To mark this year’s Hate Crime Awareness Week, agencies from across the criminal justice system have expressed their commitment to increasing reporting and providing the best possible service for victims.
It is vital that victims are empowered to come forward and we cannot overlook the importance of ensuring victims can access all available services. This must include proposing, where appropriate, restorative justice.
Critical academics and practitioners in this field have identified that the penalties currently imposed on hate crime perpetrators not only fail to heal the emotional, social and cultural wounds sustained by the victim, but also do little to tackle the offender’s underlying prejudices.
Restorative justice offers victims the chance to have a voice and actively includes them in the criminal justice process, which is particularly important in hate crime cases. Often the perpetrator will seek to isolate the individual from the community and cause the victim to question their right to access services; it is for public authorities to reinvigorate their confidence by placing them at the centre of the approach.
We have learned from other victims that restorative justice offers closure. Evidence shows that hate crimes are more likely to leave the victim with feelings such as fear, anxiety or depression, than other types of crime. Victims may feel vulnerable to a repeat crime, as they believe the incident to have been motivated by a characteristic they cannot change about themselves. It is therefore crucial that the victim feels a proper resolution has been achieved.
The risk of additional offending is minimised further as a restorative justice conference ensures that offenders see their victim as an individual. So often, hate crimes are motivated by preconceptions of an entire group. The victim is targeted because these prejudices are projected onto them, rather than as a result of their interaction with the offender.
These prejudices are often inherited. The socio-economic background of perpetrators is instrumental in forming their views and often it takes a specific act or encounter to change these preconceptions. A large proportion of hate crime offenders are in their formative years and an honest and empathetic conversation can arguably have a far more significant impact on their viewpoint than a nominal criminal penalty.
There has previously been a reluctance to use restorative practice following hate crime incidents. The level of victimisation after a hate crime is recognised as being higher and there are concerns that bringing the victim and offender together can lead to re-victimisation. The research actually shows this to be rare. The risk can be reduced further by ensuring the preparation period is thorough and victim focused and the parameters for the meeting are made clear to all participants. These rules are best arranged through meetings with facilitators, so that boundaries are clearly established before the parties meet.
The Restorative Dorset service was formally launched a few weeks ago. It is the first pan-Dorset service to offer restorative mediation and restorative justice to victims of any crime, committed by any offender. I would like to take the opportunity this week to promote the benefits the service can offer victims of hate crime. It offers closure and empowerment for victims, the opportunity to challenge the prejudices of offenders and repair discords in community cohesion, providing a more sustainable approach to hate crime resolution.