bryant-Davis and Ocampo 2005; Dunbar 2001; Glaser et al. 2002; Mock 1995). Coping with prejudice may be part of her everyday experience, and this will likely become part of any work with the victim (Teyber 2006).

This chapter will not be discussing perpetrator motivations in detail; however, it is appropriate to draw attention to prejudice in this section. In discussing racism, the British Columbia Human Rights Coalition (2003) defined prejudice as “beliefs or attitudes about an individual or group based on negative or positive stereotyping”. The Coalition points out that we learn stereotypes in our family and communities and, as we come to believe stereotypes, bias is created that can affect behaviour. When we act on these biases it becomes discrimination, and when combined with a criminal act, it becomes a hate crime (British Columbia Human Rights Coalition 2003). As a reflection of prejudice in society, often the perpetrators view their own actions as just and correct (McDevitt et al. 2002). Thus, it may be seen as acceptable to intimidate or harass visible minorities in the workplace or at school or to go to known gay areas and yell at people on the street. This bias can be viewed in the context of coming from a society that supports prejudice. For instance, in looking at hate crimes after 9/11, Gerstenfeld (2002) noted that some perpetrators viewed their criminal actions as positive, righteous and patriotic. This is obviously a reflection not only of their personal views, but of views among their communities, families and friends (Gerstenfeld 2002; Staub 1996).

Reporting the crime

Much has been written about how many victims of hate crimes do not report the crime to authorities (Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino 2002; Garnetts et al. 1990; Herek et al. 1999; Herek et al. 2002; Janoff 2005; Kaysen et al. 2005; Kuehnle and Sullivan 2003; Wolff and Cokely 2007). Recent reports from Statistics Canada indicate that 60% of hate crimes are not reported to police (Dauvergne et al. 2008). Several researchers have noted that victims may be reluctant to report hate crimes because of fear of secondary victimization and/or fear of the reaction of the police or other responders (Herek et al. 2002; Peel 1999; Wolff and Cokely 2007). Even members of the public might blame the victim for “bringing the crime upon himself” (Herek et al. 1999; Lieberman et al. 2001; Wolff and Cokely 2007). This relates directly to the issues raised in looking at our society as being prejudiced.

These researchers have also identified several other reasons people gave for not reporting hate crimes (Herek et al. 2002; Peel 1999):

The victim’s previous experiences can also affect whether he or she will report the crime. Stermac and Sheridan (1993) point out that victims who belong to more than one minority group are at higher risk of being a victim of hate crime and are at increased risk of facing discrimination in society. This feeling of not being accepted because of multiple labels may also decrease the chances she will report the crime (Dunbar 2006). Thus, an Aboriginal lesbian might be less likely to report a hate crime than a white lesbian. Dunbar (2006) also indicates that for victims of gay bashing, the more violent the attack the less likely it is to be reported. Workers may need to help victims look at the cost and benefits of reporting the crime to authorities (Garnetts et al. 1990).

Given the above, some researchers have looked at those who did report hate crimes. McDevitt et al. (2001) noted that hate crime victims were more likely to talk to other people before reporting the crime. This may relate to all crime victims’ need to decide whether what happened was a crime or to seek other types of support. Peel (1999) indicated that those who report hate crimes are more likely to view the police as effective and to report that they did not want the perpetrator to “win.” However, those who reported also felt more fear about reporting the crime (Peel 1999).

Waves of victims

Although the criminal act harms the primary victim, there are also many secondary victims (Ardley 2005; Blee 2007; Jacobs and Potter 1998; McDonald and Hogue 2006). Iganski (2001) described “waves of harm” which move out from the initial victim to the initial victim’s group/neighbourhood, initial victim’s group beyond the neighbourhood, other targeted communities, social norms and values. Hate crimes send a clear message to the initial victim’s community that they are not welcomed or accepted in society (Jacobs and Potter 1998) regardless of whether they live in the immediate area (Blee 2005). For example, if a synagogue in Montreal is vandalized, this can affect the feelings of safety and security of a Jewish person in Vancouver. One might observe increased feelings of fear, lack of safety and vulnerability in all members of the targeted community (Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino 2002; Jacobs and Potter 1998; Herek et al. 2002; Jenness and Broad 1997; Mock 1995 and 2002). This can result in even greater feelings of being marginalized.

