FRA Director Morten Kjaerum held a speech entitled Innocent figures: why we need more facts at the conference ‘Right-wing extremism and hate crime: minorities under pressure in Europe and beyond’ in Oslo on 14-15 May.
He began by talking of the gaps in data collection that can impede the search for lasting and effective solutions to the phenomenon of hate crime. This leaves the majority of such crimes unrecognised, unprosecuted and therefore invisible. The gaps are due both to under-reporting by victims, who often lack confidence in the authorities’ ability to afford them protection, and to under-recording by national governments. At present, only four EU Member States collect comprehensive data on hate crime, while differences of classification in national crime statistics often make it impossible to make comparisons between countries.
FRA research shows clearly that hate crime is a major problem in the EU today. This is particularly the case in the wake of the EU’s economic crisis, with violent extremism on the rise in a number of countries. Of the 93,000 respondents to FRA’s 2012 LGBT survey, 26% had experienced violence in the five years preceding the survey, with the figure rising to 35% for transgender people. In a survey of Jewish communities, FRA found that 26% had experienced some form of harassment in the 12 months preceding the survey.
The Director emphasised that hate crime transcends the experiences of the individuals directly involved, as homophobic, racist and other crimes motivated by prejudice create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that harms entire groups and society as a whole. This means it is all the more important for countries to introduce enhanced penalties for bias-motivated crimes, thus making perpetrators fully accountable for their actions.
At the end of his speech, the Director underlined the fact that hate crime is not just a phenomenon that affects a few individuals marginal to society, but a direct attack on the democratic principle of equality and the assumption that each person in a democratic society can live without fear of violence and discrimination.