A hate crime is a crime which is fueled by bias or prejudice. For example, assaulting someone because he is in a wheelchair is considered a hate crime in many regions of the world. While hate crimes have been carried out throughout history, awareness and legislation about hate crimes did not arise until the 1970s, with the United States leading the way in hate crime legislation. A number of nations around the world have followed suit to protect their vulnerable social groups from hate crimes.
A wide variety of biases can be involved in a hate crime. Attacks on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, cultural origin, political beliefs, economic status, and disability are often included under the umbrella of “hate crimes,” depending on the nation writing the law. As a general rule, hate crime legislation clearly defines acts which are considered hate crimes, and often provides for additional punishments for a hate crime.
In countries with hate crimes legislation, when someone commits a hate crime, he or she will be prosecuted both for the crime itself and for the fact that it was motivated by prejudice. So, when someone murders a person of the Jewish faith because he or she is a Jew, the perpetrator will be charged with murder, and with a hate crime. If convicted on both counts, the perpetrator will be sentenced to a longer prison term, and he or she may also be forced to take educational classes or to participate in a community service program.
You may also hear a hate crime referred to as a bias-motivated crime. Hate crimes can take the form of harassment, bullying, distribution of inflammatory material, assault, intimidation, or property damage. If a crime can be linked with an expression of hatred, as in the case with someone who sprays anti-gay graffiti on the home of a known homosexual, it is treated as a hate crime.
Hate crime legislation cannot, of course, protect people from hate crimes, but it does send a clear message to society that hate crimes will not be tolerated. Nations with laws about hate crimes on the books often also have educational outreach programs and other methods for connecting with people to discourage hate crimes and to break down prejudicial barriers. In many of these societies, prejudice is regarded as socially unacceptable, which further stigmatizes the act of committing a hate crime.