Welcome Remarks for OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan for Day Two of the Preventing Youth Hate Crimes and Identity-based Bullying Virtual Symposium
October 18, 2023
Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for day two of OJJDP’s Preventing Youth Hate Crimes and Identity-based Bullying Virtual Symposium. My name is Liz Ryan. I am the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention—OJJDP.
I hope you were able to join us for yesterday’s sessions. We heard about the latest research into identity-based bullying, hate crimes by youth, and hate groups.
We talked about the intersection of hate and targeted violence—about intervening when young people engage in hate crimes and taking steps to help them become deradicalized.
We heard about Jeff Schoep’s journey—a firsthand account from someone who identified as a neo-Nazi for most of his life, but who now renounces white supremacy.
We closed the day with a powerful session about identifying and confronting religious-based hate and identity-based bullying.
Topics like these are difficult to talk about. Conversations can become emotional, heated, or confrontational, and it can feel easier—or even safer—to avoid them altogether.
Thank you for joining us in facing them head on. These issues impact our children every day, affecting their safety, their mental health, their relationships—and so many other aspects of their lives.
Our sessions today will address cyberbullying, cyberhate, and the online recruitment of our young people by hate groups.
Extremists have used the internet to mainstream and spread hate in our society, and young people who are searching for a sense of belonging can be particularly vulnerable to radicalization. We’ll discuss ways our communities can support particularly vulnerable youth populations. We’ll also hear from young people who have organized and united their voices to combat hate.
Adolescents seek camaraderie. It’s a developmental hallmark—they look to peers for companionship and approval. They want to create and build social circles, and that desire can lead them to say and do things they think will earn them peer approval.
Today, as you know, many young people find friends and connections on websites and via social media.
Our kids spend much of their time online. According to a 2023 advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, a survey of 8th and 10th graders found that 1 in 7 spends more than 7 hours each day on social media; 1 in 4 spends more than 5 hours.
The same advisory reported that 64 percent of our youth—nearly two-thirds of them—are “often” or “sometimes” exposed to hate-based content.
Social media platforms can be used as recruitment venues by hate groups. The Internet is a tremendous tool, but these groups have attempted to turn it into a playground for hate because it offers both anonymity and convenience. It removes geographic borders. And our kids are carrying it around in their pockets.
During yesterday’s sessions, we heard new research and data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center on hate groups and hate crimes.
These groups are savvy. They create webpages designed to attract kids. They develop video games and produce music that sounds good to young ears but spews prejudice and contempt. Hate groups know how to market themselves, and they know how to make kids feel wanted.
Because our youth spend so much time online, they are increasingly at risk of being drawn in by hate sites and recruited by hate groups that are looking for new members.
In 2021, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program found that youth younger than 18 years old committed approximately 15 percent of hate crimes in the United States.
Our nation’s youth should never be victims of or engage in bullying or hate crimes. Preventing and mitigating bullying, hateful behavior, and hate crimes is imperative.
OJJDP is committed to ensuring there are accessible services and opportunities in our communities to help direct youth away from hate groups and toward activities that enrich them and people who see, value, and encourage them. By helping youth grow into responsible, contributing young adults, we support public safety in our communities.
School-based clubs, athletics, the arts, and other enriching after-school activities give youth healthy, safe spaces to connect with peers and develop positive friendships.
These sorts of opportunities help youth develop protective factors—attributes that strengthen their ability to make healthy choices and achieve positive outcomes. OJJDP emphasizes expanding these opportunities, to help youth build confidence, know their self-worth, and feel the sense of belonging they yearn for.
This is the message OJJDP’s Preventing Youth Hate Crimes & Identity-Based Bullying Initiative has emphasized since its founding in 2021. Ultimately, we hope to help create a culture of kindness and respect in schools and communities nationwide. We want our young people to think of kindness as the norm—we want it to become their default when they interact.
Kind children are more likely to become kind teenagers. And kind teenagers are more likely to become adults who value difference and strive to build community.
It starts with us. It’s up to each of us to become role models of kindness—to teach and encourage respect for diversity. By modeling what we hope to see, we will help young people nurture their own sense of empathy, and we will encourage them to become equal partners in our efforts.
Again, I thank you for partnering with OJJDP to confront these difficult, distressing issues, and for your efforts to mitigate bullying and hate crimes in your communities. We are stronger together. We make each other stronger.