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CPS to Treat Online Hate Crime Like Street Abuse

CPS to Treat Online Hate Crime Like Street Abuse

The Crown Prosecution Service has stated that online hate crime should be treated in a similar manner to street abuse, with sanctions being just as severe.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “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.”

The CPS has laid out the new guidelines in a bid to tackle the rise in hate crime that has found a new platform online, stating that the change is to be made “in recognition of the growth of hate crime perpetrated using social media.” The CPS stated that online abuse based on disability, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexuality will be treated the same as hate crimes are in daily life.

She added: “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.”

Hate crime is on the rise in the UK

Whilst many crimes in London and other areas of the UK has been decreasing for decades, hate crime has reportedly been on the rise over the same period, with the capital seeing a sharp rise in hate crime in the past three years. Furthermore, the number of hate crimes recorded by police has increased 100% following the outcome of the Brexit vote. In addition, experts believe that such statistics are an underrepresentation of the true scale of hate crime taking place in the UK, as the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

In addition, figures show that online abuse has been increasing dramatically. The NSPCC recorded a 88% rise in children seeking counselling for online abuse through ChildLine over a five-year period. ChildLine statistics showed that 2,410 children called the helpline for issues related to online abuse in 2011-12, compared to 4,541 in 2015-16.

The far-reaching consequences of online abuse

Alison Saunders notes both the devastating impact that online abuse and hate speech can have on victims as well as its ability to directly stir up hatred, hostility, and violence on the street. In the Guardian, Saunders said: “Left unchallenged, even low-level offending can subsequently fuel the kind of dangerous hostility that has been plastered across our media . . . That is why countering it is a priority for the CPS. Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on their wall or tweeted into their living room, the impact of hateful abuse on a victim can be equally devastating.”

Saunders added:

“We commit to treating online hate crimes just as seriously as those experienced face to face. In a world of grotesque physical attacks that may appear a heavy-handed approach to some. But perhaps we should ask the question, what is it that the perpetrators seek to achieve? One common thread that links online purveyors of hate with those who commit physical hate crimes or real-world terrorists is the desire to undermine and instil fear in those they target, both individually and collectively in their communities, because of their characteristics, be that faith, religion, disability or sexuality.”

Do new guidelines stifle free speech?

However, some have argued that the new CPS guidelines are a threat to freedom of speech.

Commentator Brendan O’Neill writes in the Sun that the new rules open up a “Pandora’s Box of authoritarianism,” arguing that it is dangerous to convict people for writing an offensive, sexist, or racist comment on a social media platform, such as Twitter. O’Neill claims that by levelling online abuse with hate crime, the CPS have crafted a “Snowflakes’ Charter”.

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