What are racially and religiously motivated attacks?
Racially and religiously motivated attacks are attacks made on people, their family or their property because of their race, ethnic origin or religion. They also include:
- Verbal abuse and threats.
- Abusive slogans painted on walls or buildings.
- Verbal abuse and offensive remarks, humiliating jokes, threats, name calling or swearing.
- Abusive and obscene phone calls.
- Written abuse – a letter, distributed leaflets, email or text messages.
- Intimidation through creating persistent noise or dumping of rubbish outside a victim’s home.
- Actual physical violence or threats to carry out physical violence.
- Damaging to property, eg. to a victims home or car.
- Written abuse or graffiti drawn on walls or buildings.
Racial and religious offences and aggravated offences
If someone has been attacked or abused because of their race or religion, the attacker or abuser may have committed an offence. An offence is racially or religiously aggravated if, when it is committed, the offender verbally insults the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group. Examples of racially or religiously aggravated offences include:
- Criminal damage.
- Actual and/or grievous bodily harm.
If an offender is convicted of an offence for which their main motivation was based on prejudice or hatred of another race, the sentence can be far more severe than for the same offence without the racial motivation.
Religion and the law
Religious hate crime is currently not recognised as a criminal offence in the same way that racially motivated hate crime is. However, if someone is targeted or attacked because of their religion, it could be interpreted as an attack on their race, and can therefore be treated as a racially motivated attack..
Incitement to religious hatred
If someone incites hatred of a racial or religious group, or tries to persuade someone to commit a criminal offence against another race or group by publishing and/or distributing hateful information about that group, they may be prosecuted for an offence. This includes website content, emails, text messages and internet chat rooms.
However, it is not illegal to disagree with or criticise someone because of their religion or their beliefs!
Reporting racially and religiously motivated attacks
The government defines a racist incident as: ‘A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. This means that if the victim or any other person perceives an attack to be racially motivated, then the police must record it as a racially motivated attack. The definition does not take religiously motivated attacks into account.
When reporting an attack to the police, a request can be made to be interviewed at a police station, the victims home or a neutral location like the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). It is advisable to have another person attend with you, eg. a solicitor, a CAB adviser or even a friend.
When reporting a racially or religiously motivated attack, it will be very helpful if the following information is provided:
How the attack took place
Where and when the attack took place
What the attacker looked like and what they were wearing.
If known, the identity of the attacker and where they live.
What was said by the attacker (if anything at all), in particular, anything about the victim’s race or religion.
Any reason why the attack is regarded as racially or religiously aggravated.
Any history of previous attacks against the victim.
The nature of any injuries sustained in the attack.
All incidents of racially or religiously motivated crime should be reported to the local community safety unit. Every police force in the country has one of these units, and they monitor the number of hate crimes committed in their respective areas.
After reporting a racially or religiously motivated attack, the police may decide not to take action or they may have investigated the incident, and decided not to prosecute. In such circumstances, the victim may feel that the police have not taken the attack seriously. If this is the case, the victim could contact the Police Community Liaison Officer, Police Liaison Committee or local police authority.
If the police still fail to act, the victim could write to the Chief Constable and/or initiate a complaint.
After reporting an attack to the police, they will decide and inform the victim within five days whether or not they are going to start an investigation. If they do start an investigation, they must keep the victim informed about how the case develops, eg. if a suspect has been arrested or released.If the police do charge someone with an offence, the decision whether or not to prosecute will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
It is illegal for the police to discriminate against anyone because of their race or religion. If the victim feels that the police are not taking their complaint seriously because of discrimination, they should get advice and make a complaint.
If the attacker is known to the victim, and the CPS decides not to prosecute the attacker, the victim may decide to bring a private prosecution against them. The victim is advised to seek legal advice before going ahead with this.
Attacks at school
A racially or religiously motivated attack may take place in or near a school attended by the victim. The school should have a policy for recording, dealing and reporting such attacks. Information about the school’s policies and practices to deal with such incidents should be available at the local CAB.
The school should co-operate with the local education authority (LEA) and the police to counter racially and religiously motivated incidents.
A victim of a racially or religiously motivated attack may need specialist advice. This can be provided by the local Racial Equality Council (REC) or the local Victim Support scheme. Details of these organisations can be found at the local CAB.