Hate-Motivated Behavior: Impacts, Risk Factors, and Interventions

Hate-motivated behavior is a public health threat with structural, interpersonal, and individual antecedents and effects. There is a need for interdisciplinary, multilevel research to better understand the causes of such behavior and to test prevention strategies and interventions.

Racism is the other virus during this pandemic

RWJF Executive Vice President and former Health Commissioner at the Chicago Public Health Department Julie Morita is speaking out. Since witnessing the bigotry that has percolated in Chicago and across the country in response to the COVID pandemic, Julie is calling for understanding, compassion, and love in the Chicago Tribune. “It's what’s good for the soul, and for the health of our nation."

What’s the Issue?

Discrimination is a social determinant of health disparities often experienced by members of vulnerable communities. In 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recorded more than 7,000 hate crime incidents reported by law enforcement—a 30 percent increase from 2014. Myriad victim groups were targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and disability, according to FBI hate crime statistics. In the last several years, public expressions of hate and White supremacy that previously existed on the fringes of society have moved on to the main stage—exposed by social media and political and social discourse. This shift in social norms is a contributing factor to the rise of hate groups and recent notable hate-based events.

This brief defines the parameters of hate-based behavior and its threat to the health of the overall population and describes the toll it can take on the health of its victims—which include depression, posttraumatic stress, and substance misuse. Additionally, structural discrimination reveals economic, housing, and educational disparities sometimes for entire vulnerable communities. Although the evidence of public health impacts is strong, support is far weaker for research regarding hate-motivated behavior commission risk factors and interventions.

What’s Next?

Hate-motivated behavior is a major public health concern. The impacts of hateful acts are fairly well-documented and include blunted affective well-being, poor mental and physical health, early mortality, loss of social support, and inadequate health care. The authors recommend generating research across the psychological, public health, sociological, criminological, and political science domains.

Current interventions tend to fall under one of the following: legal and law enforcement strategies; educational approaches; public health programming; and psychological strategies. There are few thorough scientific evaluations of the risk factors and effectiveness of strategies to reduce hate-motivated behavior.

Evidence presented in the brief suggests the need to design prevention programming by: targeting the reduction of risk factors across social-ecological levels; seeking to enhance community- and individual-level protective factors; and providing needed infrastructure to bring about systematic equality for vulnerable groups. Academic-community partnerships and statewide task forces represent solid starting points for the development of strategic, comprehensive planning.