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Hate Crimes and Youth

Literature Review: A product of the Model Programs Guide
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In the United States, hate crimes are complex and often underreported crimes (Levin et al., 2007; Kena and Thompson, 2021; Pezella, Fetzer, and Keller, 2019). For a crime to be considered a hate crime there must be a motivation (in part or in whole) to commit the crime based on a bias against a particular social group of people. The bias may be based on race, sexual orientation, gender, or other characteristics (a federal definition of hate crimes is provided below). 

Hate crimes are viewed as distinct from other crimes because often the impact of the crime is felt not only by the victim but also by other members of the targeted group (Iganski, 2001; Freilich and Chermak, 2013). For example, if a person is assaulted because of bias against their actual or perceived religious affiliation, other members of that religious group may also feel frightened and threatened by the attack. Victims of hate crimes may be chosen specifically because of their membership in a particular targeted group; individuals who perpetrate hate crimes may be strangers to those they harm (Mason, 2005; Woo, Pitner, and Wilson, 2021). As Garland (2012:28) explained, with regard to victims of hate crimes, “It is not who they are individually, but what they represent, that is important.” 

Additionally, because it can be difficult to determine bias motivation of a particular crime (which often requires the victim to identify and report the bias motivation and additional investigation to substantiate the victim’s claim), hate crimes can present a challenge for law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice personnel involved in the case. 

While there is a plethora of hate crime research in general, specific research examining youths’[1] involvement in hate crimes and bias incidents (either perpetration or victimization) is less common (Steinberg, Brooks, and Remtulla, 2003; Jones et al., 2019). There is information on estimated rates of youth hate crime perpetration and victimization, but there is little research on other areas of interest, such as specific characteristics of youth perpetrators and victims; on what leads youths to commit hate crimes (including risk factors that influence the commission of a hate crime); and on the relationship between hate crimes and other at-risk/problem behaviors (such as bullying, harassment, or violence) committed by youth (Englander, 2007). 

This literature review will discuss the involvement of youths in hate crimes, both perpetration and victimization. It will provide definitions of hate crimes and related terms. The review will also provide an overview of the history of hate crime legislation in the United States, of hate crime rates and trends, of recruitment of youth into hate groups, and of interventions to prevent or reduce the occurrence of youth hate crimes. It also will discuss the consequences of hate crime and bias-based harassment of youth and examine the gaps in the literature. 

[1]In this literature review, “youth” refers to anyone under age 18.


Last Update: February 2022