Hate crime murders in the U.S. reached a 27-year high last year, according to new data released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people rose by 6% in 2018 over 2017.
The 24 hate crime murders that occurred in 2018 mark their highest occurrence since the FBI began tracking and reporting hate crimes in 1991. While the number of overall hate crimes dropped slightly from 7,175 in 2017 to 7,036 in 2018, they remain high.
Even more troubling: the number of actual hate crimes and murders that occurred in the U.S. is likely to be much higher, due to under-reporting.
Among the 7,036 “single-bias hate crimes” reported in 2018 — that is, hate crimes in which a single perceived characteristic motivated the attacker — 16.7% happened due to sexual orientation bias and 2.2% occurred due to gender identity bias. An additional 59.6% occurred due to racism and 18.7% were motivated by religious-bias.
These 7,036 single-biased hate crimes affected 8,646 victims total.
Of the 1,445 victims targeted due to sexual-orientation: 59.7 % were targeted for being gay men, 12.2% were targeted for being lesbian women, and 1.5% were targeted for being bisexual. Another 24.9% targeted LGBTQ people generally without listing a specific identity.
1.7% of hate crimes were labeled anti-heterosexual, but a 2018 investigation into the FBI’s “anti-heterosexual” hate crime designation showed that these are almost always labeling errors.
Of the 189 victims targeted for gender-identity, 160 were victims of anti-transgender bias and 29 were victims of anti-gender non-conforming (GNC) bias. This is an increase over the 131 reported anti-transgender or anti-GNC hate crimes in 2017.
A majority of the 2018 hate crimes involved intimidation, vandalized property, and simple assault (the inflicting of physical harm or unwanted contact). Approximately 2,560 hate crimes victims in 2018 faced intimidation from their attackers, 2,080 had their property vandalized, and 1,892 faced simple assault.
Daniel Elbaum, chief advocacy officer for the American Jewish Committee, told CBS News that hate crime statistics are “submitted voluntarily by local jurisdictions to the FBI” and are thus “incomplete and don’t offer a full picture of bias crimes in the country.”
“It’s really hard to tackle a problem until you have a handle on how large of a problem it is. Nearly every expert on hate crimes agrees it’s under-reported,” Elbaum said.
The issue is compounded by the fact that hate crimes can be hard to prove unless the attacker uses slurs during the attack or has a documented history of hateful ideology. Some local prosecutors decide not to press hate crime charges because such charges raise the legal burden of proof for conviction.