Hateful to Health: The lasting effects of hate crimes on public health

Hate crimes in U.S. increase

Warning: This post discusses physical and verbal abuse and violence, including references to mass weapons, racist symbols, suicide, and death.

Over the years, hate crimes have steadily increased in America. In 2017, there was a 23 percent increase in religion-based hate crimes, while 60% of survivors and victims were targeted because of their race, ethnicity, or ancestry. The FBI defines hate crimes as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” An offender can be biased against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.

Hate crimes have gained more exposure in the national spotlight given the increase in mass attacks on marginalized communities, like the 2015 killing of nine Black people in a South Carolina church and the 2017 mosque bombing in Minnesota. As hate crimes continue to increase, so does the severity of a unique public health crisis.

The lasting effect hate crimes have on individual health and community health is astounding. Survivors are more likely to experience more psychological distress than survivors of other violent crimes. While each individual experience is unique to that person, survivors of hate crimes often develop anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), along with a general sense of fear, hopelessness, and anger. But an attack on even one person is often an attack on an entire community. With an extensive history of discrimination, abuse, and segregation, Black communities face a 9.1 percent  rate for PTSD–a rate that is 3 percent higher than for whites. After the September 11, 2001, Arab-Americans living in the U.S. were “more likely to report high levels of psychological distress and lower levels of happiness.” Members of the LGBTQ community are almost 3 times more likely than other communities to have a mental health condition, like major depression, and a 2014 study in Boston found LGBTQ youths in neighborhoods with higher rate of LGBTQ-related hate crimes were more likely to experience “suicidal ideation” and suicide attempts.

In 2017, 59.6 percent of hate crime survivors and victims were based on race, 20.6 percent were based on religion, and 15.8 percent were based on sexual orientation. In 2018, the LGBTQ community made up 4.5 percent of the U.S. population, but made up 16 percent of reported hate crimes. The Jewish community made up 2 percent of the population, but 11.5% of hate crimes. And the Black community made up 13.4 percent of the population and 28 percent of hate crimes.

In 2017, there were 7,175 hate crimes targeting 8,493 victims based on their race and sexual orientation.

The most recent alleged hate crime to attract nationwide attention is that of Empire star Jussie Smollett. Smollett accused two men of physically attacking him, pouring bleach on him, tying a noose around his neck, and yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him in Chicago, although Smollett’s story recently has undergone further scrutiny.

From 2011 to 2015, more than 50 percent of violent hate crimes went unreported. While the truth of the alleged attack on Smollett is unclear, one thing remains true: We must continue to believe survivors, support survivors, and help survivors seek justice. As community leaders on trauma-informed care, Legal Council recognizes the power and bravery it takes for survivors of traumatic experiences to seek help and share their stories (if they choose to do so).

Alongside our continued support of survivors and given the detrimental effects these violent attacks have had on our communities, we recognize that our nation must address the public mental health crisis permeating across the country and any relation of that crisis with a national rise in violence. With our unique and collaborative field of legal and medical professionals, Legal Council vows to continue seeking justice for our communities while empowering individuals to access the quality and affordable health care they need.

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