More than 250,000 Americans over the age of 12 are victimized each year by hate criminals, and the vast majority of these vicious, mostly violent crimes go unreported, concludes a study released in March by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The new study puts the number of hate crimes committed annually at about 50,000 higher than the best earlier analyses.
The research, carried out by the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, was based primarily on the annual National Crime Victimization Survey, which employs detailed questionnaires and is widely considered the most accurate measure of U.S. crime available.
Two earlier studies by the same agency found there was an annual average of about 210,000 hate crime victimizations per year in the 2000-2003 period and about 195,000 in 2003-2009. Study authors Lynn Langton and Michael Planty explained to the Intelligence Report that they made a number of methodological changes to achieve greater accuracy this time. The most important, they said, was counting a series of up to 10 hate crimes against one victim as individual crimes rather than lumping them together and counting them as one.
In recent years, only about one in three hate crimes was reported to law enforcement officials, according to the study. The percentage of hate crimes reported has dropped significantly — from 46% between 2003-2006 to just 35% between 2007-2011.
Just a decade ago, the only figures available were the FBI’s hate crime statistics, complete sets of which have been published annually since 1995. In those reports, the number of hate crimes ranged between about 6,000 and 10,000 each year. But the FBI’s system severely undercounts the number, largely because it relies on voluntary reporting by local jurisdictions. The new study suggests that the real numbers are 25 to 40 times higher than the FBI totals.
Hate crime expert Jack Levin, a professor at Northeastern University, offered several explanations for the underreporting — chief among them, local police jurisdictions’ refusal to keep track of hate crimes or to report them to the FBI. In 2011, for example, the entire state of Louisiana reported only five hate crimes; Wyoming reported two; and Arkansas, 11. During the same year, Massachusetts reported 367 hate crimes, and New Jersey reported 508.
Another factor in the underreporting is that “motivation [for a hate crime] is a central element” and “motives are often difficult to prove.”
Plus, a majority of victims simply fail to report hate crimes to the police. “Based on a history of animosity, black and Latino victims may see law enforcement as an ‘army of occupation’; immigrants may identify police with a tyrannical regime in their home country or be concerned about being deported; and gays and lesbians may perceive, rightly or not, that police officers are generally homophobic,” Levin said.
Between 2003-2006, suspects were arrested in just 10% of hate crime cases. For reasons that are not understood, that number dropped to a mere 4% between 2007-2011.