A new campaign to raise awareness and encourage the reporting of hate crime is launched today by Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington. He tells Sarah French why he is so passionate about the subject.

FOR reasonable, tolerant people who want to live in a safe and harmonious community it’s difficult even to comprehend the concept of hate crime. Attacking a blind man knowing he can’t see, and therefore identify, his perpetrator; verbally abusing a Muslim woman with two young children knowing she cannot run away; spitting at someone who is transgender because they’re unlikely to retaliate; hurling a brick through a family’s window simply because you don’t like the colour of their skin.

It’s incidents like these targeting people because they are perceived as ‘different’ which have prompted Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, to launch a new anti-hate crime campaign today.

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He says: “Hate crime is different from so many other types of crime and incidents because it’s so personal. People are victimised because of who they are, and what they are perceived to be, rather than because of something that they’ve done.

“It is an insidious crime because it’s so individual. It picks a person out because of their sexual orientation, what their religion expects them to wear or because they have a disability, and that’s what really scares me about it.”

The number of hate crimes recorded by the police has grown by around a quarter over the past four years with 517 crimes reported across County Durham and Darlington between April 2017 and March 2018. Just over 70 per cent were race-related and almost 43 per cent of victims were subjected to violence. The majority of victims – nearly 63 per cent – were male. Whilst the proportion of reported hate crime is relatively low compared with other types of crime, police believe the real level may be much higher due to victims’ reluctance to report it.

The campaign – Hate Hurts – launched today aims to spread the constabulary’s zero tolerance approach to hate crime across the county and into every neighbourhood by educating people about what it is and encouraging witnesses and victims to report it.

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THE campaign has already won the backing of local MPs including Kevan Jones and Roberta Blackman-Woods, the Bishop of Durham, the North East England Chamber of Commerce, Darlington Football Club, Durham University, New College Durham, BHP Law, the YMCA, churches and schools.

Incidents typically take place during the night-time economy and takeaway restaurants, pubs, taxi companies and public transport providers are being asked to display window stickers and posters. A new website has been created and the campaign will run across social media.

Mr Hogg is building a groundswell of support. Through people having better understanding of how victims are targeted, abused, intimidated, threatened – both online and offline – and assaulted because of their disability, race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or some other perceived difference, he hopes communities will unite to stop it.

“I want the public to stand together to suport the message and stand up for victims. I don’t want people to do nothing any more, I want them to do something.” he says.

“Hate crime usually happens in a public place where people witness it.

“I’m not advocating people rushing in and putting themselves at risk, but I do want them to call the police and get some assistance to that individual and then give as much evidence as possible to support the victim and bring offenders to justice.”

Hate crime is often aligned to domestic abuse because perpetrators use it to demonstrate their self-claimed dominance to exploit a weaker target who they consider unthreatening.

“A victim of hate crime is isolated in the same way and extremely vulnerable. They are easy prey for nasty cowards. It’s very basic really,” says Mr Hogg.

“They see difference as a weakness and they like to exploit weakness for their own gratification.”

The impact on victims is far more complex. It runs deep and can last a long time, even years.

They often feel afraid to go down the street, but neither do they feel safe at home fearing their property or cars will be targeted.

It is understandable, therefore, that victims may be reluctant to report, but Mr Hogg says the police will always support them.

“Durham Constabulary will look to deal with all victims’ situations and put their views front and centre of everything they do.”

He adds: “I understand why they might not report. There’s the fear that they’re making it official; they may fear the criminal justice system or not believe it will make a difference; they may not have faith in the court process; they may have come from a country where the police aren’t trusted.

“Victims may also build up a level of tolerance, especially if they’ve been targeted a number of times.

“They might think, ‘I’ll put up with it because it will be worse if I report it’.

“I am concerned about what goes unreported, about what is happening to people that they’re just tolerating.

“I recognise that for some victims the usual process may not always achieve the best outcome but reporting, even if the crime is not recorded, gives the police useful intelligence.”

He believes that applying restorative justice to hate crime – where victims and perpetrators meet to share their feelings as a pathway towards repairing the harm – may be an alternative, albeit risk-assessed, way forward.

Ultimately, education is key, which is why police officers regularly work with communities to promote cohesion and inclusion, whether in Durham City or in the most rural parts of the county, where an individual who is perceived as “not fitting in” could be at risk, especially if they do not have a support network around them.

The police will also tackle issues within communities or groups, where rival factions develop, individuals are isolated for non-compliance to cultural rules or where expectations reduce female empowerment.

BUSINESS has a particular role to play in informing employees about hate crime and also in ensuring that channels of communication remain open for any member of staff who is victimised.

Mr Hogg adds: “Hate crime is very unpleasant and can be very traumatic for anyone who experiences it. For some victims, where they work may be the only place where they feel safe, where they can express themselves and where people will listen to them.

“We have domestic abuse champions in companies who are trained to know what to do if someone comes to them, what advice to give and where they can get help. I would love to see the same thing for hate crime.”

The business response may be particularly important come Brexit, which some fear could trigger an increase in hate crime.

“Much of the rhetoric that led to the Brexit vote was around perceptions of people ‘coming here and taking our jobs’, reducing the value of the labour market, putting pressure on public services and other urban myths.

“It all depends on what the ramifications turn out to be, but if businesses and industries contract and we see major job losses then I do fear we’ll see an increase in hate,” he says.

Equality legislation covers so-called “protected characteristics”, all of which Durham Constabulary includes in its tackling of hate crime.

It has also added cultural groups, such as goths.

Regarding recent calls for misogyny to be defined as a hate crime, Mr Hogg says: “If it would bring comfort to people then I would be happy to see gender-based crime included.”

He adds: “If you treat someone badly because of who they are it’s wrong.

“When you think about it, we all have differences.

“Whoever you are, you should expect to feel safe when you go to school, work, church or out at night.

“It simply comes down to having respect for one another.”

  • To report a hate crime, visit report-it.org.uk, call 101 or 999 in an emergency.
  • To follow the Hate Hurts campaign, visit www.hatehurts.co.uk, on Facebook @PCC.Durham and on Twitter @DurhamPCC