How does hate speech affect society and people who are subject to it?
Hate speech is one of the initial forms of hate crime. Hate speech, whether used purposefully or simply in a single outburst of emotion, can cause serious psychological trauma to the victims and their families.
Hate speech, as the term suggests, contains derogatory statements based on one’s race, religion, origin, social status, physical or intellectual disability, gender, or sexual orientation. Negative attacks and experiences can affect victims’ behaviour in their personal, professional and social lives. Such a situation can drastically change their values and worldview and even lead them to psychological and emotional breakdown. Victims of hate speech can develop strong feelings of anger, personal pain, and feelings of betrayal, as well as they can fall into the passive role of powerlessness and isolation. Victims of bullying by their peers – which in addition to physical harassment includes hate speech – often suffer loneliness, depression and low self-confidence and self-respect.
Hate speech is the mildest form of hate crime. However, if hate speech is not considered and taken seriously, it can easily escalate into more extreme form such as hate acts or so-called hate crimes. These are cruel, prejudice-motivated crimes, in which the perpetrator chooses a victim because of their actual or alleged belonging to a certain social group. Hate crimes include a variety of acts such as physical violence, damage to property, verbal harassment or insults, offensive graffiti or letters (the so-called “hate mail”).
Hate crimes are criminal acts of violence against individuals or damage to property. At the same time, individuals – especially the victims or targets of these acts of hatred – are victims of prejudices to their identity in society. Hostility and prejudice, being fuelling discriminatory attitude can be related to victim’s affiliation with a particular religion, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, ethnicity, disability, etc. When someone uses hate speech, they can often inspire or incite others to engage in violence against an individual or a group of people. That is why it is extremely important to talk about hate speech when dealing with the social phenomenon of hate crimes.
Hate-motivated crimes and incidents have a stronger impact on victims than other types of crime: they send a drastically negative message to entire communities. The message means that these communities must be deprived of their right to be part of society as a whole. Hate crimes generate fear far beyond the boundaries of a local community or state and thus have the potential to escalate and lead to greater conflict.
It is important to differentiate between hate crimes and discrimination acts. Discrimination is enshrined in civil law, while hate crime – even motivated by prejudice on an unconscious level – is under the criminal law of a state. It is therefore crucial for all governments and parliaments to point it as a crime in their own legislation. Many governments are reluctant to give explicit solution to this problem on the presumption that this is not happening in their country. However, practice shows that hate crimes take place everywhere – but it is far from easy to distinguish them from other types of crimes and to register them as a separate type.
The impact of hate crimes
Crimes motivated by hatred and prejudice happen in every country in Europe and around the world. Hate crimes affect human rights at three levels: individual, group and social level. At the individual level, hate crimes discriminate individuals and deprive them of their basic human dignity. Victims often live in constant fear of other prejudice-motivated attacks. At the group level, hate crimes have the potential to influence the followers of perpetrators, to expand the scope of discriminatory acts, to generate mass fear and threat to certain social groups. At the social level, these crimes can threaten the human rights of vulnerable people. In many cases, the negative attitude of society towards a certain social group can lead the victims to depression, fear, paranoia and systematic isolation and/or self-isolation.
The victims of such acts suffer at many more levels than the people who have been victims to another type of crime, as the act of hatred is directed against their personal life, character and origin and thus affects a significant part of their personality. Moreover, it is often the case that the traumatized person is further harmed when other groups in society, such as police officers, social workers, medical doctors or even judges, minimize or even negate the burden of the reported hate crime.
The hate crime leaves a deep psychological “footprint” not only on the victim, but also on their family, friends or community, who often share their features. In this way, they also become potential or actual victims of such attacks.