Impact of Hate Violence on Victims
and Behavioral Responses to Attacks
by: Arnold Barnes and Paul
Criminal acts stemming from prejudice based on race, religion,
sexual orientation, or ethnicityfrequently referred to as "hate
violence"have increased during recent years. This study explored
the nature of hate attacks and victims' responses to them. The sample consisted
of 59 victims and included black, white, and Southeast Asian people. Data
were obtained through focus group meetings, individual interviews, and questionnaires.
More than half of the victims reported experiencing a series of attacks rather
than a single attack. Anger, fear, and sadness were the emotional responses
most frequently reported by victims. About one-third of the victims reported
behavioral responses such as moving from the neighborhood or purchasing a
gun. The responses of hate violence victims were similar to those of victims
of other types of personal crime. Implications for social work intervention
Key Words: hate crimes; racism; victims; violence
The importance of crime as a major social problem in the United States has
been well documented (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988). Since the mid-1960s,
American society has been increasingly concerned about the problems experienced
by victims of crime (Greenberg & Ruback, 1984). This interest has led to
the development of a variety of victim service programs (Elias, 1986; Schultz,
1987) and a new area of social research that focuses on victims rather than
on criminals (Ochberg, 1988). However, the plight of one class of crime victims,
those experiencing hate violence, has been little changed by these developments.
Hate violence crimes are those directed against persons, families, groups,
or organizations because of their racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identities
or their sexual orientation or condition of disability. These crimes include
arson of homes and businesses, harassment, destruction of religious property,
cross burnings, personal assaults, and homicides. Hate violence has a long
history in the United States (Brown, 1989). Although it is difficult to estimate
the current prevalence of hate violence in the United States (U.S. Commission
on Civil Rights, 1986; Weiss, 1990), many sources suggest that the level of
this type of crime has increased in the past several years (Anti-Defamation
League of B'nai B'rith, 1991; Community Relations Service, 1990). Also, in
recent years the media have increasingly provided information on the explosion
of hate violence on college campuses (Collison, 1987) and on the capacity of
hate violence to spark large-scale urban disturbances ("Black Child," 1991).
With the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, data on the prevalence of
ethnoviolence (hate violence on the basis of race or ethnicity) nationwide
will be compiled by the U.S. Attorney General for the years 1990 through 1994
(National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, 1990).
Research is beginning to identify the effects of various types of personal
crime on victims (Davis & Friedman, 1985). However, despite the social
importance of hate violence, there is little available information on how it
affects victims (Weiss & Ephross, 1986). The present study examines the
nature of hate violence and the impact of these crimes on victims.
Research Design and Sampling
Using an exploratory research design, the National Institute Against Prejudice
and Violence conducted a pilot study of the effects of hate violence on minority
group members (Ephross, Barnes, Ehrlich, Sandnes, & Weiss, 1986). A purposive
sample of victims was obtained by contacts between members of the institute’s
staff and officials of human rights agencies, social services agencies, community
relations agencies, and special units of police departments in several urban
areas. These areas included Alexandria, Virginia; Baltimore; Cleveland; Philadelphia;
Oakland, California; Rockville, Maryland; San Jose, California; Suffolk County,
New York; and Statesville, North Carolina.
Data Collection and Analysis
The technique of focus group interviewing was used in the study. A focus group
is a small group convened to share feelings, thoughts, and reactions to a particular
subject (Lydecker, 1986). Ten focus group meetings and some individual interviews
were held at sites in the victims’ communities.
Each focus group meeting was conducted by two members of the institute's research
staff. The institute's staff guided the interviews by posing a prepared set
of open-ended questions for each group. With the permission of the participants,
each meeting was audiotaped. Participants were assured of confidentiality.
Participants also completed questionnaires. Initially, the questionnaires
obtained data on the demographic characteristics of victims and the types of
crime they experienced. After the third focus group, the questionnaires were
revised to include seven items measuring victims' emotional responses to the
hate violence incidents.
The audiotape of each interview was reviewed by pairs of institute researchers
working independently. Vignettes describing each victim's experience were written
by the first reviewer and then checked for reliability by a second reviewer.
In addition to these procedures, the first author analyzed each audiotape using
a content analysis procedure (Mostyn, 1985). Complete results from the content
analysis were not available for inclusion in the pilot study report (Ephross
et al., 1986).
The current report deals with the 59 focus group participants (out of 72)
for whom complete information is available. The ethnic and religious backgrounds
of the study sample are presented in Table 1.
The diversity of the group is apparent, although the nonsystematic method
of sampling resulted in a seeming oversampling of Southeast Asian victims and
an undersampling of Hispanic victims. Forty-one percent of the 59 victims were
foreign born. They were almost equally divided by sex (54 percent male, 46
percent female) and ranged in age from 16 to 67 years. The median age was 39
years. Sixty-three percent of the participants were married. The sample's median
household income was $15,500; the range was from $5,000 or less to over $50,000.
Acts of Violence
The interviews focused primarily on the most recent personal attack that participants
had experienced. The total number of recent attacks for the sample was 53,
rather than 59, because the sample included six couples who mutually experienced
six attacks. As indicated in Table 2, for slightly more than two out of five
respondents (44.1 percent), the most recent attack had occurred in a single
time period and had been their first hate violence victimization. One-tenth
of the respondents (10.2 percent) reported experiencing one or more prior hate
violence incidents that appeared to be unrelated to the most recent attack.
