This morning, new guidance for prosecutors in England and Wales regarding online hate crimes has been announced.
As online topics stay firmly in the public eye with the ransomware attacks, the surge in the value of bitcoin and the arrest of Marcus Hutchins, legal guidance surrounding online racial, sexual, religious and personal abuse has been revised by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The CPS have updated the rules for many areas of online abuse, including the response to reports, incidents against bisexuals and clearer explanations about what victims should expect to happen. Interestingly, the focus on bisexual people has sparked from reports of bisexual victims being the target of online attacks from both gay and straight people.
This is the first time these areas (and others) have been specifically looked at and give prosecutors a clearer guide for when they are deciding whether to charge suspects or not.
“Hate crime has a corrosive effect on our society and that is why it is a priority area for the CPS. It can affect entire communities, forcing people to change their way of life and live in fear.
“These documents take account of the current breadth and context of offending to provide prosecutors with the best possible chance of achieving justice for victims. They also let victims and witnesses know what they should expect from us.”
– Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions
Online vs. Offline
With children now growing up in a digital world where they communicate readily and confidently online through various avenues such as social media and gaming, the CPS has recognised that online hate crimes should be treated with the same level of care and procedure as those in the physical world.
Some have argued that online abuse can be even more powerful that real-world abuse (in terms of words, not physical violence). This is because whilst offline, the victim can remove themselves from the situation and can seek support from those around them. When the abuse moves to a personal device, in black and white and in the victim’s own home, it can be even more isolating and have devastating consequences.
Additionally, by bringing the guidance in line with offline hate crimes it could have a positive effect about people’s attitudes towards writing something in the first place. The CPS have highlighted that they hope that these changes will make people – especially younger people – appreciate that what they write online will be there forever and could be harmful to the point it could be classed as a hate crime.
more than 15,000 hate crime prosecutions were completed by the CPS
1/3 of those convicted had longer sentences because of the hate crime element.
there was a 10% drop in the number of hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police.