SUPERINTENDENT Richard Melton, Essex Police’s hate crime lead, has a clear message for perpetrators of hate crime: it will not be tolerated.
A hate crime is defined as any incident perceived by the victim, or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on a personal characteristic – this can be disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity.
There have been more than 4800 hate crime offences in Essex in 2021, up by 27% on this time last year.
Supt Melton is encouraged that people are increasingly confident to report incidents but believes many victims still don’t contact police. He wants to reach out to anyone who might see abuse as a way of life.
He said: “We want people to come forward and let us deal with the people that are perpetrating crimes against them. It’s wrong and needs to be challenged. That information will allow us to identify themes and take targeted action.
“We recognise the problems that hate crime causes and how it can escalate. What starts as low-level anti-social behaviour can grow into community tensions. Tensions then normalise hatred, the hatred then grows, and we have offences committed by those motivated by hate.
“We’re dealing with problems at a community level and learning every day about how to deal more effectively with hate crime, and we’re becoming more effective at working with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to get better outcomes for the victims.”
Essex Police has three full-time hate crime officers who support our community policing teams. We are also one of only 12 forces to record if hate offences were motivated by gender or sex.
“Currently there are only five protected characteristics, but it’s expected that number will increase,” said Supt Melton. “So we’ve made the decision to record crimes that would constitute a hate crime motivated by gender or sex.
“This will help us to truly understand the level of violence, abuse and intimidation against women and girls; where it’s happening, who it’s happening to and who the perpetrators are.
“We’re getting on the front foot to make sure we learn the lessons from high-profile cases. We are committed to making sure that women and girls feel safe in our communities.
“Hate crime is a priority for Essex Police and will not be tolerated. We work shoulder to shoulder with our other Essex partners to take a hard line against hatred committed anywhere across the county, and we work closely with the CPS to make sure that hate crime offenders are brought to justice.”
Victoria Matthews is a member of the force’s LBGTQ+ network committee. She says that both her and her partner have been abused because of their sexuality and are conscious of the reactions they might get in public.
She said: “I’ve been lucky that I’ve never faced anything too horrific, but my partner has been beaten up for being who she is.
“I’ve had people shout “lesbian” at me, be funny with me in clubs or tell me I’ve just not met the right man.
“When I was younger, I wouldn’t hold hands or be affectionate in public. You get straight couples who feel confident to be kissing and cuddling in public, but I’d be very self-conscious doing that.
“If there are a group of lads in the middle of town, I’m more likely to walk separately from my partner so we don’t have to deal with any form of abuse.”
Victoria says that changes in the education system and the information available at events like Pride have made people in the LGBTQ+ community more aware of their rights.
“Things have got better as I’ve got older and there are younger people who are having more positive experiences.
“Children are being taught in schools that there are differences in the world and when you go to events, you’re given leaflets and told about where you can go if you’re a victim of hate crime.
“Growing up, I wouldn’t have even thought that someone shouting at me is a hate crime.”
If you are a victim of hate crime, you can report it online, by dialling 101 or 999 if it’s an emergency. You can also report it at any police station or by visiting one of the 14 hate crime reporting centres in the county. More details are available here: How to report hate crime | Essex Police