Police and politicians need to reach out to vulnerable groups – and encourage victims of racism, Islamophobia and misogyny to report crimes.
Reported hate crime has increased by 29% in the past year, new data released by the Home Office shows. Police forces across England and Wales recorded almost 80,400 hate crimes in 2016-2017. This is the largest recorded rise in the six years since records began.
The sobering truth is that many people do not report hate crime to the police for a number of reasons – so the figures could well be even higher. According to today’s findings, the unprecedented surge correlates with the Brexit vote and an increase in terrorist attacks in the UK.
The poisonous, racially charged anti-immigrant rhetoric from sections of the leave campaign emboldened people to spew racist views in ways we have not seen in decades.
Anyone deemed “other” – from eastern Europeans, black people and minorities to Muslims, refugees, LGBTI and disabled people – has been subjected to unprecedented levels of open bigotry in the past year.
It goes without saying that not everyone who voted Brexit is a bigot or a racist, and people have the right to vote how they wish in a democracy. For many Brexiters, however, as soon as the phrase “hate crime” is mentioned, and a correlation is made between spikes in open racism and the EU referendum, the defensiveness kicks in – as does the denial that post-Brexit hate crime has become the new normal for many people.
As hate crimes are intrinsically linked to someone’s identity – race, nationality or faith are the main factors – when these identities intersect it makes certain groups even more vulnerable to attacks, such as visibly Muslim women.
As an anti-racism and anti-hate crime campaigner, and the founder of the anti-racism digital platform The Everyday Bigotry Project, I’ve spent the past year working with Muslim women to counter gendered Islamophobic hate crime in my home city of Oxford. This work has included launching a campaign to encourage more people to report hate crime in the city.
Vulnerable women are being pushed back into their homes because of hate crime. How can this be happening in 2017?
I’ve also spent the past year travelling the country to meet grassroots anti-racism campaigners doing tireless work with dwindling resources who are discovering increasing levels of hate crime. I’ve also been invited into schools to generate discussions around racism and bigotry.
It has been an eye-opening experience to discover how isolated many victims of hate crime feel – and how for some people, the fear of it impacts on how they live day to day.
One young Muslim woman in London who wears the hijab hadn’t told her family about the racial, Islamophobic abuse she had been subjected to on public transport because she was worried that they might tell her to give up her university education.
A group of young women I interviewed in London had stopped going out in the evening because they were scared they might be attacked with acid by racists after a spike in this category of crime. Vulnerable women are being pushed back into their homes because of fears they will subjected to abuse and attack. How can this be happening in 2017?
My work across the country and in Oxford has left me in no doubt that racism, Islamophobia and misogyny intersect in dehumanising and violent ways.
In order to tackle hate crime the first thing we must do is listen to victims of racialised hate – and then understand their need to be believed. The police need to work much harder at reaching vulnerable groups of people and talking with individuals directly – this only happens through outreach work.
I organised a meeting a few months ago in Oxford so that Thames Valley police officers could meet Muslim women who had not reported the hate crime they had been subjected to. It was a safe space for women to talk about their experiences. Reasons for not reporting hate crime varied from not having witnesses present to doubting they would be believed, and not trusting the police. Hate crime has to be tackled on a political level and through the criminal justice system, but it also has to be tackled by society at large. Racism continues to be normalised every day – we cannot let the same thing happen with hate crime.
This article was originally published in The Guardian.