Inquiry into everyday experiences of those facing prejudice suggests attacks get traction in a climate of indifference.
Teachers and bus drivers need training to tackle “blatant and latent” prejudice and indifference before it escalates into hate crime, according to a new report.
The recommendations from the Scottish government’s independent advisory group on hate crime, prejudice and community cohesion, published on Friday, suggest that responsibility for tackling hate crime in society should extend beyond the criminal justice system.
In the first major investigation into hate crime in Scotland since a significant rise in alleged incidents was reported across the UK following the Brexit vote in June, the group examined how external events – such as the terrorist attacks in Paris, the EU referendum and football matches – made some people feel that they had “permission” to attack others on the basis of their identity.
Many of the report’s recommendations are focused on ensuring that the criminal justice response to hate crime is clear, swift and consistent. In particular, the report criticises the patchy operation across the UK of the existing third-party reporting system.
Morrow said, however, that hate crime needed to be treated as a citizenship as much as justice issue.
“In addition to supporting improvement in criminal justice, there needs to be a recognition that these kind of crimes emerge from a background of blatant and latent prejudice and indifference which festers far beyond individual attacks,” he said.
“Attacks on people because of their identity with a group get traction in a climate where perpetrators may feel that they are acting ‘with permission’, or ‘with the sympathy of the wider community’, both spoken and unspoken.”
Morrow said that many of those interviewed for the report described a “constant drip of insult, harassment and verbal abuse” as an everyday normality”, resulting in loss of confidence and social isolation. “Yet most of this never reaches the threshold of crime, and more often than not there are few witnesses.”
He said one solution was to train bystanders to intervene. “Schools and teachers are often in the front line. Youth workers, transport providers and community organisations are often in a position to act more immediately and more effectively. Identifying ways for people to act without putting themselves at risk is important.
“What we would like to see is training for people in immediate responsibility, like school teachers or bus drivers, and education on how to report and respond to violent incidents for the general public.”
In recent years, Police Scotland has developed bystander training as a key part of its strategy to tackle sexual and domestic violence. The force has worked with bar and club owners, for example, to train staff to recognise situations where a woman may be vulnerable to sexual assault, and teach them to intervene safely.
Morrow’s report focused on public transport as “a particular kind of enclosed space where a vulnerable individual was often more at risk”. He described it as “emblematic of the unexpected places where hate crime becomes real”.
“People stopping travelling or going out at night may feel like small steps, but they have significant impact on community cohesion and a sense of public safety,” he said.
The report suggests the Scottish government consider changes to the legal framework governing hate crime in Scotland, including extending protection to include gender, age and membership of other groups such as refugees and asylum seekers.