The Impact of Hate Violence on Victims: Emotional and Behavioral Responses to Attacks

By Barnes, Arnold; Ephross, Paul H. | Social Work, May 1994 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Hate Violence on Victims: Emotional and Behavioral Responses to Attacks


Barnes, Arnold, Ephross, Paul H., Social Work


The importance of crime as a major social problem in the United States has been well documented (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988). Since the mid-1960s, American society has been increasingly concerned about the problems experienced by victims of crime (Greenberg & Ruback, 1984). This interest has led to the development of a variety of victim service programs (Elias, 1986; Schultz, 1987) and a new area of social research that focuses on victims rather than on criminals (Ochberg, 1988). However, the plight of one class of crime victims, those experiencing hate violence, has been little changed by these developments.

Hate violence crimes are those directed against persons, families, groups, or organizations because of their racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual identities or their sexual orientation or condition of disability. These crimes include arson of homes and businesses, harassment, destruction of religious property, cross burnings, personal assaults, and homicides. Hate violence has a long history in the United States (Brown, 1989). Although it is difficult to estimate the current prevalence of hate violence in the United States (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1986; Weiss, 1990), many sources suggest that the level of this type of crime has increased in the past several years (Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1991; Community Relations Service, 1990). Also, in recent years the media have increasingly provided information on the explosion of hate violence on college campuses (Collison, 1987) and on the capacity of hate violence to spark large-scale urban disturbances ("Black Child," 1991). With the passage of the Hate Crime Statistics Act, data on the prevalence of ethnoviolence (hate violence on the basis of race or ethnicity) nationwide will be compiled by the U.S. Attorney General for the years 1990 through 1994 (National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence, 1990).

Research is beginning to identify the effects of various types of personal crime on victims (Davis & Friedman, 1985). However, despite the social importance of hate violence, there is little available information on how it affects victims (Weiss & Ephross, 1986). The present study examines the nature of hate violence and the impact of these crimes on victims.

Method

Research Design and Sampling

Using an exploratory research design, the National Institute Against Prejudice and Violence conducted a pilot study of the effects of hate violence on minority group members (Ephross, Barnes, Ehrlich, Sandnes, & Weiss, 1986). A purposive sample of victims was obtained by contacts between members of the institute's staff and officials of human rights agencies, social services agencies, community relations agencies, and special units of police departments in several urban areas. These areas included Alexandria, Virginia; Baltimore; Cleveland; Philadelphia; Oakland, California; Rockville, Maryland; San Jose, California; Suffolk County, New York; and Statesville, North Carolina.

Data Collection and Analysis

The technique of focus group interviewing was used in the study. A focus group is a small group convened to share feelings, thoughts, and reactions to a particular subject (Lydecker, 1986). Ten focus group meetings and some individual interviews were held at sites in the victims' communities.

Each focus group meeting was conducted by two members of the institute's research staff. The institute's staff guided the interviews by posing a prepared set of open-ended questions for each group. With the permission of the participants, each meeting was audiotaped. Participants were assured of confidentiality.

Participants also completed questionnaires. Initially, the questionnaires obtained data on the demographic characteristics of victims and the types of crime they experienced. After the third focus group, the questionnaires were revised to include seven items measuring victims' emotional responses to the hate violence incidents. …

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