Necessity of Raising Awareness and Understanding Hate Crimes Among Experts

Written by Marija Lučić – Ćatić

Recognition, investigation and prosecution of hate crimes requires specific skills and knowledge of all participants in the chain of criminal prosecution (police officers, prosecutors and judges). The existence of legal regulations, in its best form, will not yield adequate results if the persons who need to apply it do not have the necessary knowledge and skills, but also the will to act in this area.

Personal prejudice, limited awareness of the consequences of hate crimes, both for the victim and for the whole community whose protected characteristics it shares (nationality or ethnicity, color of the skin, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, disability, health status, gender identity, sexual characteristics, language or some other personal characteristic), ignorance and misunderstanding of the legal framework and investigative techniques, neglect of prejudice as a motive due to the difficulty of proving it are just some, certainly not negligible reasons for the lack of adequate reaction of experts in this field.

The exceptionally large discrepancy between registered incidents with elements of hate crime and processed cases points to the necessity of a comprehensive approach to improving this area in which awareness-raising and understanding of hate crimes among experts is an imperative.

Studies and research done at the European Union level but also in the region, indicate that there is not enough training for experts in the criminal justice system. Police officers, prosecutors and judges often fail to understand the importance of adequate response to all forms of hate crime and lack knowledge of this concept. Often, police officers do not understand sufficiently basic terms and concepts, and as police officers are the first to come to the scene and the first to interact with the victim and witness, the way they react in such situations or their attitude toward the victim are of crucial importance for further action in the relevant case. Their proper treatment in hate crime cases is of particular importance to the victims themselves, to the tendency to escalate this type of crime and to the entire community whose protected characteristics were subject of an attack.

The problem is further complicated by the police officers’ ability to characterize certain incidents as misdemeanors and sanction them, thus preventing their further classification and sanctioning as criminal offenses. That is why all police officers need to be trained to recognize indicators showing the potential presence of prejudice as motives and set the first intervention measure in this direction. Furthermore, they need to fully understand the concept and legal regulation in order to focus investigative techniques on the collection of valid evidence, both on work and on the very prejudice themselves. In addition to police officers and prosecutors, they need to master the necessary knowledge and fully understand the core concepts of hate crimes according to national regulations, and be trained to deal with hate crimes and with victims in a professional manner. Finally, judges should also rule based on this concept so as to respond adequately to this type of crime, among other things, when conducting criminal sanctions.

Since adequate co-operation between all prosecuting chain members is necessary for the implementation of preventive and repressive measures to combat hate crimes, the use of a common language clearly referring to hate crimes and understood by all experts and mastering the necessary knowledge and skills, becomes imperative.

Therefore, it is necessary to undertake ongoing activities to ensure that all police officers, prosecutors and judges fully understand the underlying concepts of hate crimes and are trained to recognize and deal with hate crimes in a professional manner. With this aim, training must promote awareness of the impending phenomenon of hate crime and its impact on victims and communities whose shared characteristics it shares, as well as the sensitization of this phenomenon and of the skills needed to identify, record and investigate hate crimes.

The text was created in the scope of the project „Protecting Affected Communities: Improving the implementation of hate crime regulation in Bosnia and Herzegovina“, implemented by Sarajevo Open Centre in cooperation with the OSCE Mission to BiH, and financially supported by the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the OSCE in Vienna.