A hate crime (sometimes termed a “bias crime”) is defined by law as an act where the offender targets his or her victim specifically due to one or more personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or gender expression.
Matthew Shepard became the victim of one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in the nation’s history, and his parents, Judy and Dennis, dedicated their lives to strengthening hate crimes law and raising awareness of the violence the LGBTQ+ community faced. In October 2009, the Shepards joined President Barack Obama as he signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. It expanded prior federal hate crimes law to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Shepard-Byrd Act was a historic victory, but it was merely one milestone of many needed to comprehensively address hate crimes. Reporting of these crimes by law enforcement agencies is still only voluntary, and dozens of them fail to report every year. There is also still a significant lack of inclusive hate crimes laws at the state level, where the vast majority of such crimes are prosecuted.
Federal hate-crime law includes offenses motivated by the victim’s race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability. The Shepard-Byrd Act only applies to violent felonies such as murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, kidnapping or rape.
State-level hate crime laws vary widely. Some also include misdemeanors such as vandalism or property damage, threats or intimidation. They also cover different types of victims.
- 31 states and DC include sexual orientation among protected victims
- 12 states and DC include gender identity or gender expression
- 5 states have no state-level hate crimes law (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Wyoming)
Hate Crimes Statistics
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report collects “incident reports” submitted by various agencies across the country. These agencies are primarily composed of law enforcement agencies and state universities.
An incident report is submitted when a non-misdemeanor offense is investigated by an officer as a hate crime. These types of events fall into categories that include murder, sexual assault, battery, and destruction of property.
Hate-related incidents in 2014 and 2015
Hover over a state to see the number of hate crimes reported in 2014 and 2015.
Types of Hate Crimes
The FBI reports the type of bias that motivated the offender. The chart below groups the past six years of reported Hate Crimes for each bias category. Prior to 2013, gender-identity was not reported.
While informative, the Uniform Crime Report reveals some surprising discoveries that directly affect the accuracy of the state of hate crimes in the United States.
Reports submitted from 2014 to 2016.
The UCR statistics recorded the number of quarterly reports submitted by each agency. Although many law enforcement agencies participate in UCR reporting, reporting policies require one quarter in order to be included in the annual hate crimes statistics. Below is a map revealing the percentage of quarterly reports submitted by participating law enforcement agencies in each state.
A value less than 100% indicates one or more agencies have not submitted at least one quarter of reporting data.
The option to participate in the Uniform Crime Report program presents the concern of potential gaps in reporting coverage. The map below shows the percentage of Law Enforcement Agencies participating in each state.
Compare the data
As the percentage of participating law enforcement agencies decreases, the greater the chance that hate crimes are going unreported.
A different picture
The National Crime Victimization Survey provides the largest national forum for victims to describe the impact of crime and characteristics of violent offenders. The survey obtains data from a nationally representative sample of about 90,000 households, comprising nearly 160,000 persons, on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States.
Data from the NCVS provides a vastly different picture of the level of hate-related incidents occurring in the United States.
Are Hate Crimes Actually Decreasing?
Statistics published by the FBI’s Hate Crimes Report are likely not catching a majority of estimated actual hate crimes. While the number of incidents reported by victims shift drastically, the Hate Crimes Report remains relatively unaffected.
About the Data
FBI Hate Crimes Statistics
The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects and publishes compilations about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. Submitted by 15,494 (2014) law enforcement agencies, the data provide information about the offenses, victims, offenders and locations of hate crimes. However, the UCR Program does not estimate offenses for the jurisdictions of agencies that do not submit reports.
National Crime Victimization Survey
The National Crime Victimization Survey is the nation’s primary source of information on criminal victimization. Each year, data are obtained from a nationally representative sample of about 90,000 households, comprising nearly 160,000 persons, on the frequency, characteristics and consequences of criminal victimization in the United States. Each household is interviewed twice during the year. The survey enables BJS to estimate the likelihood of victimization by rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault, theft, household burglary and motor vehicle theft for the population as a whole as well as for segments of the population such as women, the elderly, members of various racial or ethnic groups, city dwellers and other groups. The NCVS provides the largest national forum for victims to describe the impact of crime and characteristics of violent offenders.
On August 28, 2015, the Matthew Shepard Foundation traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, to discuss issues of bullying and hate crimes with students, administrators and government officials. More than 500 high school students with Fayette County Public Schools attended an anti-bullying seminar with Judy and Dennis Shepard as keynote speakers, and roughly 30 law students from the University of Kentucky attended a panel presentation about the history and significance of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Shepards concluded their visit by speaking to more than 20 staff members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office Eastern District about the vital work that’s needed to report and prevent hate crimes.
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A hate crime is a traditional crime, such as assault or arson, motivated in whole or in part by bias against the victim’s race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. A hate crime can target a person physically, but it can also target property.
Hate crimes laws provide enhanced penalties against criminals who target victims out of bias against a victim’s race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. Most states have their own hate crimes statutes that include some or all of those protected categories. Federal hate crimes laws, however, include all of the protected categories.
The Matthew Shepard and James Bryd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a federal hate crimes law. Passed in 2009, it expanded existing federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. Prior to 2009, federal hate crimes law only included a victim’s race, color, religion or national origin.
In addition to expanding federal hate crimes law to include a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability, the Act also provides federal funding for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Furthermore, prior to 2009, the Department of Justice was only authorized to investigate and prosecute hate crimes when victims were engaged in federally protected activities such as voting. The law removed that restriction.
Training for law enforcement agencies is necessary if officers are to effectively investigate hate crimes and report them accurately each year to the FBI. Unfortunately, not all law enforcement agencies require officers to undergo hate crimes trainings. The most important first step you can take is simply to find out if your local police department and sheriff department have such requirements. If you’re uncomfortable contacting them, or if you’re not sure how to contact them, please email the Matthew Shepard Foundation so that we can help.