The latest hate crime statistics for 2014/2015 were published yesterday and within them, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlighted a 15% change in racially aggravated hate crimes in England and Wales. The figures have risen to 42,930 cases in 2014/2015 when compared to 37,466 in 2013/2014. Correspondingly, there was also a significant rise in religiously aggravated offences with a 43% rise to 3,254 cases when compared to 2,269 cases in 2013/2014.
The ONS data also shows the peaks and troughs around the reporting in of hate crimes and picks up on some key areas that correlate well with what we in Tell MAMA picked up during the course of the last year. It is this volatility in racially and religiously aggravated offences that is the most worrying, since it shows racially and religiously aggravated offences are linked to trigger factors. These trigger factors have been listed between 2013/2015 in the ONS report as being (i) large spikes in hate crime offences after the brutal murder of Lee Rigby (ii) spikes in June and July 2014 because of the Gaza crisis and (iii) peaks after the publication of the Jay Report which looked at child sexual offences that took place in Rotherham and which highlighted the systematic abuse of over 1,400 young girls in the town. Also of note in the ONS report was a backlash in racially and religiously aggravated offences after the brutal murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in France. All of these have been major national and international incidents and the impact of the Rotherham grooming scandal has also gone onto change anti-Muslim rhetoric with the terms 'groomer' and 'paedo' being regularly attributed to anti-Muslim statements.
This correlates with our work in Tell MAMA where these same trigger points led to raised levels of anti-Muslim hate incidents being reported into us. It has long been suspected that the globalisation and interconnectivity of technology and news cycles would impact on communities across the globe. The ONS data for 2014/2015 hints at this interconnectivity, which means that England is no longer an island, but a country embedded into the global dynamics of change and which means that where there is terrorism abroad, it has the potential to have real world impacts on communities here in the UK.
The figures also hint at the intersectionality between racially and religiously aggravated hate being present within one incident. In other words, the data seems to suggest that some victims will suffer both in the context of racial and religious abuse and the link factor between all of the major national and international trigger points are that Muslim communities were targeted. Given the racial diversity of Muslim communities, this suggestion may have some relevance to it.
Furthermore, as suggested before, it is this volatility in the reporting of racially and religiously aggravated offences that is troubling and where an international crisis thousands of miles away can affect the cohesion and integration of our communities by a rise in hate crime offences in England and Wales. It is also this volatility that is a good indicator of potential community tensions in areas and the more volatile the peaks and troughs, the more likely that tensions can take root and spark a crisis in a particular area.
Given the large rises in hate crimes reported during 2014/2015 when compared to 2013/2014, there is the very real possibility that such large rises across the board may not have been due to an increased awareness by members of the public of what hate crime work is and where hate crimes can be reported in. Indeed, funding and resourcing for hate crime work is dropping since there are major cuts to charitable and voluntary sector groups meaning that physical accessibility to a hate crime reporting centre is more of a novelty today than the norm. Which points to the uncomfortable assessment that there are more religiously and racially aggravated offences taking place in England and Wales.
So what does this mean? It may mean that public confidence is rising so that more hate incidents are being reported in. Given the sharp rise in 12 months, this scenario is unlikely and the more realistic explanation is that a range of trigger events have raised the number of offences. Sadly, it is also clear that some of our fellow citizens continue to believe that it is acceptable to target other citizens and community members. If anything, these latest figures should energise us to tackle bigotry, prejudice and intolerance where we find it. If they fail to do so, then there will be further challenges ahead for us all.