On Thursday, 9 November 2017, Professor Neil Chakraborti joined us from the University of Leicester to present to a full house of faculty, students, and guests, the results of his work on victimisation and diversity in view of the responses to hate crime.

Professor Chakraborti reflected on five different studies conducted over the short period of five years (2012-2017) with a stunning amount of research participants: 6,000 members of ‘hard to reach’ communities (which are, in Professor Chakraborti’s words, actually ‘not hard to reach, just easy to ignore’), 2,000 victims of hate crime, and 800 senior professionals and frontline practitioners.

Without delving too much into the conceptualisation of hate crime, Professor Chakraborti introduced the research framework with a display of some of the hateful responses he frequently receives in reaction to his research efforts, tragically illustrating the ‘rising animosity’, ‘increased scapegoating’, and ‘heightening vulnerability of many communities’ which form the context of Professor Chakraborti’s work.

Our guest emphasised that this type of crime is ‘very rarely a one-off’ incident for its victims: A common characteristic of many hate crime incidents disclosed to Professor Chakraborti was the repeat-victimisation of those targeted because of their (sometimes multiple and overlapping) ‘identity characteristics’ which categorise the ‘the monitored strands of hate crime’.

Professor Chakraborti highlighted three main areas of failure:

1. Rather than ‘placing the onus on the victim too much’ by engaging in an excessive encouragement of victims to report, Professor Chakraborti suggests that the barriers to reporting must be dismantled: In his research he identifies the trivialisation of the victimisation experience, the perception that becoming a hate crime target is ‘part and parcel of being different’, the fear of not being taken seriously and of personal repercussions (such as being outed or only making things worse), an unawareness regarding the option of third-party reporting  as well as considerations around the prospects of success as frequently named reasons for why only one in four participants reported their victimisation to the police, and fewer still sought help from support organisations to recover from their experience.

2. Professor Chakraborti further found that only one percent of participants had shared their victimisation experience with so-called (and often self-declared) ‘leaders’ of their diverse communities. As a result, efforts to engage these communities through dialogue cannot be meaningful where this dialogue is merely selective and only entered into with ‘community leaders’ who cannot accurately represent their communities or their members’ experiences with hate crime.

3. In addition, the studies revealed that victims of hate crime experience greater dissatisfaction with the response received from criminal justice agencies than victims of any other type of crime, and are more likely to be very dissatisfied with the police handling of their case. This dissatisfaction correlates with the ‘failure to deliver meaningful interventions’, as the majority of the victims taking part in the presented research did not, in fact, want harsher but alternative sanctions: criminal justice interventions which would educate offenders, address the harm done to the community, or facilitate face-to-face mediation between victim and offender.

It was clear that Professor Chakraborti’s underlying aim for his research is not to merely highlight these failures, but rather to ‘inspire change and improvement’ which could break the current ‘cycle of hollow responses’: A cycle beginning with the condemnation of hate crime by political figures, often in response to a triggering event, followed by media outrage prompting the hurried updating of strategic guidance which then escapes monitoring and evaluation, and is ultimately perceived as the making of empty promises by the victims.

Professor Chakraborti’s suggested approach to break this cycle and address the outlined failures is one that advocates for the victims’ demands for change by promoting and evaluating hate crime specific support services, prioritising meaningful community engagement, training frontline practitioners to enable the provision of victim-centred support within and beyond the parameters of the criminal justice apparatus, facilitating the reporting process through greater use of online apps, and making public transport safer.

While he considers the existing body of relevant legislation to be ‘very effective and more advanced than in other legal systems’, Professor Chakraborti further suggested a reform of the legal process towards more reliance on community-focused sanctions beyond conventional punitive methods and on restorative justice where the offender and victim of low-level offences are willing to engage in such measures.

Finally, he emphasised the need to close the ‘gap between public narratives and victims’ realities’, by raising public awareness ‘across all sections of society’, promoting the provision of peer support and safe spaces, and humanising stories often overlooked by a purely quantitative perspective.

When asked about the methodological challenges around his impressively extensive fieldwork, Professor Chakraborti was keen to emphasise that he felt lucky to be able to draw on the support of his co-researcher, Dr. Stevie-Jade Hardy, whose contagiously positive attitude provided a welcome counterbalance to the sometimes emotionally draining effect of the  intense ‘grassroot engagement’ required to immerse themselves in diverse communities.

The Centre would like to thank Professor Chakraborti for taking the time to deliver this powerful and engaging presentation.

Author bio: Astrid is a DPhil student in the Centre for Criminology. Her research examines the criminal justice response to female perpetrators of domestic abuse.