What Is a Hate Crime? - Definition, Statistics & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition
  • 1:38 Statistics
  • 2:34 Examples
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you should understand what constitutes a hate crime. You will review recent changes to federal hate crime laws and look at several example scenarios of various types of hate crimes.


Throughout world history, there have been a number of documented crimes that were motivated by hate. For instance, the Holocaust led to the genocide, or mass murders, of millions of Jews, based upon the fact that the individuals were Jewish. This is one of the most well-known hate crimes in recent history.

A hate crime is a crime that is motivated by bias or prejudice against someone based upon that person's identity or affiliation with a group. In the case of the Holocaust, the hate crime was largely motivated by religious and ethnic prejudice. The purpose of a hate crime is to instill fear or terrorize the victim. Furthermore, a hate crime serves to ridicule and cause psychological damage to its victim.

Under U.S. federal law, it is a hate crime to harm someone based upon his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, or origin. In addition, in 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, known generally as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This act expands the existing federal law and makes gender, gender identity, disability, and sexual orientation protected as part of federal hate crime laws. Furthermore, 45 of the 50 states (as well as Washington, D.C.) have some sort of hate crime statute in their books.

The consequences for committing a hate crime can be substantial. In addition to receiving fines, one can face several years in prison per offense, or more, depending upon the particular details of the hate crime.


The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released their most recent hate crime statistics in a report entitled Hate Crime Statistics. These statistics provided a report for 2012 and demonstrated that there was a slight decrease in the number of hate crimes in the United States for this year compared to the previous year.

During 2012, police reported 5,796 hate crime incidents involving 6,718 offenses. This was a decrease from the 6,222 incidents involving 7,254 offenses that were reported for 2011. In addition, the FBI report showed that in 2012, there were 7,164 total hate crime victims reported. This number represented a decrease from the 7,713 total hate crimes that were reported in 2011.

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