VICTIMS of hate crime in Sussex have shared their experiences to raise awareness and encourage others to come forward.
Sussex Police is marking Hate Crime Awareness Week (October 10 – 17) by highlighting the impact of the crime, and urging people to report it so offences can be investigated and victims can be supported.
A hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender’.
It doesn’t always include physical violence – someone using offensive language towards you or harassing you, or posting abusive comments or messages online, can also constitute a hate crime.
Charlie Cressey was a victim of hate crime in Hove in May. While volunteering for a beach patrol team helping vulnerable people during the night time economy, Mr Cressey and a friend approached an intoxicated man to offer support.
The man became abusive and started shouting homophobic insults at the victim. He was arrested for homophobic-aggravated public order.
In agreement with the victim, the man was issued with a community resolution requiring him to write a 500-word apology letter to the victim and to make a donation of £60 to the Brighton Beach Patrol the victim was volunteering for.
Mr Cressey said: “This experience has helped me realise than any form of hate crime is not acceptable and people do not have to be living with the fear of being a victim of it.
“There are so many people that will look out for you if you speak out. For myself, Sussex Police was a great support and helped me through it all.”
Rexha Besnik was also a victim of hate crime in Bexhill in April. He was on his way to work when he was nearly involved in a collision with another vehicle.
The occupants of the vehicle attended the victim’s workplace and verbally abused him, making reference to his race. One of the women also damaged a pair of sunglasses the victim was wearing.
In agreement with the victim, the two women were both given a caution for racially-aggravated public order. One of the women was also given a caution for criminal damage.
Mr Besnik said: “I am glad that I reported the matter to police. The hope is these people will not do the same again.
“I have found reporting the incident a positive experience and was offered victim services which also helped me.
“I am happy with the police, they were quick to respond and I was kept updated of the outcome.”
A man was also convicted in August after racially abusing a police officer at Brighton’s custody suite. The defendant was given an eight-week sentence suspended for 12 months, was ordered to complete 90 hours of unpaid work and rehabilitation activity, and pay a victim surcharge of £122, £350 costs and £50 in compensation.
Superintendent Rachel Swinney, Sussex Police’s hate crime lead, said: “Hate crime is damaging, disrespectful and creates fear and humiliation. This can impact not only on those directly exposed to it, but also the wider community.
“It’s not okay to be targeted because of who you are, or because of who people think you are. If you have been a victim of hate crime, remember it is not your fault and help is available. By reporting to us, you may be able to prevent it from happening again to yourself or to another.
“Our officers and staff are trained to deal sensitively and professionally with reports of hate crime. They understand that it can sometimes be difficult to explain what has happened, but they are there to help you and can provide details of other support services that may be available.
“We take hate crime very seriously and we want to hear about incidents so we can respond effectively. Make the right call and report to us via our website, our 101 non-emergency number, or if it’s an emergency through 999.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne allocated £123,000 of her victim’s budget to set up the new Sussex Hate Incident Support Service, which provides emotional and frontline support to complex, high risk and vulnerable victims of hate crime.
Mrs Bourne said: “In its first six months of operation the Sussex Hate Incident Support Service has offered support to 1,557 victims of hate crime – 50% more than the service was expecting.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have seen people across all communities come together and show an immense amount of kindness towards each other. However it saddens me that, during this time, we have also seen a significant rise in crimes driven by hatred and I’m concerned that these figures may just be the tip of the iceberg.
“I’m pleased that Sussex Police and partner agencies are reassuring residents of their determination to stamp out hate crime.
“If you come forward you will be believed, you will be taken seriously, and I will continue to ensure that you receive the help and support you need.”