What is a hate crime?

A hate crime is committed when someone vandalizes your property, uses violence against you, or threatens you with violence because of who you are, or who you are perceived to be. Hate crimes — sometimes called bias crimes — are aggressive acts directed against an individual, group, or organization, because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, ethnicity, or gender.

In order for an incident to be considered a hate crime, there must be a crime — harassment, assault, homicide, robbery, arson, for example — and something that demonstrates hatred or bias as a motivating factor.

Hate crimes:
  • Involve the use of language or symbols such swastikas, racial epithets, or anti-gay slurs;
  • Involve the use of objects or items which have historically symbolized bias, such as a burning cross;
  • Occur in a place where members of a particular group are believed to gather, such as a Temple, a Mosque, a Spanish nightclub, or a gay bar;
  • Occur while the victim was engaged in activities promoting the rights of the targeted group, such as a gay pride parade; or
  • Coincide with a religious or cultural holiday such as Yom Kippur.

How are hate crimes different from discrimination?

Hate crimes are, by their very nature, discriminatory. After all, victims of such crimes are selected because of who they are, or who they are perceived to be. But not all forms of discrimination are considered hate crimes. Refusing to rent someone an apartment, for example, or firing them from their job because of their race or religion may be considered unlawful discrimination, but neither act is a hate crime. Hate crimes are acts of violence committed against the person or person's property.

How are hate crimes different from other crimes?

Violent crimes of all types are traumatic. Offenses motivated by bias, bigotry and hate, however, can be particularly brutal and often involve more than one attacker. The physical injuries can be serious — and sometimes even fatal. Hate crimes also strike at the very heart of an individual's personal identity. Often the emotional injuries can be as debilitating, if not more so, than the physical harm. Fear, anger, depression, isolation, and an increased sense of vulnerability are all common psychological reactions to bias incidents. These feelings often extend to the victim's family and to the surrounding community of individuals who may have personal characteristics in common with the victim.

What should you do if you are the victim of a bias crime?

Though every situation is different, here are some basic steps you should follow if you are victimized:

  • If you are in danger, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are injured, or think you might be, get medical attention as soon as possible.

  • Document the incident. Ask someone to photograph your injuries and write down as many details as you can. If you receive harassing notes or messages on your answering machine, save them. If someone is harassing you on the phone, keep a log of the calls.
  • Consider reporting the incident to the police. We know this is an intensely-personal decision that may depend on the severity of the crime, the likelihood that the offender will be arrested, and how you think police will handle your case. Give it some thought, talk it over with someone you trust. Both the Nassau and Suffolk County police departments have dedicated bias crimes units with specially-trained officers who can handle your case with sensitivity and professionalism.
  • There are many psychological reactions to the trauma of victimization. You may feel scared, worried, helpless, angry, depressed. Though violence is solely the responsibility and choice of the perpetrator, it's also easy to second-guess yourself and feel like the attack was your fault. Successfully making the transition from victim to survivor might mean getting counseling or joining a support group.
  • If you have uncovered medical expenses, have lost time from work, or suffered some other financial loss due to the crime, you may be eligible for help from the New York State Crime Victims Compensation Board.
  • Call BiasHELP toll-free at 1-877-END-BIAS (363-2427) 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.