We were pleased to see the announcement this week by the Crown Prosecution Service of its revised guidance to prosecutors in England and Wales, that online hate crimes should be treated as seriously as abuse committed face-to-face.
Hate crimes are so personally demoralising and damaging to the individual, that often the effects can be lasting, and difficult for the victim to recover from. There has been progress in society in terms of tolerance and acceptance, but developments of technology now mean there are more platforms available for those that do spread hate, to do so in another way.
Not only are hate crimes incredibly damaging to the victims, they are also damaging to society, as it creates opportunity for hate and hostility to spread, causing divisions that many people are committed to preventing. There are patterns of behaviour that are mirrored in both face to face and online hate crimes, and many people want to ensure that we are not creating more avenues for hate to develop and grow.
The CPS have now released new guidelines that aim to crack down on online hate crime, and ensure people understand the severity of their online actions.
One of the issues with online hate crimes is that the opportunity never ceases. Perpetrators do not have to come across a victim to target in the streets, or wait to take the opportunity when they see a person to direct hate at them, instead, they now have access to platforms that allow interaction 24/7, so the hate crimes can be carried out repeatedly on the victim. This allows for the mental abuse to become ongoing, often with more violent references being made, as the perpetrator doesn’t recognise the same significance of this hate crime with the consequences of face to face targeting. Therefore, they are more likely to continue and spread the hate, feeling that they will not receive the same penalties.
Another issue with online hate crime is the low rates of victims reporting them. Due to the fact that these victims are being targeted online, rather than in person, victims often feel that there is no point in reporting their issue as it is not seen to be as significant or damaging as face to face hate crime. If their crime is reported, victims are often aware that up until now, there weren’t as many guidelines in place for this type of issue, and therefore, even if reported, the consequences for the perpetrator may not be severe.
These issues are exactly what the Crown Prosecution Services are trying to avoid. With new guidelines in place, any hate crime; a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or another type of prejudice, that takes place, whether that be face to face or online, will be treated accordingly and have the same penalties. This is an attempt to crack down on perpetrators, making it clear that online hate crimes will be treated just as seriously, and that it is not an nonpunishable offence.
The CPS are hoping that in turn, they will show to victims that they are ready and willing to listen, hoping to encourage the number of reported hate crimes to increase. Between 2015-2016 there were 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, and the CPS hope to successfully insure they continue to prosecute these crimes, providing tougher sentencing.
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