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Abuse of Other Populations


Child Sexual Abuse ~ Other Child Abuse ~ Spousal/Partner Abuse ~ Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse

NOTE: Although abuse occurs in every country, information on this page pertains to the United States, except as otherwise indicated.  

Abuse against other populations ~ in other words, violence against people, property and organizations because of their perceived membership in or affiliation with a certain group ~ are known today more generally as "hate crimes".

  • Racism is abuse against people because of their racial heritage or ethnic group.
  • Sexism is abuse against people because of their gender.
  • Homophobia and other sexual discrimination are abuses against people because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and other sexual beliefs and practices.
  • Religious prejudice is that which targets people because of their religious beliefs and practices.
  • Disability Discrimination, against people with physical and mental disabilities, has been only recently considered and begun to be addressed.
  • Human rights abuse is any violation of a person's various freedoms [of expression, of assembly, etc.] directed against any of the above as well as particular immigrants, refugees, voters, economic or social classes, and other subsections of the planet's various populations.
back to top Prevalence

Most hate crimes are carried out by otherwise law-abiding young people who see little wrong with their actions. Alcohol and drugs sometimes help fuel these crimes, but the main determinant appears to be personal prejudice, a situation that colors people's judgment, blinding the aggressors to the immorality of what they are doing. Such prejudice is most likely rooted in an environment that disdains someone who is "different" or sees that difference as threatening. One expression of this prejudice is the perception that society sanctions attacks on certain groups. For example, Dr. Karen Franklin, a forensic psychology fellow at the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training, has found that, in some settings, offenders perceive that they have societal permission to engage in violence against homosexuals.(1)

Due to sporadic and often perfunctory compliance with the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, official data on hate crime currently tell us little about the prevalence of hate crime nationally. Reasons for this include lack of police department infrastructure to support accurate reporting, lack of training, officer disincentives to accurately report, and, perhaps most importantly, hesitation on the part of victims to involve law enforcement in these matters.(2)

Educated "guesstimates" of the prevalence of hate crimes are difficult because of state-by-state differences in the way such crimes are defined and reported. Federal law enforcement officials have only been compiling nationwide hate crime statistics since 1991, the year after the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was enacted. Before passage of the act, hate crimes were lumped together with such offenses as homicide, assault, rape, robbery, and arson.(1)

In 1996, law enforcement agencies in 49 states and the District of Columbia reported 8,759 bias-motivated criminal offenses to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the federal government agency mandated by Congress to gather the statistics. However, points out the FBI, these data must be approached with caution. Typically, data on hate crimes collected by social scientists and such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task force show a higher prevalence of hate crime than do federal statistics.(1)

Given the broad definitions presented above, these reports are likely to be only a subset of the actual abuse committed against other populations.

In approximately half of all assaultive hate crimes, a weapon is involved. There were 1,745 hate crime incidents with 2,626 victims in California in 1995.(3)

In the latest two year span for which comparative statistics were available (1994-1995) the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a 36% increase in hate-related crimes.(4)

back to top Symptoms & Effects of Racism and other Abuse

Behavioral signs of an abuser

Abusers of other populations exhibit different behavior and attitudes than those committing child, spouse, or elder abuse; in many cases, their crimes have been socially sanctioned and promoted as proper (to wit, slavery). Although the following list(5) originally described signs of racism, we have edited it to apply more generally towards all abusers of other populations, as we see qualities such as these in perpetrators of various hate crimes.

