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A practitioner guide

This practical guide provides user-friendly, concise, expert and up-to-date guidance for both new and experienced hate crime caseworkers and advocates (whether professional or volunteers). Filling a gap in the growing debates and research literature on hate crime, it takes as its starting point a values-based casework practice that provides assistance, support and leads to the empowerment of victims of hate crimes.

With core casework standards and guidance on how to respond from a person-centred approach to the victim’s perspective, it also provides an overview of current legislation in relation to prosecuting hate crimes and the current EU Directive on victim support. Full of relevant, up-to-date evidence based research and policy, it will enable practitioners to be confident and knowledgeable in supporting victims of hate crime.

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Hate crime casework and support involves providing emotional support, practical assistance and advice to people and groups who have reported, accessed or been referred to a support service or professional (eg a hate crime practitioner, police officer, housing officer, social worker or teacher). Guidance on providing effective casework support to hate crime victims is limited and this guide offers information, advice and frameworks for a busy practitioner to develop their working practices with clients.

The first two chapters of the book focus on current hate crime knowledge, including the increase in hate crime in the digital world. Chapters Three and Four provide an insight into current rights-based frameworks for victim support, as well as the needs of and approach to working with hate crime victims. Chapters Five and Six introduce the role of the caseworker working with hate crime victims, and the underpinning principles and approaches to support. Chapters Seven and Eight explore the interpersonal skills required to communicate with clients and the minimum that needs to be considered in the process of fact finding with the client. Chapter Nine recognises the self-care needs of caseworkers themselves.

Both European Union (EU) and UK policy has, in recent years, shifted to recognising the needs of hate crime victims and the services and responsibilities that reporting agencies (particularly within the criminal justice system) have. The recent EU directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime calls on member states to establish specialised victim support services, either as an integrated part of or in addition to generic victim support services (European Commission, 2012).

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The digital world has changed the nature and scope of hate crime. In the UK, 82% of adults (41.8 million) now use the internet almost daily (ONS, 2016), and 98% of children aged 12–15 have internet access, with 5–15 year olds spending an average of 13.7 hours per week online (Ofcom, 2015). The rapid increase in online use, alongside developments in technology, means that hate crime caseworkers and victims live in a digital world. This refers to the way in which the offline and online space converges in everyday life (May-Chahal et al, 2014). Digital exposure covers much more than mobile phones, laptops and computers; as the move towards the Internet of Things (IoT) progresses (cars, domestic appliances, surveillance and body technologies), the digital world expands. However, beneficial aspects of digitisation, such as connectivity, supporting social relationships and access to new knowledge, have a negative side. This emerging environment has brought a ‘startling’ and rapid rise in cyber-hate across the world (Citron and Norton, 2011). There is a pressing need to develop processes to support victims of cyber-hate crime, to learn more about how hate crime plays out in on/offline convergent spaces and to discover what can be done about it from a policy and practice perspective. The digital world has changed hate crime in at least three ways:

  • people have become much more accessible – information security and the capacity to maintain privacy boundaries, which once may 20 have offered some respite and safety, are harder to maintain when they can be infiltrated by hackers, social media, text and email;

  • the reach of people committing hate crimes has extended – people can commit crimes from any part of the world directed at people in the UK; and

  • the capacity to commit hate crime has increased – people operate in more extreme ways in online environments, saying and doing things that they would not offline, including threatening and abusive behaviour.

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Recognising and responding to the specific needs of hate crime victims has, in recent years, entered the policy domain across the European Union (EU) and within the UK, particularly in relation to providing minimum service standards of victim support. This has been the result of long-term grass-roots campaigning for hate crime victims to be appropriately recognised and responded to by service providers, including the police and victim support services.

Victim support services have existed in Europe for over 30 years, and the first service was set up in the UK in 1974. In the year 2014/15, Victim Support offered help to 1.2 million people affected by crime in England and Wales (see: The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA, 2014) defines a victim support service as one that provides assistance available to victims before, during and after criminal proceedings, including emotional and psychological support, as well as advice relating to legal, financial and practical matters. This is potentially a wide range of services that a victim may access and that a caseworker may need to navigate.

