Pacific Psychological Associates
University of California at Los Angeles
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law
2004, Vol. 10, No. 3, 250–292
Hate crimes are those in which the victim is selected because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin. Hate crime laws have frequently been met with objections. Whereas some objections are based in constitutional law, other objections invoke a variety of psychological constructs, including attitude, motivation, behavior, emotion, and intergroup relations. These objections can be illuminated by relevant psychological theory and research. Topics addressed include the measurement of motivation and intent, and distinctions among attitudes, emotions, and behavior. Hate crimes and other crimes are compared in terms of perpetrators, type and degree of violence, psychological and physical trauma suffered by victims, and community impact. Psychologically based defense strategies used by perpetrators of hate crimes are critiqued. Hate crime laws are also discussed in terms of the political and social values they reflect. Finally, research and policy implications are outlined, including implications for prevention and intervention at the individual, community, and law enforcement levels.
In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of penalty enhancements for hate-based crimes. Some individual states have enacted their own hate crime legislation. Critics of these statutes often invoke a variety of psychological constructs in their objections. However, when psychological theory and research are brought to bear on these objections, their validity diminishes. Psychology has much to contribute to the definition and measurement of hate intent and motivation and to the study and treatment of perpetrators and victims and the communities to which they belong.
The goal of this article is to draw on the psychological literature to address those objections to hate crime statutes that implicitly or explicitly invoke psychological constructs including attitudes, motivation, behavior, and learning. Although the state of research as it now exists is quite incomplete, and many of the studies mentioned are still in progress, evidence that we have thus far suggests that hate-motivated crimes may be more severe in nature and in impact, and that hate-based crimes may be qualitatively different than other crimes. Clearly, the greatest weakness of the research cited is the preliminary nature of the area of inquiry, and, consequently, the lack of replications and the number of unanswered questions. Furthermore, one cannot have faith that statistics collected nationally by law enforcement truly capture the extent of the problem. It is hoped that these problems will be addressed in the future, as data collection by law enforcement improves and research studies find their way into the literature. It is also hoped that the debate about hate crime laws will be informed by research findings rather than by sensationalism, politics, or personal prejudices and biases.
Read complete paper – by Megan Sullaway
UCLA Project for the Psychological Study of Hate Violence and Pathological Bias