  • Reducing people of other groups to stereotypes. This can often be done in very subtle ways. For example, a belief that certain groups are more adept in particular jobs or functions, a belief in differences in intelligence between groups, etc.
  • Advocation of segregation. This advocation represents a belief that different groups should live apart, be educated separately or not intermarry. The advocacy can occur explicitly or implicitly.
  • Extreme pride in one's own country or race. Patriotism can be laudable but when taken to extremes, this sentiment becomes the basis of all fascist regimes.
  • Association. It is common for [abusers] to associate with other [abusers]. While not necessarily espousing [abusive] opinions themselves, it is common for them to personally defend other [abusers] (without directly defending their opinions).
  • Belittlement of members of other groups. [Abuser] will constantly criticize the opinions of other groups or even ridicule them. Often they will do it without explicitly making mention of the group to which the person or persons are perceived as belonging to.
  • Latent hate. An exaggerated reaction to any misconduct from a person of the other group, where the punishment is out of all proportion to the original wrong (real or perceived) and completely ignores the provocation which could have led to the original "wrong". Also, no feeling of moral debt to a person of the other group for any favors he or she may have done.
  • Denial. [Abuser] denies that the other person's or group's intelligence, cultural level, social status or other merits consideration even in the face of overwhelming evidence which proves these qualities. The [abuser] will attempt to "objectively" show proof, usually in the form of insignificant details to contradict the obvious.
  • Constant references to [the group]. A mere mention of someone's [perceived group] on a first encounter could be benign but when these references continue after a long period of knowing that person, no matter how innocent the references may appear, they establish an unmistakable pattern.
  • Invisibility. An indifference to the plight of members of society who are of other groups when they suffer injustices. It is typical of the [abuser] to claim that he is under no obligation to help or that the situation in question is somehow an "inevitable" by-product of some greater good.
  • Presumption of [hate] in members of own [group]. [Abusers] typically expect members of their own [group] to be similar. This often results in expectations of preferential treatment and they expect, for example, members of their [group] to see the humor in [hate-crime] jokes or join with them in what but for the [group] of the victim would be seen as morally reprehensible behavior.
  • Condescending attitude or behavior. [Abusers] show condescending attitudes towards members of other [groups]. For this reason they often try to use even members of the [group] which they despise to attack members of that [same group] which cause them most offense. They believe that these other members of the victimized [group] will collaborate because of the magnanimity which the [abuser] is showing in momentarily treating them as members of the "superior" [group].
  • Strongest reaction to members of other [group] who rebut [hate-crime] model. The members of the other [group] which [an abuser] will typically try most to denigrate are those which act as a rebuttal to his model of what members of the other [group] should be. If this model is a weak, timid and stupid person, he will see a strong, independent and intelligent person of the "inferior" [group] as a threat to his model. If they do not attack this person directly, [abusers] contend with this by speaking of "exceptions" to their theory.
  • Extreme reaction to the word [racist, homophobic, etc.]. Normally the worst insult which an [abuser] can receive is to be called a [racist, homophobic, etc.] in public. For the [abuser] it is infuriating because there is no adequate response. On the one hand he does not really want to deny it but he knows that the implications of this word are generally negative. It is not like being called stupid or ignorant, because it is difficult for him to counterattack by simply reverting the accusation. The idea that a member of the other [group] could look down upon the [group] of the [abuser] normally challenges the model that the [abuser] has about this other [group] (he typically sees it as weak, timid and cowardly). If he attempts to ridicule the other person he will publicly prove the original accusation correct.
  • No insight into own prejudice. It is common for [abusers] to have no insight into their own prejudice. This is because they believe their prejudice to be based upon objective grounds.
  • Indifference to the opinions of members of the other [group]. It is typical of [abusers] to make fun of members of the "inferior" [group] without any consideration for what those members will then think of these [abusers]. At best, [abusers] only care about what people of their own [group] think of them.
  • Lack of impartiality. This is extremely common and affects practically all the [abuser's] opinions and decision-making. Its effects extend beyond the obvious areas like jobs, education and housing. Veneration of great historical figures, membership of clubs and societies etc.
  • Acceptance of [abusive] behavior or conduct. To view "mildly" [hateful] acts as either reasonable or, at least, not [abusive] and to feel that more severely [hateful] acts are wrong but "understandable".
  • Failure to recognize impact of [abuse] on the victim. To believe that a victim of [a hate crime] can be unaltered by [the abuse]. For example, when [abusers] examine apparent differences between members of different...groups they completely ignore all differences in circumstances and history which could have affected the "inferior" [group].
  • Maintaining a superior position "by all means possible". A phrase often remembered as a precept of the maintenance of slavery in the Southern United States during the nineteenth century. [An abuser] will use all means possible to preserve the inferior position of the victimized [group]. Even a person with social motivations and who acts benevolently toward members of his own [group] is capable of violence and other forms of crime towards members of what he views as the "inferior" [group]. He could easily support the use of force to maintain in their present condition those disadvantaged by [hate crimes].