EU member states are less advanced in the field of support for hate crime victims in comparison to other categories of crimes (FRA, 2014). Indeed, EU-wide research of member states (FRA, 2016), with 263 professionals from the criminal justice system and non-government organisations (NGOs) supporting hate crime victims, found that:

  • almost nine out of 10 interviewed professionals believe that measures are needed to improve hate crime victims’ awareness of their rights and of the victim support services available to them as victims of hate crime;

  • six out of 10 interviewees view the actual lack of support services as a factor that impedes victims’ access to justice;

  • hate crime services are patchy and fragmented;

  • trust in the police is low;

  • there is a lack of commitment to identify, prosecute and impose sentences for hate crime; and

  • hate crime needs to be taken more seriously by the police and judiciary.

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Hate crime is an attack on an individual’s actual or perceived identity or identities. As such, it is recognised that the consequences of hate crime can have longer-lasting impacts than non-hate crime (Iganski, 2008; Kees et al, 2016). There is a range of groups that are potential victims of hate crime, for example, migrants or refugees, Muslim women, disabled people, and gypsies, Travellers and Roma. Their relative stigmatised position in society means that their knowledge of, experience of and access to services will range from familiarity to fear. For example, in some circumstances, the police may be seen as enforcers of a political regime by those who have or are escaping persecution as opposed to an agency mandated to investigate a complaint and uphold due process. Similarly, negative experiences of service providers, more generally, but particularly the police, may result in victims of hate crime feeling less confident that they will be believed and taken seriously or that there will be action (ODIHR, 2009).

Recognising needs and acknowledging the rights of hate crime victims requires practitioners to work from a perspective that makes the client a visible and active participant in their complaint. Following the victim’s perspective is a set of principles, skills and behaviours that are learnt through active casework practice and can have tangible positive outcomes in the lives of marginalised groups and individuals. Working with and supporting hate crime victims is something that requires more than a common-sense approach, knowledge of the law and partnerships with relevant agencies. Although these are important, casework practice requires: recognition of the experiences of hate crime victims; transparent values that influence the behaviours of the practitioner; interpersonal skills and knowledge that are learned and practised; and an ability to respond to the particular circumstances and demands that a client may make on caseworkers.

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Having access to support services is fundamental to achieving justice for victims and ensuring that they know and can claim their rights. A hate crime support service provides a range of services, including advice, assistance and support, regardless of whether a crime has been committed or there are ongoing criminal proceedings (Chahal, 2003). A hate crime service will work with targeted groups, for example, a dedicated support service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of hate crime or potentially all groups of hate crime, while a generic victim support service is available to all victims of crime (eg Victim Support UK).

Hate crime casework is an interpersonal practice that involves understanding and responding to individuals to assist in resolving problems within their social environment. It is a purposeful and planned approach that achieves and creates change in how the individual engages with their social environment (Healy, 2012: 55–6). Casework skills are different from counselling skills. Casework requires an interaction with and intervention in the wider social environment beyond listening and responding in private to the client, for example, working with the police or other third-party agencies to resolve a problem. There are three common approaches to casework practice that highlight the co-produced nature of this form of intervention:

  • an emphasis on a staged approach to hate crime casework that begins with a comprehensive analysis of the problems or concerns to be addressed;

  • collaboration with the client in establishing a clear shared understanding of the purpose of the relationship and the nature of the intervention; and

  • recognition and enhancement of the client’s capacities to address the challenges they face (see Healy, 2012: 55–7).

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It is recognised in the research literature that reporting to an official agency, for example, the police, does happen but not necessarily immediately after the first hate incident. Hate crime is reported largely if there has been property damage or serious physical injury. By and large, verbal abuse, threats and harassment go unreported and the coping mechanism is often to ignore and avoid such experiences (Chahal and Julienne, 1999).

Some hate crime victims cope with little assistance after suffering victimisation (Craig-Henderson and Sloan, 2003), and some may not require any support, wanting to forget about it or seeing it as too trivial to report. Recent compelling research has identified that the hurts of hate crime are not uniformly experienced (Iganski and Lagou, 2015). People have different levels of resilience, coping mechanisms, support structures, familiarity with rights and reporting agencies, and, of course, identified needs. This chapter draws on three models of hate crime support that caseworkers are able to use with clients.