Psychological Impact

Many writers in the field agree that hate crimes have an impact on the victim above and beyond that of the criminal act in itself (Ardley 2005; Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino 2002; Iganski 2001). Although many of the reactions listed in this section might be common to any crime victim, researchers have identified these as being particularly important for victims of hate crime. Indeed, they may simply be a reasonable reaction to the extraordinary stress of being targeted by the perpetrator and harmed because of characteristics beyond the victim’s control (Bryant-Davis and Ocampo 2005; Craig-Henderson and Sloan 2003).

Research specifically on victims of hate crimes indicates that, like other victims, they often:

Differences from other victims

There are some differences between hate crime victims and victims of non-hate crimes. The following results are from research that directly compared victims of hate crime to similar (i.e., same community) victims of non-hate crimes to note differences in reaction. In most cases, the response is similar to what is seen in any victim of crime (see Table 1 in Part One), but there is greater negative impact on those who have experienced hate crime.

In comparison to other victims, hate-crime victims are more likely to:

Workers will want to pay close attention to these and other issues that they are used to seeing in other crime victims. One possible explanation for the more extreme reaction in hate crime victims is that the perpetrators have chosen their victims based upon characteristics that the victims cannot easily change (Blake 2001; Craig-Henderson and Sloan 2003; McDevitt et al. 2001), which makes it more difficult for them to rebuild belief in a safe world. Furthermore, after the hate crime, the victim is still likely to encounter other bias and prejudice that will re-emphasize that some in the dominant society do not accept them (Ardley 2005; Garnetts et al. 1990; Herek et al. 1997; Willis 2004).

Identity issues

Workers will note that many clients who are victims of hate crimes will have issues involving how they see themselves, others and their relationships. Identity includes feelings of belonging to the group; group-specific behaviors and practices; and exploration of and commitment to the group (Dubow et al. 2000). Several authors indicate that those victims who identify and define themselves with their community can be at greater risk for developing symptoms after being a victim of a hate crime (Dubow et al. 2000; Janoff 2005) or any prejudicial acts (Moradi and Risco 2006). This may be because the victim has experienced an attack on himself and because of how he sees himself (Blake 2001; Kaysen, Lostutter and Goines 2005; Staub 1996). Others point out, however, that those who do not have strong bonds to the identity characteristics targeted in the crime may be more likely to blame themselves, feel worthless and not report the crime (Boeckmann and Liew 2002). Workers need to assess how important group identity ­issues are to the victim. By knowing whether or not a victim highly identifies with his group, workers might better predict the types of problems the victim might face and be able to refer him to supports accordingly.

On the other hand, researchers also note that those who have a strong community identity can also look to teachings and people from their group for ways to cope (Adams et al. 2006; Dubow et. al 2000; Mock 1995). They are also more likely to have a social support within the community which will help them make sense of what has happened (Blee 2005; Janoff 2005; Miville et al. 2005). Furthermore, they may be more likely to report the crime, seek help and strengthen their identity with their community (Boeckmann and Liew 2002). Research on diverse ethnic and cultural groups indicates that many people use group status and identity as a way of understanding themselves and their world (Alvarez et al. 2006; Chen et al. 2006; Miville et al. 2005; Wester et al. 2006). This understanding can have a major impact on how the person makes meaning about their victimization. Workers should encourage those victims who have a strong sense of group identity to access supports within their community, as well as other supports. This will also help them make meaning that fits both their relationship to their particular group and the dominant society (Craig-Henderson and Sloan 2003; Dunbar 2001).

The main goal in working with any crime victim is helping him move on from the crisis of the criminal victimization and rebuild his life. If needed, this process includes helping gain new understanding about how he now fits into his specific group as well as to the dominant culture (Dunbar 2001). With multi-racial victims or victims from different identity groups (e.g. black Catholic and gay), healing may also include helping access strengths and identity from several different communities (Miville et al. 2005). Rosenwasser (2000) describes a group process called cooperative inquiry wherein people work together to develop their identity in the face of challenges. The process includes elements that help members build a healthy identity with respect to their group and society in general. It appears this acceptance of one’s own community identity and setting boundaries around dealing with the dominant culture helps people move forward in a healthy manner.

