Countering hate begins with reporting its incidents

June 14th, 2022

The piece has been published in ABC Religion & Ethics by ECAJ Research Director Julie Nathan.

Hate incidents occur against many individuals and communities on the basis of race, ethnic/national origin, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, and other attributes. However, most of these incidents go unreported and undocumented. This is partly due to the fact that most targeted communities have no reporting mechanism within their community organisations to which they can report the incident. Some incidents are reported to human rights bodies, and others to the police, but these appear to be a small proportion of the total number of incidents occurring.

In Australia, there are only three communities — Jewish, Muslim, and Asian — who have a reporting and documentation system, and which produce reports on hate incidents against their community.

To date, the reports of these three communities have not been examined from the holistic perspective of overall hate incidents occurring in Australia. As someone familiar with documenting hate incidents (I am the author of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s annual “Report on Antisemitism”), and recognising that hate incidents against all targeted communities have an effect on the society as a whole, I undertook a comprehensive study of the reports and data, extending from September 2014 to September 2021.

The three reports used in this assessment are: the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s “Report on Antisemitism in Australia” (published annually since 1990); the Islamophobia Register Australia’s “Islamophobia in Australia” (three reports have been produced, in 2017, 2019, and 2022); and the Asian Australian Alliance’s “Covid-19 Coronavirus Racism Incident Report” (two reports have been produced, in 2020 and 2021).

It is important to note that the reports by each of these organisations vary in four distinct ways:

  • they have different or unspecified criteria for the inclusion or exclusion of a “hate incident”;
  • they have different data categories of hate incidents — notably, two reports include online discourse among hate incidents, while one report excludes online incidents;
  • they have different transparency levels of hate incidents — for instance, one report lists all incidents, while two reports provide only some examples of incidents;
  • and they have different time frames of reporting periods — it is therefore difficult to make accurate comparisons between the incident data in the three reports.

Despite these differences, by looking at the reports produced by each organisation a clearer and more comprehensive picture of hate incidents in Australia emerges from the data, at least within these three targeted communities.

Summary of incidents

The study found that there were 3,522 reported hate incidents during the seven-year period between 17 September 2014 and 30 September 2021. That amounts to an average of at least one incident each day. There are two periods, corresponding to the different reporting periods of the communities.

In the first period — the five years between late 2014 and 2019 — there were 2,203 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 1,364 anti-Jewish incidents (in the sixty months from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2019) and 839 anti-Muslim incidents (in the sixty-four months from 17 September 2014 to 31 December 2019).

In the second period — the two years of 2020 and 2021 — there were 1,319 reported hate incidents. These were composed of 778 anti-Jewish incidents (in the twenty-four months from 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2021) and 541 anti-Asian incidents (in the fifteen months from 2 April 2020 to 28 June 2021).

To provide some context, the Australian population stands at around 25 million people. The intensity of hate incidents on communities can be understood through proportionality. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016, in Australia there were just under 100,000 Jews, 604,000 Muslims, and 2.4 million people of east and southeast Asian ancestry. This means that, proportionally, for every 100,000 people in each community, there were 306 anti-Jewish incidents, 24 anti-Muslim incidents, and 18 anti-east/southeast Asian incidents, on average annually.

Anti-Jewish incidents

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has produced its “Report on Antisemitism” each year since 1990, in response to a spate of arson attacks on synagogues in 1990 and 1991. The ECAJ, formed in 1944, is the peak national body representing the Australian Jewish community. Each Antisemitism Report covers the twelve-month period to 30 September each year.

There was a total of 2,142 anti-Jewish incidents reported during the seven years from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2021 — at an average of 306 incidents annually. The annual number of anti-Jewish incidents ranged from 190 incidents in 2015 to 447 incidents in 2021.

It is worth pointing out that ECAJ, unlike other organisations, does not include in its tally of incidents general expressions of hate against Jews that appear online, because these are too numerous and ubiquitous to measure from year to year in any meaningful way.

According to the 2021 report, anti-Jewish incidents, as a percentage of the total number of incidents, were comprised by: verbal abuse (33 per cent); graffiti (24 per cent); email, postal or phone communication (23 per cent); placards, posters or stickers (16 per cent); physical assault (2 per cent); and vandalism (2 per cent).

Anti-Muslim incidents

The Islamophobia Register Australia (IRA) was established “in response to increasing harassment and attacks against Australian Muslims one day after the police raids” which “occurred in Sydney and Brisbane on 18 September 2014”. According to the IRA, there was a total of 839 anti-Muslim incidents reported between 17 September 2014 and 31 December 2019, of which 388 (47 per cent) were online posts/comments. The average number of anti-Muslim incidents annually for the five years between 2015 and 2019 was 147.

