The Social Construction and Prosecution of Hate Crime in Germany
An Empirical Study on Policing and Prosecuting Hate-motivated Offences
The term ‘hate crime’ refers to criminal offences that are committed against people primarily because of their group affiliation and are motivated by hate based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or any similar factor. The victim becomes interchangeable as the crime is intended to intimidate not only one particular person but the entire community that shares the same attributes as the victim.
|Project category:||Doctoral dissertation|
|Organizational status:||Departmental project|
|Project time frame:||Project commences: 2007
Project ends: 2010
The concept of “hate crime” was first coined in the United States in the 1980s. Hate crime describes a criminal phenomenon that is of contemporary significance for societies all around the world, as it encompasses unlawful conducts of intimidation or physical persecution directed at a wide array of different target groups (Jenness/Broad, 1997). Such offences are committed against people primarily because of their group affiliation and are motivated by hate or disdain based on nationality, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or any similar characteristic of the victim. To date there is however still no universally accepted definition of what actually constitutes ‘hate crime’ and how this phenomenon is to be ultimately defined. Scholars however agree that what makes a crime a ‘hate crime’, is mainly the existence of bias or prejudice against an individual based on someone’s real or perceived group membership or identity. The victim becomes thereby interchangeable as the crime is intended to intimidate not only one particular person but to send a message that imposes a subordinate and inferior status to the entire community that shares the same attributes as the victim. Hate crime is hence considered an affront against the constitutional, democratic and pluralistic system (Schneider, 2003).
The German adaptation of the hate crime concept is closely inspired by the American definition of this phenomenon. The term “hate crime” was first explicitly introduced into the Germany’s criminal policy in January 2001, when the Federal Ministry of the Interior introduced the concept as part of the reformed police registration system. Hate crimes are since addressed as “politically motivated offences” and labeled as such, if: “…in the assessment of the circumstances of the crime and/or attitude of the perpetrator, there is reason to suspect that the act was directed against a person because of his or her nationality, “race”, origin, ethnicity, skin color, physical appearance, sexual orientation, disability, religion or social status and the offence is thus in a causal relationship to this” (Bundeskriminalamt, 2004). Due to the introduction of comprehensive definition criteria, as well as unanimously agreed and standardized procedures, the renewed system was to ensure nationwide standards of registration.
Our current research project analyzes quantitative and qualitative case-based information, as well as data from expert interviews in order to produce a follow-up study on how suspected hate crime cases progress in the German criminal justice system. As such, the study will focus on the development of the concept of hate crime and the definition processes which are employed in order to classify such offences.
It is the aim of this study to explore the characteristics of registered hate crime in Germany, to discover the core elements which lead to such an assessment, and to discuss problems the police and prosecution services face when trying to establish a “hate” motive. The analysis considers the pre-trial investigation of the police and keeps track on how the police-defined “construct” of a biased-motivated offence is taken into account by the prosecution and in the final sentencing.
Due to the complexity of the topic area a combination of research methods are applied. The first step is an analysis of hate-motivated offences by drawing on information from a sample of prosecution files. The sample includes all violent hate crimes that were identified by the police in the region of Baden-Württemberg from 2004-2008. Variables include elements of the crime, characteristics of victims and offenders, as well as prosecution outcomes. The case-file analysis is supported by expert interviews with practitioners from the police and the public prosecution service in order to obtain first-hand insights into the structures and the judicial handling of hate crimes in Germany.
Glet, A.: Sozialkonstruktion und strafrechtliche Verfolgung von Hasskriminalität in Deutschland.
Eine empirische Untersuchung polizeilicher und justizieller Definitions- und Selektionsprozesse bei der Bearbeitung vorurteilsmotivierter Straftaten. Kriminologische Forschungsberichte, Berlin 2011, 345 p.
- Glet, A.: The German Hate Crime Concept. An account of the classification and registration of bias-motivated offences and the implementation of the hate crime model into Germany’s law enforcement system. In: The Internet Journal of Criminology, 2009. URL: http://www.internetjournalofcriminology.com/Glet_German_Hate_Crime_Concept_Nov_09.pdf .
- Bundesministerium der Justiz, Deutsches Forum für Kriminalprävention (Hrsg.): Hasskriminalität. Vorurteilskriminalität. Projekt Primäre Prävention von Gewalt gegen Gruppenangehörige - insbesondere junge Menschen. Berlin, 2002.
- Jenness, Valerie / Broad, Kendal: Hate Crimes. New Social Movements and the Politics of Violence. New York, 1997.
- Schneider, Hans Joachim: Kriminologie der Hassdelikte – Konzeptionen, Ursachen, Vorbeugungen und Kontrolle. In: Bewährungshilfe, 2003, Volume⁄Issue 2/50, p. 115 - 113.
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