Although this chapter has not generally focused on one group, there is an issue specific to gay, bisexual and lesbian clients that is worthy of note. Several researchers have noted that these clients may react to being attacked by questioning their decision to be “out” (Cheng 2004; Garnetts et al. 1990; Janoff 2005; Stermac and Sheridan 1993). Thus, workers may find that victims want to hide their sexuality again and may confront issues that they faced when they came out (Janoff 2005). Several other authors discuss internalized homophobia, wherein the person adopts the negative view of the greater society on homo­sexuality (Kaysen et al. 2005). Although this is a specific issue raised around sexual identity, it is easy to see that any hate crime victim might have a similar response of trying to minimize any differences in order to fit into the dominant culture.

Issues involving support networks

As noted above, there are waves of victims, and hate crimes affect all community members. We need to work with the victims to help identify key people in their support networks who can help them make meaning of the crime. This is especially true if you are not from the same group as the victim. Further, workers may also need to work with those in the support network who may need to come to terms with their reactions to hate crime, possibly dealing with their own victimization history and reactions (Garnetts et al. 1990). In essence, the victim must strike a balance that allows him or her to access support but not overwhelm the network. Survivor guilt often occurs in the victim’s support network or in others from the same group (Bryant-Davis and Ocampo 2005). Blee (2007) points out that there can be very different reactions within members of the same group, even in defining the crime as a hate crime. This may mean the victim may encounter disbelief, disagreement or non-support within family or a specific community. Thus, workers need to educate victims about possible reactions of their network, help them understand those reactions, and help victims succeed in reconnecting to their networks.

Treatment Issues

Figure H1: The process of victimization and recovery
(Casarez-Levison 1992) applied to hate crimes

The process of victimization and recovery

[ Description ]

A major goal of treatment is to help victims make sense of the crime and start the healing process (Cheng 2004; Craig-Henderson and Sloan 2003). Figure H1 adapts Casarez-Levison’s (1992) model to incorporate the information reviewed in earlier sections to highlight some of the issues workers need to be aware of in helping hate crime victims. There are many matters that are important to all victims of crime, such as history of previous victimization, history of trauma, mental health issues, normal coping mechanisms, healthy behaviours, current victimization issues, access to support networks, and so forth. Dunbar (2001) offers an excellent discussion of the key issues to cover when working with victims of hate and hate crime. The following issues may arise when working with victims from marginalized identity groups or victims of hate crimes.

Questions/Issues to Raise

  1. Assess whether the person has a strong bond to the identity targeted by the crime (Dunbar 2001). As noted above, this connection can offer resiliency (Adams, et al. 2006; Dubow et. al 2000; Mock 1995) but it can potentially result in more challenges (Blake 2001; Dubow et al. 2000; Janoff 2005; Kaysen et al. 2005; Moradi and Risco 2006; Staub 1996). It is important that you not try to impose your personal view of what they should do. Allow your clients to lead you in how much, or how little, they want to use group identiy to shape their personal identity.
  2. Workers may need to address directly their ability to work with the victim (Dunbar 2001; Teyber 2006). The person has been through a difficult situation and will need to feel comfortable with you and believe that you are not only skilled in your work but also knowledgeable about his issues and those of his or her community. Workers may want to connect with key people in the community to help educate themselves on important issues to the group. Workers might also seek consultation from others more familiar with the issues, transfer the victim to those workers, or discuss their concerns with their supervisors.
  3. Watch for, and highlight, any displays of resilience or strength. This is especially true of resilience around the strengths of identity group (Adams, et al. 2006; Dubow et. al 2000; Dunbar 2001; Mock 1995). This helps victims see how they are part of a meaningful network, helps them access appropriate models of how to deal with the distress, and helps them focus on change and adapting to relating to problems with the dominant group. This must be balanced with developing understanding of the dominant group to ensure that victims do not succumb to anger at society at large (Dunbar 2001; Janoff 2005).
  4. Get a history of his or her experiences in dealing with the more dominant culture (Boeckmann and Liew 2002; Dunbar 2001). Was this the first experience with prejudice? Were there positive experiences as well? This history also allows workers to explore what the victim’s relationships have been with the dominant culture or with the group the worker represents. In fact, workers may find that victims of hate crimes will be even more curious about the worker’s identity and beliefs around these issues (Dunbar 2001; Teyber 2006). Workers are encouraged to talk to colleagues and supervisors about their comfort level and boundaries to ensure they are able to answer such questions in a way that is both helpful and respectful.