The effects of hate crime(4)

Though research is scarce the studies that have been completed suggest that hate crime victims respond initially in much the same way as do victims of other types of violence, such as rape. Immediate (2-4 week) responses may include:

  • Emotional Numbing
  • Expressions of indifference toward the crime or, conversely, expressions of anger and desires for revenge
  • Increased feelings of vulnerability and related fear
  • Sadness and depression related to the incident
  • Difficulty sleeping and related fatigue
  • Physical signs of stress such as heart palpitations, headaches
  • Increased irritability, and perhaps, rage Intensified startle responses Increased suspicion of others

Longer-term psychological effects have not been adequately researched. One study's results (Barnes & Ephross, 1994) indicates that resolution may involve the regaining of self-esteem by attributing responsibility for the crime to the prejudice of the perpetrators. (This appears to be in contrast to victims of other types of personal crime who may continue to blame themselves for the crime's occurrence). Longer-term behavioral effects of hate crime that have been identified to date include:

  • Increasing home security and taking other safety precautions for oneself and one's family.
  • Avoidance of community facilities that were previously a part of the victim's life, such as church, clubs, or political organizations.
  • Practicing with weapons or purchase of a weapon (some with ideas of retaliation rather than protection only).
back to top Ways to Heal



Traditionally, "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants" have been considered the dominant group in the United States and hence theoretically exempt from prejudice and abuse. It may be, though, that almost all people, perceived at one time or another as belonging to a hated or devalued group, have been the victim of some kind of abuse as we're broadly defining it here.

Identifying Victims(3)

Victims of hate crime violence are more likely to sustain severe physical and psychological injury than victims of other forms of violent crime, according to the article. Guidelines for the treatment of hate crime victims include educating all health care providers about the levels and types of hate crimes in their communities, emphasizing the physical and emotional safety of the victim once they have been brought to an emergency department or health care facility. They also call for health care providers to learn appropriate documentation techniques if any provider suspects the patient is a victim of a hate crime.

Treatment for Hate-Crime Victims(4)

It is possible that, unless the hate crime is of a highly violent nature, outpatient providers may not see hate crime victims because many of these people keep silent about their victimization. This can be because they are unsure about whether their neighbors and fellow community members will support them (versus the perpetrators) and will understand the full impact the crime has had upon the victim.

Victims may seek assistance or come to the attention of psychological care providers and counselors under the following conditions:

  • The crime comes to light during history-taking for treatment of other ailments, such as depression. (It is important that providers incorporate sensitive questioning about the possible experience of hate crimes in standard history-taking protocols. It is unknown how many providers, locally or nationwide, do so.)
  • Upon referral following a more violent hate crime such as battery.

Longer-term support and care may best be accomplished by referring the person to an appropriate support organization such as B'nai, B'rith National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Asian Society, the American Arab Anti-discrimination Committee, the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, etc.

NOTE: All of the above treatment suggestions are speculative. Research is needed into what treatment protocols may in fact be most useful.

1. "Hate Crimes Today: An Age-Old Foe in Modern Dress". 1998. American Psychological Association.
2. "Hate Crime Reporting: Understanding Police Officer Perceptions, Departmental Protocol, and the Role of the Victim". 2001. Justice Rsearch & Policy, Vol. 3, No. 1.

3. "Hate Crimes pose special challenges for health care professionals". 1999. M. Guttman. University of Southern California.

4. "Hate Crimes: First Facts". 2002. The Antioch Group.
5. "Signs of Racism". 1999. University of Dayton Race, Racism & the Law.

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