Ask Stephanie Rapp what prompted her to propose OJJDP’s Preventing Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative, and she would cite a long list of violent events with tragic consequences, including:
- The 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, where a man deliberately drove his car into a peaceful crowd of counterprotesters, killing a young woman and injuring dozens.
- Hate crimes targeting Jewish people—from swastikas painted on playgrounds to the deaths of 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.
- The stark increase in physical and verbal assaults against Asian Americans in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic started in Wuhan, China—including the 2021 murder of an 84-year-old Thai immigrant during his morning walk in San Francisco.
- Innumerable hate crimes directed against Black Americans. There were 2,871 hate crime incidents targeting Black Americans in 2020 alone—more than half of the total 5,227 racially based incidents that year and a 49-percent increase over 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
These and other hate crimes—alarming in their frequency—tormented Ms. Rapp. Her work in the Delinquency Prevention and Child Protection Division exposes her to the needs of youth in populations especially vulnerable to victimization or radicalization, including marginalized youth from racial and ethnic minority groups, children with disabilities, and those targeted for being gay or transgender. “Our young people are hurting. They are especially vulnerable during adolescence,” she said, “as it happens to be a developmental stage when they are searching for a sense of identity and belonging.”
“OJJDP recognizes the importance of partnering with young people and ensuring they are heard and supported, so that they may feel empowered to create a culture of kindness and respect and lead efforts to prevent hate crime and bullying in our communities.”
—OJJDP Program Manager Stephanie Rapp
After consulting with experts in the field, Ms. Rapp codeveloped a plan for a program that became OJJDP's Preventing Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative. It launched in October 2021 with a 2-day virtual symposium, then segued into a series of 13 webinars designed for juvenile justice and law enforcement professionals, educators, and parents.
In June 2022, the initiative held the first of 19 roundtables for youth: live, in-person discussions in cities, towns, and Tribal communities across the country where youth described their thoughts and feelings about identity-based bullying, hate crimes by youth, and radicalization.
“We really want to hear from youth, get their perspective, and gain a good understanding of what they believe will prevent bullying and hate crimes,” Ms. Rapp said. OJJDP partner organizations helped facilitate the roundtables.
The initiative has developed the Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Prevention Fact Sheet, intended to help foster protective factors in youth and impact attitudes and behaviors, and is also developing a special report and a multiphased curriculum for use with middle and high school students.
“We want our work to address these issues,” Ms. Rapp said, “to raise awareness, build resiliency and protective factors in our youth, while reinforcing a culture that emphasizes kindness, respect, and acceptance of others.”