“My husband didn’t want me to go public for fear of my losing my life,” said Nina Timani, a Muslim American woman who was the victim of a hate crime in 2006. She had received a threatening letter referencing the September 11th attacks from one of her own employees. Though her husband was concerned that reporting the incident would only make the family a more visible target, she went to the FBI after local police said they couldn’t do anything to help. “I survived my hate crime,” Timani said in a video advocating for other victims to speak up. According to a new federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report, that’s a tough sell. More than half of self-identified hate crime victims did not report the abuse to the police, and of those who did, their cases saw convictions just 10% of the time, despite the fact that hate crimes are most often violent.
Jeff Sessions responded to the report in a conference on hate crimes convened by the Department of Justice. “I have directed all of our federal prosecutors to make violent crime prosecution a top priority, and you can be sure this includes hate crimes. We will demand and expect results,” Sessions said. But that’s easier said than done, when oftentimes the targets of hate crimes are marginalized groups with limited access to resources, or reason to fear the authorities. It’s also more important than ever because hate crimes are sadly on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center tallied up over a thousand incidents just between November 9 and December 12, 2016, the month following presidential election. A thousand. And that’s just what was reported.
The Bureau of Justice report, however, focuses on an earlier time period, from 2004 to 2015. It found that on average there are 250,000 hate crime victimizations each year during that range, 54% of which were not reported to police. 48% of those hate crimes were racially motivated, 30% were gender related, 17% about religion, and 16% targeted the disabled. Then there’s the problem that local and state law enforcement aren’t always reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, making it hard to get an accurate count for national reports.
The reasons why so few victims report their hate crimes are complex, but might well come down to trust in law enforcement, cultural norms, or the psychological effects of the hate crime, not unlike documented reasons why sexual assault victims don’t often report or pursue a legal case against their attackers. There’s also the factor that many of the communities targeted by hate crime perpetrators are not only singled out because they are different, but because they are legally vulnerable.
Consider the statistic that 88% of the violent crimes against Native women that are committed on reservations are perpetrated by non-Indians. That matters because Native victims of any crime, but especially hate crimes, face extra legal hurdles. It was only fairly recently in our nation’s history that American Indians could pursue “criminal authority” over non-Natives. Or consider the plight of undocumented Latinos, who might feel they can’t report, say, a violent crime for fear of being handed over to ICE. Then there are cases like that of the Timani family, who couldn’t get help from the police who allegedly didn’t take their concerns seriously or had no clear legal avenue to pursue. And of course, there’s always the simple, awful fact that frightened, humiliated people are easily scared into silence, especially when the consequences can be deadly.