The impact of hate incidents on communities

Hate incidents occur against many individuals and communities on the basis of race, ethnic/national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, and other attributes.

However, most of these incidents go unreported and undocumented. This is partly due to the fact that most targeted communities have no reporting mechanism within their community organizations to report the incident to. Some incidents are reported to human rights bodies, and others to the police, but these appear to be a small proportion of the total number of incidents occurring.

The situation in Australia is that there are only three communities – Jewish, Muslim and Asian – who have a reporting and documentation system, and which produce reports on hate incidents against their community.

To date, the reports of these three communities have not been looked at from a holistic perspective of overall hate incidents occurring in Australia. As someone familiar with documenting hate incidents (as the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism), and recognizing that hate incidents against all targeted communities have an impact on the society as a whole, I undertook a comprehensive study of the reports and data, from late 2014 to 2021.

The three reports used in this assessment are: the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s ‘Report on Antisemitism in Australia’ (produced annually since 1990); the Islamophobia Register Australia’s ‘Islamophobia in Australia’ (three reports produced, in 2017, 2019 and 2022); and the Asian Australian Alliance’s ‘COVID-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report’ (two reports produced, in 2020 and in 2021).

The reports by each of these organizations vary in their characteristics in four distinct ways: 1. different or unknown criteria for inclusion/exclusion as a hate incident, 2. different data categories of hate incidents (notably, two reports include online discourse as incidents while one report excludes online), 3. different transparency levels of incidents (eg one report lists all incidents, two reports provide some examples of incidents), and 4. different time frames of reporting periods. This leads to the situation where making accurate comparisons between the incident data in the different reports is complicated.

Despite this, by looking at the various reports by each organization, a clearer and more comprehensive picture of hate incidents in Australia emerges from the data, at least within these three targeted communities.

Summary of Incidents

The study found that there were 3,522 reported hate incidents in the seven-year period between 17 September 2014 and 30 September 2021. That amounts to an average of over one incident a day. There are two periods, corresponding to different reporting periods of the communities.

In the first period, in the five years between late 2014 and 2019, there were 2,203 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 1,364 anti-Jewish incidents (in the 60 months from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2019) and 839 anti-Muslim incidents (in the 64 months from 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2019).

In the second period, in the two years of 2020 and 2021, there were 1,319 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 778 anti-Jewish incidents (in the 24 months from 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2021) and 541 anti-Asian incidents (in the 15 months from 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021).

To provide some context, the Australian population is composed of 25 million people. The intensity of hate incidents on communities can be understood through proportionality. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, in Australia there were just under 100,000 Jews, 604,000 Muslims, and 2.4 million people of east and southeast Asian ancestry. This means that proportionally, for every 100,000 people in each community, there were 306 anti-Jewish incidents, 24 anti-Muslim incidents, and 18 anti-east/southeast Asian incidents, on average annually.

Anti-Jewish Incidents

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has produced an annual Report on Antisemitism each year since 1990, spurred on by a spate of arson attacks on synagogues in 1990 and 1991. The ECAJ, formed in 1944, is the peak national body representing the Australian Jewish community. Each Antisemitism Report covers the 12-month period to 30 September each year.

There was a total of 2,142 anti-Jewish incidents reported for the seven years from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2021; averaging 306 incidents annually. The annual number of anti-Jewish incidents ranged from 190 incidents in 2015 to 447 incidents in 2021.

Of note, the ECAJ, unlike other organizations, does not include in its tally of incidents general expressions of hate against Jews that appear online, as these are too numerous and ubiquitous to measure from year to year in any meaningful way.

Anti-Jewish incidents, documented in the 2021 ECAJ report, as a percentage of the total number of incidents, in descending order, comprised: verbal abuse 33%; graffiti 24%; email, postal, phone 23%; placards, posters, stickers 16%; physical assault 2%; and vandalism 2%.

Anti-Muslim Incidents

The Islamophobia Register Australia (IRA) was established “in response to increasing harassment and attacks against Australian Muslims one day after the police raids” which “occurred in Sydney and Brisbane on 18 September 2014.”

There was a total of 839 anti-Muslim incidents reported between 17 September 2014 and 31 December 2019, a 64-month period, of which 388 (47%) were online posts/comments. The average number of anti-Muslim incidents annually for the five years between 2015 and 2019 was 147.