When an official complaint of hate crime is made it is often at the point of crisis:

A crisis is a turning point, a situation which pushes our usual coping mechanisms beyond their limits of effectiveness and thus necessitates a different response, a different strategy for coping. (Thompson, 2011b: 1)

This turning point is the moment that a caseworker may first meet a client. The client may be in crisis and require an immediate response, for example, medical treatment or repairs to damaged property. The client’s coping abilities may be lowered and they may be in emotional turmoil, fearful of further violence and concerned about their and their family’s safety and security.

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Effective communication and interpersonal skills are important to understanding and achieving the victim’s perspective and promoting the values and principles of hate crime casework and support. Such skills are demonstrated in interactions with a client through valuing the person and story (by believing, listening and giving time) and letting the client know that they have been understood in the casework interaction (by reflecting, paraphrasing and summarising). Confident and appropriate use of interpersonal skills forms and sustains helping relationships. Practitioners will spend a large amount of time communicating with victims, advocates, agencies, local political leaders and potentially the media.

Casework practice involves working with a range of people, all whom have different positions of power and authority. A practitioner has to be an effective communicator and draw on the skills used in everyday interactions. However, the key difference between everyday and practitioner interactions is that within the latter, the focus is on professional communication, which has a deliberate strategy that focuses the practitioner on being aware of their purpose and ensuring that the use of communication skills supports the achievement of that purpose (Healy, 2012: 22).

Interpersonal and communication skills include listening, non-verbal communication, observation and verbal and counselling skills (Neville, 2009: 5–6; Healy, 2012: 22). Communication is learnt behaviour (Allen and Langford, 2008) and, as such, can often be taken for granted and go unexamined (Koprowska, 2014: 3) in relation to effectiveness or biases. Given the diversity of people who may report a hate crime, being open and aware of our own communication biases and how and when we need to adapt to respond to difference and diversity is important to building a transformative relationship.

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Fact finding with a client has a critical impact on their perception of the service, the support that they are likely to receive, their ability to make decisions, what they consider to be in their best interests and whether they cooperate in any legal action that may follow. It also impacts on how trust and relations between local communities and support/investigating agencies develop. This chapter focuses on the key approaches for effective interviewing for fact finding.

It is important to recognise that we are always communicating, and in the interview process, the caseworker will be communicating to the client their belief in the client, their service standards and their professional expectations. We communicate both verbally and non-verbally with our clients. Making people feel at ease and welcome is as important as effective listening and responding. Effective listening means making sure that the client knows that they have been heard, that their views have been respected and, where possible, that their views will be responded to. A busy caseworker will need to ensure that they have appropriate time and find a safe environment where effective communication can take place.

The initial or first interview is crucial to building a relationship, building trust in the process and enabling the victim to articulate what they believe has happened to them without judgement, fear or recrimination. The first interview is an essential part of the advocacy and empowerment process. The key objectives of the first interview are to:

  • reassure and empathise with the victim;

  • untangle the facts from their experiences;

  • explore the various options and choices that the victim has;

  • support the victim to make reasonable decisions that ensure their safety and security; and

  • co-produce an action plan that is understood and agreed.

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Hate crime casework and support offers help, assistance and advice to people who have been the victims of hate violence, repeat victimisation and, in some cases, secondary victimisation. A hate crime service is often accessed at crisis points where the coping mechanisms of the individual can no longer manage or process what they are suffering. In entering a helping service, the client is seeking support, reassurance and solutions, often from a caseworker. While the role of the caseworker is to provide support and show empathy and compassion, there are impacts on them that also need to be identified and responded to.

The helping professions can be very effective and rewarding forms of practice (Thompson, 2011b). In my work with hate crime professionals, they identified strongly with a commitment to social justice and working for the client that is often viewed as changing not only the lives of individuals and families, but also communities, agencies, institutions, and society. Helping professionals are driven by a belief in their capacity to make a difference; for a client to be helped through an ethos of genuineness and caring; and these beliefs and approaches will sustain them in working with clients with enduring difficulties (Koprowska, 2014).

I have met caseworkers who, while doing their job, are suffering from depression, are close to burnout, are feeling unsupported and isolated, are managing an increasingly large caseload and complex political relationships with other agencies, and are working on fixed-term contracts in projects with time-limited funding. Hate crime practitioners also have needs that must be recognised and responded to by the services that employ them.

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