A steep surge in hate crime has been recorded by Avon and Somerset police in the past two years, with figures up 46 per cent since 2015.
In a series of articles, Bristol24/7 investigates the extent of a problem that remains under-reported, reasons behind the rise in numbers, the impact on victims and what is being done to stem the flow of prejudice and cruelty across the city.
Incidents in which women and girls are subjected to harassment on the streets of Bristol are as prolific as they are unreported.
Avon and Somerset has now become the third force in the country to officially recognise gender-based hate crime in a bid to give victims the confidence to come forward and send the message that discrimination won’t be tolerated.
The announcement comes at the start of National Hate Crime Awareness Week which puts the issue in the spotlight and works to challenge disability, race, sexual orientation, religious, transgender and gender hate crimes.
“Recognising gender as an aggravating factor in hate crime is a huge step towards ensuring the streets and homes we live in are free from prejudice,” says superintendent Andy Bennett, Avon and Somerset police lead for hate crime.
“We know women are less likely to report hate crime committed by strangers in public, which could be because discrimination is normalised for many women.
“The new category will help us improve our response to hate crime as we understand more about the discrimination people experience everyday. Our message is hate crime won’t be tolerated, we take all reports seriously and we encourage anyone who needs our help to tell us or one of our local support partners.”
Police crime reports indicate that gender will account for 41 per cent of hate crime across the region, despite under-reporting, particularly in Muslim and transgender communities.
Bristol Zero Tolerance, an initiative set up to tackle gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation, launched the Bristol Street Harassment Project to look at addressing the problem in the city.
Findings from the project indicate that 35 per cent of people deal with street harassment weekly and 58 per cent first experienced this when they were between 10 and 15 years old.
Of these, 98 per cent of the culprits were male and 81 per cent of people had not reported incidents to the police.
China Fish, a campaigner against sexism with Bristol Zero Tolerance says: “Gender based violence is a prolific occurrence.
“Street harassment is a serious societal issue that has significant impacts on people’s lives. Having a gender hate crime category will help give victims the confidence that the problem is being taken seriously and lead to a stronger feeling of safety in the community.
“It certainly won’t solve the problem overnight, but it is a step in the right direction for much needed change. I hope to see it rolled out nationwide – it’s about time. ”
Despite the rise in reported figures, it is anticipated that two in five hate crimes aren’t reported to police, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
Superintendent Bennett explains that part of the reason for the significant hike in hate crime figures is down to victims feeling more confident in going to police, as well as vast improvements in the way incidents are recorded and dealt with.
But there has also been an increase in the number of crimes carried out due to hostility or prejudice.
Alex Raikes, director of equality charity Sari, says: “Sari is working tirelessly, 24/7 to tackle hate crime and is seeing an increasing number of victims coming forward to courageously tell us what is happening to them.
“Whilst race hate remains the highest reporting category and rose significantly last year, we have also seen particular increases in reporting of disability, faith-based and transphobic cases reported to us have more than doubled.
“Yet under-reporting is a huge issue. We are not seeing our lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGBT+) communities coming forward and disabled people are suffering in silence all too often.
“We therefore welcome the recognition by Avon and Somerset of hate crime faced by women – gender hate. Women should not tolerate any form of abuse because of their gender. We hope this will further increase the wider communities’ awareness that hate crime must not be tolerated at any time.”
To report a hate crime, contact police by calling 101 (or 999 in an emergency), or via the website: www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/hatecrime.
Or report hate crime to Sari by calling 0800 171 2272.
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