Anger as reports of racism and abuse over sexual orientation rise in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 15:49 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 18:51 15 October 2019
Reports of racism and abuse based on someone's sexuality have increased in Suffolk - despite a fall in overall reported hate crime offences last year.
Suffolk police recorded a 15% fall in overall reports of hate crime - from 1,118 to 951 offences - but the total remained almost 60% higher than the 601 recorded in 2011/12.
Cases motivated by race have risen from 291 in 2014/15 to 606 in 2018/19, accounting for more than half of all hate crime in the county.
Reports of abuse based on sexual orientation rose from 58 to 166 offences in the same period. In Essex, hate crime increased 40% in a year to 3,055 offences - up from 899 recorded in 2011/12.
Nationally, hate crime based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity increased 10% - continuing an upward trend in recent years.
While increases were driven mainly by improved recording, the Home Office said spikes followed events like the Brexit vote and 2017 terrorist attacks.
More than half were public order offences, while a third involved violence, according to figures released during National Hate Crime Awareness Week - when police in Suffolk and Essex will be raising awareness and urging victims to come forward.
Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said: "Everyone has a right to live safely in Suffolk without the fear of prejudice or discrimination.
"It goes without saying that we should all treat each other in a respectful way, without prejudice of any kind, but if that is not the case, we need to support victims of discrimination and ensure they have the confidence to report."
Alasdair Ross, community protection chief at Ipswich Borough Council, added: "I urge everyone to play a part, however small, in rooting out this abhorrent crime. There is no place for it in a civilised society."
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Essex Police acknowledged hate crime was under-reported, but hoped the increase was a step in the right direction, with victims more confident to come forward.
A spokesman said: "Whether you've been targeted for your disability, race, religion, sexuality, or because you're transgender, we want to ensure that you get the support you need."
Hate crime officers covering the north, south and west areas of Essex ensure reports progress effectively and that victims are referred to support organisations.
They also assist officers with investigations and engage with community groups to raise awareness.
Earlier this year, Ipswich MP Sandy Martin called on social media companies to take the lead on stamping out online abuse.
Labour MP for the town since 2017, Mr Martin said society needed to "clean up" the way social media and online communications work in order to protect people from all forms of hate.
Following the release of hate crime statistics, he said: "In a lot of cases, there doesn't seem to distinction drawn between who perpetrators direct their hatred towards.
"But I believe social media has made it easier to say vile things about each other - and maybe that has fed into this rise.
"Most hate crime is down to the general ignorance of people who assume its fair game to target people they don't know.
"It's always important to police these things, and the commitment from police and other authorities is crucial."
Mr Martin expressed his support for the Suffolk Hate Crime Conference being hosted by Suffolk Constabulary on Thursday - supported by all three Community Safety Partnerships, Suffolk County Council, and Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care.
The conference will also bring together the Suffolk Hate Crime Network, Suffolk Pride, the Suffolk Guide Dog Forum, Suffolk Refugee Support, Citizens Advice, Terence Higgins Trust, Ace Anglia, BSC Multicultural Services and Suffolk Law Centre.