GAO: Religious-Based Hate Crimes Rising on College Campuses

University of Ottawa
AP/Mike Groll

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found religious-based hate crimes have been on the rise on U.S. college campuses during the past decade.

Using data from the Departments of Education (USED) and Justice (DOJ), GAO observed religious-based hate crimes on college campuses reported to USED rose from 103 in 2009 to 189 in 2017. The same type of crimes reported to DOJ increased from 24 to 59 during the same period.

According to GAO, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, DOJ states the increase in religious-based hate crimes has been primarily sparked by reports of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim actions.

In the agency’s podcast, GAO’s Melissa Emrey-Arras explained hate crimes are generally motivated by bias against another based on a particular characteristic that individual may actually have or is perceived to have.

“These crimes are different from other crimes because they can have a broader effect because they target not only the victim but the group that victim represents,” Emrey-Arras said, adding that in the current study the increases in religious-based hate crimes on college campuses are “driven in large part by anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate crimes.”

Emrey-Arras noted the majority of the hate crimes looked at in the study consisted of vandalism, or “destruction or damage of property,” but other crimes involved “assault” and “intimidation.”

For example, the report contains a photo taken in 2018 of swastikas painted on the walls of an office belonging to a Jewish professor who reportedly is a Holocaust scholar. The incident was reported as a hate crime to both USED and DOJ.

The primary recommendation from GAO in its report is that DOJ “update, centralize, and share more information about its resources to help address religious-based hate crimes on college campuses,” counsel with which the Justice Department has reportedly agreed.

According to GAO, while DOJ heads up the federal government’s role in fighting against hate crimes in general and, specifically, on college campuses, the department is behind the times when it comes to sharing information via new technology.

GAO noted:

For example, DOJ’s publication most relevant to religious-based hate crimes and bias incidents on campuses and college practices to combat them was published in 2001 and does not reflect new trends or evolving college practices to address them. Further, colleges wishing to learn about DOJ resources must review almost 80 linked webpages or be routed to the homepages of five DOJ offices. DOJ officials said they share information about agency resources with colleges via newsletters, presentations, or the agency’s website, but 10 out of 16 stakeholder groups GAO interviewed said they or their college members were unaware of DOJ’s resources.

“Until DOJ makes up-to-date information easy to find and shares this information with colleges, campus law enforcement, and other stakeholders, these groups may miss opportunities to effectively use the resources to address these crimes and bias incidents,” GAO stated.



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