Racially aggravated offences include racist violence, harassment and criminal damage. Racially motivated crime does not simply injure the victim or their property, it affects the whole of the victim's family and erodes the standards of decency of the wider community. Trust and understanding built up over many years between communities can be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety which surrounds a racist incident.
An offence is held to be racially aggravated if the offender at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, demonstrates racial hostility towards the victim, or if the offence is motivated wholly or partly by racial hostility.
Findings from the 1996 British Crime Survey (BCS) on ethnic minorities' experience of crime, including that perceived to be racially motivated, showed a considerable gap between crime incidents perceived to be racially motivated by victims and the number of incidents recorded by the police. Many incidents are not reported to the police, though some may be reported to other agencies. Even if crimes against people of minority ethnic origin are reported to the police, the racial element may not be mentioned. Under-recording by the police is also a significant factor.
Studies on the perpetrators of racially motivated crime have found that: a) perpetrators are of all ages and include groups of people and families acting together; b) some perpetrators also engage in other anti-social or criminal activities which are not necessarily racially motivated; c) the perpetrators' attitudes to people from minority ethnic communities are shaped and reinforced by those held by the wider communities to which they belong; and d) these attitudes generally reflect underlying concerns which communities feel impotent to deal with, such as insecurity about the future, housing or health problems.
A 1997 UK survey of how police processed reports of racially motivated crime, highlighted problems around: a) different recording and processing procedures and structures within forces; b) difficulties in applying the concept of racial motivation; c) victims wanting the incident dealt with informally; d) officers advising that evidence would not stand up in court; and e) poor understanding about laws which cover offences of intentional harassment.
The number of racial incidents reported to the police in the United Kingdom has increased since 1989 from 5,044 to 13,151 reported in 1996/97.