Continuum of Services

As noted above, hate crimes affect all of society and the impact goes far beyond the direct victim (Barnes and Ephross 1994; Iganski 2001 McDevitt, et al. 2001). Thus, services need to include normal crisis intervention, short-term, long-term, group and individual support (Dunbar 2001; Wertheimer 1990), and go beyond to community interventions and education. Workers might want to look for public education information, anti-violence campaigns and training on dealing with prejudice and violence (Jenness and Broad 1997; Lieberman et al. 2001; Mock 1995; Mock 2002; Rabrenovic 2007). Advocacy can also be an important role in addressing the needs of all victims of hate crimes (B. C. Human Rights Coalition 2003; Blee 2005; McMahon, West, Lewis, Armstrong and Conway 2004). In essence, workers can help the direct victim but also support efforts to reduce the trauma in the overall community (Espiritu 2004).

Although the focus of this chapter is on working with individual crime victims, many have argued that since the main target of hate crimes is the community targeted (e.g. Jewish, gay, francophone), interventions also need to target the community (Blee 2005; Espiritu 2004; Rabrenovic 2007). Mock (1995; 2002) indicates that in Canada there have been various community-level interventions. These might include promoting changes to laws, educating the public, encouraging community development, running proactive campaigns to counter hate groups, and so forth (B. C. Human Rights Coalition 2003; Mock 2002; McDonald and Hogue 2006; Rabrenovic 2007). The key to these community education interventions is to train all community members in less prejudicial beliefs in hopes of affecting their behaviour (Gerstenfeld 2002; Mock 1995). Workers interested in community-based efforts might want to review the Web sites in the “Web-based Resources” section later in this chapter.

Provider Issues

Workers are encouraged to follow the self-care strategies outlined in chapter one of the original manual. Two related issues that might be important to think about when working with victims of hate crimes are personal bias; and openness and acceptance.

Personal bias

We must be very clear and frank regarding our personal biases about the victim’s community and cultural values (Dunbar 2001). This is central to building trust in the working relationship (Teyber 2006). Workers may want to seek consultation over any biases, no matter how minor (Cheng 2004). Further, workers need to be cautious that in trying to be fair that they do not treat all clients the same. So-called "culture blindness," not seeing the world as the client sees it, and trying to treat everyone the same can cause workers to be insensitive to the specific issues of the victim’s community (Truscott and Crook 2004). A worker’s approach should fit the experiences and strengths of each client. Part of dealing with personal bias is also facing areas of subtle bias. We need to watch for using global characteristics as a way to describe the victim – for example, referring to “the Pakistani victim,” which would indicate that race is that person’s most distinctive characteristic (Perry 2002; Stermac and Sheridan 1993). Finally, in understanding personal biases, it can be important to acknowledge that we all live in a biased society that influences our perceptions and meaning-making (Cheng 2004).

Openness and acceptance

In working with victims of hate and hate crimes, workers need to assess their comfort with the victim and his community. Dunbar (2001) points out that you should assess your own skills and knowledge in working with a member of the group in question. Are there differences between your worldview and that of your client? How might these differences affect your work? Are there other issues that might interfere with your work together? Teyber (2006) points out that with all clients one should provide a safe, open and accepting environment. However, he also notes that many of those from groups with less power (minority, sexual identity, religion, etc.) will often not expect to be heard or understood because of their experiences of prejudice in the broader culture. Workers need to be aware of this challenge in building trust and a good working relationship.

We need to provide an environment of non-judgmental support (Craig-Henderson and Sloan 2003) while also attending to professional boundaries and the victim's comfort around talking about difficult issues (Wertheimer 1990). Thus, workers need to be aware that many victims of hate crimes will be watchful of any potential bias on the part of those helping them. We can often show subtle bias in seemingly innocent ways that may cause problems in the support relationship (Truscott and Crook 2004). For example, office decorations, reading material and personal items may be welcoming to some but distancing to others. Although this is not to advocate creating a sterile support environment, it is helpful to be aware of the messages we send victims when they come seeking help.