The numbers of reported hate crime have fallen in Sweden over the past five years. Hate crimes relating to sexual orientation have dropped the most. (Photo: Colourbox)

Less gay-bashing, more Romani harassment

Swedes are filing fewer hate crime complaints now than in the past, but Norway files far fewer hate crime complaints overall than its neighbour to the east. Are Norwegians actually more tolerant or is it simply a reporting issue?

Swedes filed six percent fewer formal hate crime complaints in 2012 than in 2008, according to the latest statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå). The biggest decreases were in violence, bullying and violations related to sexual orientation.

In the past five years, the filings of complaints related to these kinds of crimes have dropped 32 percent.

But the numbers aren’t declining for all groups.

Formal complaints related to anti-Roma crimes rose by more than 20 percent during the same period. Complaints related to what researchers call “Afrophobic” conduct – crimes directed toward people with an African background – rose by nearly 25 percent.

Crime directed at Muslims, Jews or other religious groups represented 15 percent of the Swedish complaints.

Norway has experienced similar reductions over the last few years.  However, Swedes reported more than 25 times the number of hate crimes than in Norway. 

This colossal imbalance is at least partly due to methodological differences in recording crimes, according to the police. It’s uncertain whether the disproportionality is based on real differences.

Nearly three in four are motivated by racism

Threats are the most common forms of these kinds of crimes, but libel and violence tie for second place. Swedish researchers say the 2012 figures for these crimes are nearly identical with those from 2011.
They think the overall decrease in hate crimes during the past five years is an on-going trend.

Out of 5,500 reported cases, most involve xenophobia and crimes against minority ethnic groups. The Swedes write that 72 percent of all these formal complaints are linked to racism.

Crime directed at Muslims, Jews or other religious groups amounted to 15 percent of the Swedish complaints.

The researchers have split the statistics into categories of hate crimes including ones aimed at Romas, at Africans, at other minority groups, between minority groups and by minorities directed at the Swedish majority. The largest of these subgroups is Afrophobia, which comprises 17 percent of the filed complaints.

Four percent of the total formal complaints related to violence, mobbing or insults against Romas.
Hate crimes by members of minority groups against mainstream, ethnic Swedes comprise the smallest share, at just two percent.

Fifteen percent of these complaints applied to mobbing or violence against Jews, Muslims, Christians or others on account of their religion. The final 13 percent consisted of hate crimes that could be classified as rooted in homophobia, biphobia, heterophobia and transphobia.

Youth suffer twice as much

The Swedes found out that teens run twice the chance of becoming victims of hate crimes. Some 68 percent of ninth-graders polled in special survey claimed to having experienced xenophobic crimes and religiously related hate crimes.

Norway often compares itself to Sweden. The countries are very similar demographically, culturally, etc. This makes the Swedish figures on hate crimes particularly interesting for Norwegians.

The countries’ statistics indicate big differences:

A total of 5,518 cases of hate crime were filed in Sweden last year. In contrast,  just 216 of these kinds of crimes were reported in Norway in the same year.

Although Sweden has twice Norway’s population, it’s unlikely that these disparate figures are due a true gap in attitudes and behaviour.

The obvious question is whether hate crimes are under-reported in Norway and/or over-reported in Sweden.

Sweden and Great Britain in a special class

Norwegian hate crime statistics are systematically compared to those of Denmark, Great Britain, Canada and the USA. Ingjerd Hansen, an advisor on minorities to the Oslo Police Department, says that Sweden and the UK are in a class of their own.

While the other countries register from 2.0 to 4.3 cases of hate crimes per 100,000 capita, Sweden has 60 cases and Great Britain has 78 cases per 100,000 capita.

Norwegian and Swedish police record some violations differently. Some complaints that would be categorised as hate crimes in Sweden wouldn’t be categorised the same way in Norway. The police in the two countries also have different routines for uncovering hate motives during the filing of charges, according to Hansen.

“The disparity may also relate to differences in the ways that Swedish organisations, the police and the courts work with hate crimes. Perhaps they have done more to raise public consciousness and motivate people to file complaints,” says Hansen.

What should be counted?

Sweden’s method for registering hate crimes involves automatically flagging charges that contain words such as “synagogue”, “homosexual” or “Muslim”. All formal complaints including at least one such key word are evaluated by a team to review whether the filing could be a hate crime.

In Norway the individual law officer has to actively set a checkmark for “hate crime” when he or she records the complaint. This means that the victim, another member of the public or the police must have understood the perpetrator to be clearly motivated by racism or homophobia, for example.
Hansen thinks this could account for much of Sweden’s larger number of cases annually.

Are the Swedish figures more accurate?

“We don’t know. Some of the occurrences are not covered by our penal codes, but they can still be insulting and it’s important for the police to know about them anyway,” says Hansen.

Hansen says an ad hoc group under the Ministry of Justice is evaluating the Norwegian police system for registering and reporting hate crime over the course of this year.

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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