How Do Hate Crimes Affect Health?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on May 18, 2022
5 min read

Hate crimes can lead to several harmful consequences, especially for targeted groups of people. These behaviors can put your life and safety at risk. Hate crimes and other hate-related incidents can also threaten your mental and emotional health. Those affected by these crimes may develop mental health conditions, poorer physical health, or learn to manage their feelings in unhealthy ways.

A hate crime is any offense commonly defined as a crime that includes bias against another. People carry them out to target another person’s real or imagined:

These actions are extreme forms of prejudice. They usually happen in light of social change, political shifts, or other forms of public debate. Those who carry out these crimes may feel that their way of life is in danger due to these changes. Because of this, they may target specific groups of people that they view as a threat. Hate itself may not actually be what motivates offenders. Instead, they might act based on ignorance, anger, or fear.

In the United States, hate crimes can be felonies or misdemeanors, with penalties that vary widely by state.

Many organizations, such as the American College of Physicians and the New York State Nurses Association, consider hate crimes to be an important public health concern.

Hate crimes can come in many forms. Some of the marks of such a crime include:

  • Hate speech before, during, or after the act
  • Injuries that are more aggressive than what might be expected of a non-hate-related crime
  • Symbols of hate, such as symbols on a person’s clothing or items left at the scene of the crime
  • Damage to cultural or religious items
  • The crime happens on a special date (like a holy day or holiday).
  • The offender has committed similar actions before.

A hate incident is much like a hate crime but usually isn’t legally a crime. Hate incidents are harmful actions that aim to hurt a person or group of people because of their real or imagined gender, disability, nationality, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other group membership. But while hate incidents might not be crimes, they may still violate certain policies of places such as schools. Because of this, the person who committed the action can still be punished, such as being expelled from school or barred from a store. Like hate crimes, hate incidents can also harm your physical, mental, and emotional health.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice reported 8,052 hate crime cases that involved 11,126 people. Out of those events:

  • 61.8% were related to race, ethnicity, or ancestry
  • 20% were related to sexual orientation
  • 13.3% were related to religion
  • 2.7% were related to gender identity
  • 1.4% were related to disability
  • 0.7% were related to gender

But most people don’t report hate crimes, so the actual number is much higher. People may not inform police about a hate crime for many reasons. Some may not have enough information to prove the crime. Others may fear that they’ll be deported if they report an incident. Many don’t trust the police to protect them.

Besides the physical threats that hate crimes cause (like risks to your safety or even possible death), these events can also produce other harmful, long-term outcomes.

Hate crimes can lead to emotional damage. After a hate crime, you may:

  • Lose trust in any person who is a part of the offender’s group
  • Feel targeted, ashamed, and scared that you’ll be hurt again
  • Feel vulnerable, unsafe, or preoccupied
  • Deny the part of your identity that the hate crime targeted
  • Stop certain activities that you once enjoyed because you no longer feel safe
  • Adopt an “us vs. them” mindset in relation to those in other groups

Even if a hate crime didn’t happen to you specifically, cases that affect members of your own groups can affect your well-being. Entire communities can feel the emotional and mental results of a hate crime:

  • You may develop trauma if you witnessed a hate crime.
  • If a hate crime affected someone you identify with, you may feel unsafe, targeted, or unwelcome (which can affect your health).
  • Discrimination from hate crimes over time can affect economic, educational, and housing inequalities for all people in the targeted group.

These emotions and the aftermath of a hate crime can make it more likely that that state of your mental health will get worse. Hate crimes can cause:

Anxiety and depression. One study looked at lesbian and gay survivors of hate crimes. It found that they had many more symptoms of anxiety and depression than survivors of crimes not related to hate.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research shows that after a hate crime, people are more likely to have PTSD, compared to survivors of other crimes. Experts have also recently found that PTSD might arise after events that don’t usually match PTSD diagnosis guidelines, such as oppression. Groups that receive constant oppression and hate crime activity might be more at risk for PTSD.

Suicidal behavior. Studies show that hate crimes (especially in the context of LGBT youth) may impact suicidal behavior in those affected.

Drug use. Areas with higher hate crime rates tend to have higher rates of drug use as well. People may turn to drugs to manage the stress that comes with oppression.

Emotional suppression. Another unhealthy way to cope is suppression. People who deal with oppression and the results of hate crimes may hide their emotions. This makes it harder, if not impossible, for them to be able to heal or address the harmful mental effects these actions have.

After a hate crime, it’s important to take the proper steps to care for your physical and mental well-being:

Get medical help, if needed. If someone hurt you in a hate crime, get the proper care right away. This should be your priority.

Record the details. Write down the specifics of what happened as soon as you can. This will help you recall the event as clearly as possible. Make sure to note the offender’s gender presentation, age, race, height, estimated weight, clothing, or other noticeable features. If they made any hateful comments, threats, or showed any biased behavior, report that as well.

Go to the right authorities. File a crime report with the police. Make sure to get the officer’s name, badge number, case number of your report, and a copy of the police report. Ask the police offer to file the crime as “hate/bias-motivated” or “hate crime/incident.”

Get the right support. After a hate crime, make sure you’re around good company. Stay with supportive family or friends. If you can, get professional help from a therapist to help cope with your emotions after the incident. The Victim Connect Resource Center offers a hotline and online chat to help hate crime victims find resources for help.