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What are hate incidents and hate crime

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only.

What is a hate incident

A hate incident is one that is motivated by hostility or prejudice against the victim for one or more of the following characteristics or presumed characteristics:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender identity
  • disability.

If you think you've been the victim of a hate incident, you'll need an independent source of evidence to support this. It must be proved that the person accused of this behaviour showed malice or ill will towards you.

A victim can't also be an independent source of evidence in an incident against them.

Other personal characteristics

In some places, there might be a local problem of one group being prejudiced against another for a reason other than the characteristics listed above.

The police can record any attacks as being about prejudice even if they're not included in hate crime laws. For example, a group of teenagers might have adopted a particular style of dress or activity and others might attack them for this reason.

Examples of hate incidents

Examples of hate incidents include:

  • verbal abuse like name calling or offensive jokes
  • harassment
  • bullying or intimidation
  • physical attacks such as hitting, punching, pushing or spitting
  • threats of violence
  • hoax calls, abusive phone or text messages or hate mail
  • online abuse, for example on social media
  • displaying or circulating discriminatory literature or posters
  • harm or damage to things like your home, pet or car
  • graffiti
  • arson
  • throwing rubbish into a garden
  • malicious complaints.

What is a hate crime

A hate crime is an offence in which there has been aggravation based on prejudice of any of the 5 characteristics listed above.

You might have been attacked because someone thought you were a particular type of person, for example of a particular race, even when you're not.

An offence that is not based on prejudice of one of the 5 characteristics listed above might still be a crime - just not a hate crime.

When has a hate crime been committed

Hate crime involves prejudice and ill will. There has to be evidence that the action was motivated by malice, hatred and ill will for it to be treated as a hate crime. When an offence has been committed, a court must take account of it being a hate crime when sentencing the offender.

A hate incident motivated by ill will and prejudice can be prosecuted as an offence. You can report the incident to the police.

The Procurator Fiscal decides if an offence has been committed. The types of offences that can occur when someone behaves with malice and ill will towards someone else include:

  • assault
  • breach of the peace
  • sexual assault
  • burglary
  • harassment
  • racially or religiously motivated attacks (these are specific offences)
  • theft
  • murder
  • fraud
  • hate mail (malicious communications).

The law that can be used to deal with hate crime and hate incidents comes from:

  • common law - such as breach of the peace, assault and vandalism 
  • statute law - from UK and Scottish acts of parliament.

What can you do

If you think there's been a hate incident or hate crime, you can report what happened to the police. Read more about how to report a hate crime.

You can do this if you're a friend, neighbour, family member, support worker or simply a passer-by. You can report the incident even if the victim doesn't want to.

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