The three reports by IRA documented 243 incidents in 2014 and 2015 (16 months), 349 in 2016 and 2017 (24 months), and 247 in 2018 and 2019 (24 months). Of these incidents, 55%, 42% and 44%, respectively, were online content.

IRA’s 2018-2019 report noted that the 138 offline incidents, which account for 56% of all incidents, in descending order, comprised: hate speech (46%); discrimination (14%); discrimination by authorities (14%); graffiti/vandalism (13%); physical assault (8%); damage to individuals (3%); and property damage (2%). Of the 109 online incidents, which account for 44% of all incidents, these occurred on Facebook (86%); email (6%); online media (6%); and Twitter (2%). These percentages were similar to those in the second report.

Combining all 247 incidents ie offline and online, in 2018-2019, the percentages, in descending order, comprised: online content (44%); hate speech (25%); discrimination (8%); discrimination by authorities (8%); graffiti/vandalism (7%); physical assault (4%); damage to individuals (2%); and property damage (1%).

Anti-Asian Incidents

The Asian Australian Alliance (AAA) report was motivated by the racism against Asians in Australia arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The first report covered the 2-month period from 2 April 2020 to 2 June 2020 and recorded 377 incidents. The second report covered the 13-month period from 3 June 2020 to 28 June 2021, recording 164 incidents. This is a total of 541 anti-Asian incidents over a 15-month period, and an average of 432 incidents for a 12-month period.

In the second AAA report, incidents in descending order, comprised: direct racial slur/name calling (35%); online harassment (25%); making it out as a joke (13%); verbal threats (8%); getting spat/sneezed/coughed on (7%); physical intimidation/harassment (7%); shunning (6%); workplace discrimination (2%); and other categories of discrimination under 2%.

Impact of hate incidents

As per the data above, the three communities face similar types of hate incidents, but in varying proportions. Using data from the latest reports by ECAJ, IRA and AAA, the top two categories with the highest percentage of incidents for each community are: verbal abuse (33%) and graffiti (24%) against the Jewish community; online content (44%) and hate speech (25%) against the Muslim community; and, direct racial slur/name calling (35%) and online harassment (25%) against the Asian community.

Hate incidents against any targeted community generally impacts in three ways. Firstly, on the individual/s directly affected, notably in the case of verbal abuse or physical assault. Secondly, on the particular community, notably where communal facilities are targeted. Both the targeted individual/s and the community may feel fear, and may develop a sense of non-acceptance and a sense of insecurity. Thirdly, on society as a whole, where the society itself is diminished and our liberal democratic way of life is damaged.

Conclusion

These 3,522 hate incidents comprise only a proportion of hate incidents occurring. Many other anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Asian incidents are unreported. Under-reporting of incidents is a major problem all targeted communities face, both here and overseas.

In addition, incidents against other targeted communities – ethnic, religious, gender, sexuality, disability and others – go unreported due to the lack of an organization which takes reports for these communities, and as a result, there is no data on hate incidents against these other communities.

At this stage, the only hard data on the number of hate incidents occurring in Australia is through the community reports by the ECAJ, IRA, and AAA. The hate incident data by these three targeted communities can be used by governments, human rights bodies, police, and others, to formulate policies and practices towards countering hate incidents.

These may include more effective laws, both civil and criminal, against vilification and advocating violence; educational programs about minority communities and where hate can lead; inter-communal programs where people from different communities can mix on a level playing field; holding media and social media companies to account; and for people like politicians, academics, journalists, business, trade unions, clergy, and others, to speak out and act against hate incidents.

However, countering hate incidents begins with reporting and documenting the incidents. Hence, it is crucial that all those targeted by hate incidents report such incidents to the appropriate body, where there is one. It is to be hoped that other targeted communities also establish their own national database systems for reporting and documenting hate incidents.

As more people report hate incidents to existing reporting bodies, and as other targeted communities develop a reporting mechanism for hate incidents, then the following three issues will become clearer: the actual state of hate incidents in Australia, the impact it has on targeted communities, and the impact on the society as a whole. From there, we can develop ways to more effectively counter hate incidents.

(Source of graph images: Julie Nathan)
(Source of graph images: Julie Nathan)
About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
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