Dr Neil Chakraborti
Criminologists from the University of Leicester
embarking upon the most comprehensive ever study of hate crime believe that their results could help both actual and potential victims. During the course of the two-year project, which is being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
, the team will work with individuals who have experienced racist, religiously motivated, homophobic, transphobic and disablist victimisation.
We think that there is a big gap between recorded figures of hate crime and the number of incidents that are actually taking place. The police and other agencies have taken significant steps over the last decade or so to record and prioritise hate crime, and this is to their credit. However, we know that many victims are not reporting their experiences to authorities and that is one of the reasons why this study is so important.
Dr Neil Chakraborti
The researchers also hope to hear from other individuals who feel that they have been the targets of hate crime, including the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers, Gypsies and Travellers, people with mental health problems and members of alternative subcultures. The team is confident that the results of this wide-ranging study will contribute to the fight against hate crime by informing both policy and practice.
Dr Neil Chakraborti, the study’s Principal Investigator and Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Leicester, told ScienceOmega.com
more about what he and his colleagues hope to achieve.
"We are going to be looking at the experiences of people who have been victimised because of their identity, their perceived vulnerability or because the perpetrator perceived them as different," he explained. "Our focus is a little different from those of previous studies. Essentially, there are five monitored strands when it comes to hate crime. These are victimisation due to race, religion, disability, sexuality or because of a person’s transgender status. We are going to rigorously explore these strands, but we also want to look at the experiences of anybody who feels that they are a hate-crime victim. This will require us to work with an extremely wide range of groups."
The project will predominantly focus on the qualitative nature of victims’ experiences. What, however, might it reveal in terms of the prevalence of hate crime?
"I think that it will tell us about the prevalence of hate crime within the day-to-day lives of certain communities," said Dr Chakraborti. "It is very difficult to quantify how much hate crime is taking place because people often have trouble breaking their experiences down into singular incidents. Hate crime is often cumulative. It takes the form of repeat harassment, abuse and bullying. This makes it quite difficult to measure the actual levels of hate crime. We will be able to quantify how much hate crime is taking place within the context of our respondents’ lives; whether it’s a daily problem, whether it’s recurring or whether it takes the form of a single incident. In this sense, we will be able to investigate prevalence. However, we won’t be able to say that a certain percentage of people within a certain city are experiencing hate crime.
"We think that there is a big gap between recorded figures of hate crime and the number of incidents that are actually taking place. The police and other agencies have taken significant steps over the last decade or so to record and prioritise hate crime, and this is to their credit. However, we know that many victims are not reporting their experiences to authorities and that is one of the reasons why this study is so important. We want to reach the people who are not coming forward and find out why it is that they are not sharing their experiences."
The breadth of this study sets it apart from previous investigations in its field, but what can this new investigation tell us about hate crime that is not already known?
"I think that it will help us to reveal more about the nature of hate crime," Dr Chakraborti suggested. "We often think of hate crime as violent and extreme manifestations of prejudice. What I’m hoping to learn more about is what we refer to as – and this is a horrible term – ‘low-level’ forms of hate crime. By this, we mean cumulative harassment, bullying and abuse; the types of behaviour that victims often feel are unreportable. We are interested to learn more about the impact that these offences have on people’s day-to-day lives, their wellbeing, their families and their interactions. Also, we want to give a voice to hate-crime victims who tend not to be represented within academic research or official policy. We need to better understand the realities that these individuals have to face."
The team feels that Leicester – the city in which they will be conducting their study – is, in many respects, the ideal host location for this type of research. Dr Chakraborti has been encouraged by the reception that he and his colleagues have received so far, and he is confident that they will be able to work with those currently beyond the reach of authorities.
"One advantage is that we are conducting completely independent research; we do not have an agenda," he explained. "We have already started to work with a diverse range of communities in Leicester, and these communities appear to be really excited by the prospect of getting involved and sharing their experiences. In a way, this surprised us. We were a little apprehensive in the beginning, as we thought that some communities might not want us to come and speak to them. However, the initial uptake has been magnificent and this has really encouraged us.
"Leicester is one of the most diverse cities in the United Kingdom," continued Dr Chakraborti. "It contains a whole wealth of different people. The city is also home to a number of emerging communities. We intend to access the broadest range of communities that has ever been involved in this kind of study, and Leicester is a superb environment in which to achieve this goal. In addition to this, the opportunity to conduct research in your own city feels extra special. We are familiar with Leicester’s strengths, but we are also aware of the tensions that exist and the concerns that some of its communities hold."
Working amongst the diverse range of communities that Leicester has to offer will allow the researchers to glean a better understanding of the nature of hate crime. However, the criminologists also want their work to achieve tangible benefits both for potential and actual victims of such discrimination. For this reason, Dr Chakraborti and his colleagues will also work in close collaboration with criminal justice agencies.
"I think that this strategy is absolutely crucial," he said. "In order to prevent the findings of studies from slipping under the radar, researchers must work with the agencies that are capable of enacting change. We have been transparent with the local authorities from the very start of this project. We want to make them all aware of our research. To this end, we have established a steering group which will be meeting at regular intervals throughout the course of the study. This will provide insight into the direction in which we are going. It will help to keep us on track by ensuring that our investigations remain relevant to the authorities. The entire project has been designed to positively impact policy."
My final question to Dr Chakraborti concerned the practical benefits that will result from this study. In what ways will these results serve to help the victims of hate crime?
"We are trying to make a difference in a number of ways," he replied. "At the end of the study we will present a number of recommendations to all of the local organisations that have been involved. All of these organisations have the capacity to make a difference. We will also be holding a series of workshops with policymakers to facilitate the implementation of our recommendations. In order to make the project as transparent as possible, we will be feeding back information to all of those who have participated in the study. We want everybody to see exactly what has been achieved."
If you would like to get involved with this project, contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow their Twitter feed @hatecrime_leics.