Vast majority of NSW hate crimes race and religion related: study

A new University of Sydney study provides the most comprehensive picture of the patterns of hate crime in Australia to date.

It has revealed the prevalence of race and religion-based hate crimes, and that people of Asian, Indian/Pakistani and Muslim backgrounds are the most frequent victims.

Hate crime - also referred to as ’bias crime’ - is crime that is motivated by prejudice, bias or hatred towards a presumed characteristic of the victim, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, disability status or gender identity.

Professor Gail Mason from the Sydney Institute of Criminology in the University of Sydney Law School has undertaken the first analysis of official records of bias crime held by the New South Wales Police Force.

"The NSW Police Force has the longest-standing bias crime initiative in Australia. Its data provides a unique picture of the kinds of incidents that the public report and the police record as bias crime across the state of NSW," Professor Mason said.

For this study, data from a three-year period from July 2013 to June 2016 was selected for analysis.

Professor Mason’s study revealed that, over this period, crimes motivated by racial/ethnic and religious bias made up 81% of all bias crime reports to police.

Of all racial/ethnically motivated cases over the period, the most commonly-reported victim race/ethnicity according to the NSW Police’s classifications was ’Asian’ (28%), followed by ’Indian/Pakistani’ (20%).

The most common victim religion was overwhelmingly ’Muslim’ (73%), followed by ’Jewish’ (14%).

The main offence types included assault, street offences such as public verbal abuse, property damage, communications offences such as online harassment and intimidation/threats/harassment.

"The results of this study validate existing victimisation studies that show that bias crime continues to be a problem in Australia and one that is experienced primarily by minority groups," Professor Mason said.

"This research demonstrates the indispensable role that police play in recording and monitoring bias crime. A well-resourced bias crime capacity is essential for all police forces in Australia. Without this we will continue to ignore and misjudge the problem."

The study also revealed there was work to be done to encourage bias-crime reporting among marginalised communities.

"In a multicultural nation, all victims of crime should feel equally confident to turn to police for fair and respectful assistance. Yet the results of this study suggest that bias crime is under-reported and under-recorded," Professor Mason said.

Professor Mason said this could be partly attributed to a lack of trust minority communities place in police and also the fact that many people were more comfortable reporting victimisation to civil society organisations than to police.

Professor Mason said civil society had an important role to play in building partnerships with police to achieve positive change in the policing of bias crime.

"Approximately one bias crime, suspected bias crime or bias incident is reported in NSW every day. Although a fair proportion of these reports involve incidents that are unlikely to meet the threshold required for a criminal prosecution, such as verbal abuse, they provide a source of intelligence that police can draw on to identify potential hotspots and engage in proactive outreach with stakeholder communities," she said.

"This is important in light of research that shows that even minor incidents can be devastating for minority communities who interpret them as a sign of risk and vulnerability."

Professor Mason’s findings were published in Cosmopolitan Civil Societies .

Her research was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Projects grant.

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