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The term hate crime has been employed since the mid-1980s to identify criminal acts motivated either entirely or in part by the fact or perception that a victim is different from the perpetrator in socially significant ways. In legal terms, the groups protected by hate crime laws differ from state to state. Some statutes prohibit hate crime behavior directly; others increase the penalty for committing a particular offense. In 2009, consistency was achieved by the expansion of a federal hate crimes statute, allowing federal prosecution of crimes based not only on race, religion, and national origin but also sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability status.
In terms of offender motivation, hate crimes can be categorized as four major types (Levin & McDevitt 2001): (1) thrill which are recreational attacks committed by youngsters – usually groups of teenagers or young adults – who seek excitement as well as ”bragging rights” with their friends; (2) defensive which are designed to protect an individual’s neighborhood, workplace, school, or women from those who are considered to be outsiders; (3) retaliatory which are motivated by an individual’s need for revenge as a result of a hate attack directed against his or her own group members; and (4) mission which are usually committed by the members of an organized hate group.
Actually, no more than 5 percent of all hate crimes nationally are committed by the members of organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or the White Aryan Resistance. Yet through their presence on the Internet, organized hate groups continue behind the scenes to support much larger numbers of violent offenses committed by non-members who may be unsophisticated with respect to the ideology of hate, but are looking to feel important and a sense of belonging.
- Levin, J. & McDevitt, J. (2001) Hate Crimes Revisited. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.
- Levin, J. & Nolan, J. (2010) The Violence of Hate. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.