For slightly more than two out of five respondents (45.8 percent), the most
recent incident was actually the latest in a series of related attacks. Some
of these serial attacks ranged over several months and some over three years.
Some of the most recent attacks reported by respondents included multiple
crimes that occurred on the same date (Table 2). Because of the multiple nature
of some attacks, the total number of crimes experienced by victims in recent
attacks was 68 rather than 53.
Physical assault, verbal harassment, and mail or telephone threats were the
most frequently reported crimes (Table 2). These three categories together
accounted for almost 49 percent of the experiences of respondents. The next
most common attacks (14.7 percent) were symbols or slogans of hate on or near
the personal property of victims. Attacks on homes and other acts of vandalism,
respectively, accounted for 8.8 percent and 7.4 percent of the incidents. Robberies
and attempted robberies were considered possible hate violence attacks because
the motives of the offenders were unclear. However, it should be noted that
victims of these crimes perceived them as crimes motivated by prejudice.
Impact of Attacks on Victims and Their Families
The majority of the 59 victims (76 percent) did not receive physical injuries
as a result of the most recent attack. Minor injuries were sustained by 10
percent, and 9 percent received medical treatment for injuries inflicted in
the attack. The severe injuries inflicted on 5 percent of the victims required
hospitalization. In 41 percent of the most recent attacks, victims incurred
Participants identified several emotional reactions to the most recent attack
on them (Table 3). Irwin, a Jewish victim who had a swastika spray- painted
on his mailbox, identified his response as "mostly a feeling of anger." The
most prevalent emotion was anger at the perpetrator, which nearly 68 percent
of the participants reported. Fear of injury was the next most frequently cited
emotion, with nearly 51 percent of the participants indicating fear that they
or their families would be physically injured. A number of victims (approximately
36 percent) were saddened by the incident.
About one-third of the participants (33.9 percent) reported behavioral changes
as both coping responses to the most recent attack and as attempts to avoid
potential future victimization. These behavioral changes included moving out
of the neighborhood, decreasing social participation, purchasing a gun or increasing
readiness to use a gun, buying initial or additional home security devices,
and increasing safety precautions for children in the family. Somala, a Cambodian
refugee, was assaulted by a black man in a suburban park. Shortly after the
attack, Somala moved to another county. She moved because of fear that the
man would find her and attack again, and she subsequently avoided the county
in which the attack occurred. Somala's responses represent the avoidance behavioral
coping that some victims adopted.
In contrast to avoidance, the behavioral coping of some victims consisted
of preparations for retaliation. One black man stated, "I am scared that
I might catch one of these people. . . . The scariest thing is I got guns and
can use them."
Discussion and Implications
In examining the most recent hate violence incidents, the study found considerable
variation in both the type and intensity of attacks. This finding is consistent
with those of other recent investigations of hate violence (for example, U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights, 1986; Wexler & Marx, 1986). The characteristics
of some attacks appeared to be consistent with conventional definitions of
social terrorism (Gurr, 1989), particularly evident in the finding of the current
study that more than half of the participants experienced multiple attacks.
In comparing the emotional and behavioral responses of victims of hate violence
with those of victims of personal crimes such as assault and rape, several
similarities were identified. Investigators have reported intense rage or anger
(Bard & Sangrey, 1986); fear of injury, death, and future victimization
(Davis & Friedman, 1985); sadness (Ochberg, 1988); and depression (Shapland,
Willmore, & Duff, 1985) as elements of victims' potential reactions to
crime. Thus, to some extent, the predominant emotional responses of hate violence
victims appear similar to those of victims of other types of personal crime.
The behavioral coping responses of hate violence victims are also similar to
those used by other victims of crime (Davis & Friedman, 1985; Wirtz & Harrell,
Crime victims often experience feelings of powerlessness and increased suspicion
of other people (Bard & Sangrey, 1986). These emotions were also reported
by victims of hate violence. A major difference in the emotional response of
hate violence victims appears to be the absence of lowered self-esteem. The
ability of some hate violence victims to maintain their self-esteem may be
associated with their attribution of responsibility for the attacks to the
prejudice and racism of the perpetrators.
Some limitations of this study need to be mentioned. First, the participants
interviewed in the study had all contacted the police, human rights agencies,
or other organizations. Thus, study findings are most relevant to the population
of victims who report hate violence. Second, the general-izability of the findings
to this population may be affected by the relatively small size and nonrandom
nature of the sample.
Although responsibility for responding to hate violence is primarily allocated
to community relations agencies, social workers in a wide array of settings
encounter clients who have experienced this type of victimization. Thus, social
workers must have knowledge of characteristics of hate violence, victims' reactions
to attacks, and community resources that address hate violence.
Practitioners can assist victims in managing the stress of hate violence.
As with victims of other types of crime, short-term interventions appear best
suited for meeting the needs of hate violence victims (Young, 1988). Group
work services may also be beneficial (Weiss & Ephross, 1986). With highly
traumatized victims, specialized psychotherapy may be required (Ochberg, 1988).
To prevent hate violence, social workers need to assist in educating citizens
about this problem (Weiss, 1990).
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Arnold Barnes, PhD, is assistant professor, Indiana University School
of Social Work, Education/Social Work Building 4138, 902 West New York Street,
Indianapolis, IN 46202-5156. Paul H. Ephross, PhD, is professor, School
of Social Work, University of Maryland at Baltimore.
Accepted July 22, 1992
Work, May 1994, pp. 247-251.