The three reports produced by IRA documented 243 incidents in 2014 and 2015 (16 months), 349 in 2016 and 2017 (24 months), and 247 in 2018 and 2019 (24 months). Of these incidents, 55 per cent, 42 per cent, and 44 per cent, respectively, were online content.

IRA’s 2018-2019 report noted that the 138 offline incidents, which account for 56 per cent of all incidents, were comprised by: hate speech (46 per cent); discrimination (14 per cent); discrimination by authorities (14 per cent); graffiti/vandalism (13 per cent); physical assault (8 per cent); damage to individuals (3 per cent); and property damage (2 per cent). Of the 109 online incidents, which account for 44 per cent of all incidents, these occurred on Facebook (86 per cent), by email (6 per cent), in online media (6 per cent), and on Twitter (2 per cent). These percentages were similar to those in the second report.

Combining all 247 incidents — offline and online — in 2018-2019, the percentages are as follows: online content (44 per cent); hate speech (25 per cent); discrimination (8 per cent); discrimination by authorities (8 per cent); graffiti/vandalism (7 per cent); physical assault (4 per cent); damage to individuals (2 per cent); and property damage (1 per cent).

Anti-Asian incidents

The Asian Australian Alliance (AAA) report was motivated by a fresh wave of anti-Asian sentiment occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. The first report covered the two-month period from 2 April 2020 to 2 June 2020, and recorded 377 incidents. The second report covered the thirteen-month period from 3 June 2020 to 28 June 2021, recording 164 incidents. This is a total of 541 anti-Asian incidents over a fifteen-month period, and an average of 432 incidents for a twelve-month period.

In the second AAA report, incidents were comprised by: direct racial slur/name calling (35 per cent); online harassment (25 per cent); anti-Asian jokes (13 per cent); verbal threats (8 per cent); getting spat/sneezed/coughed on (7 per cent); physical intimidation/harassment (7 per cent); shunning (6 per cent); workplace discrimination (2 per cent); and other categories of discrimination (less than 2 per cent).

The overall effect of hate incidents

It is clear that all three communities face similar types of expressions of hate, but in varying proportions. Using data from the latest reports by ECAJ, IRA, and AAA, the top two categories with the highest percentage of incidents for each community are: verbal abuse (33 per cent) and graffiti (24 per cent) against the Jewish community; online content (44 per cent) and hate speech (25 per cent) against the Muslim community; and, direct racial slurs/name calling (35 per cent) and online harassment (25 per cent) against the Asian community.

Hate directed against any particular community has a number of significant consequences: the individual or individuals directly targeted may develop a strong sense of fear, insecurity, and non-acceptance (notably in the case of verbal abuse or physical assault); the particular community may also feel fearful, insecure, and as though they do not belong (notably where communal facilities are targeted); the society as a whole is diminished because the social fabric is torn and our liberal-democratic way of life is damaged.

The importance of reporting

These 3,522 hate incidents comprise only a proportion of hate incidents occurring. Many other anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Asian incidents go unreported. Under-reporting of incidents is a major problem all targeted communities face — both in Australia and overseas. Additionally, incidents against other targeted communities — ethnic, religious, gender, sexuality, disability, and others — go unreported due to the lack of an organisation which takes reports for these communities, and as a result, there is no data on hate incidents against them.

At this stage, the only hard data on the number of hate incidents occurring in Australia is through the community reports prepared by the ECAJ, IRA, and AAA. The hate incident data by these three targeted communities can be used by governments, human rights bodies, police, and others, to formulate policies and practices aimed at countering hate incidents. Such measures may include: more effective laws — both civil and criminal — against vilification and advocating/inciting violence; educational programs about minority communities and where hate can lead; inter-communal programs where people from different communities can mix on a level playing field; holding media and social media companies to account; and encouraging politicians, academics, journalists, business, trade unions, clergy, and others, to speak out and act against hate incidents.

However, countering hate incidents begins with reporting and documenting the incidents themselves. Hence it is crucial that all those targeted by hate incidents report such incidents to the appropriate body, where one exists. It is to be hoped that other targeted communities than the ones I’ve examined here establish their own national database systems for reporting and documenting hate incidents.

As more people report hate incidents to existing reporting bodies, and as other targeted communities develop a reporting mechanism for hate incidents, then we will gain much needed clarity on the actual number of hate incidents in Australia, the effect these incidents have on targeted communities, and their implications for Australian society as a whole. Hopefully from there, we can develop ways to more effectively counter hate and its malign expressions.

ECAJ addition: These two charts show data referred to in the article above

Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). Since 2013 she has been the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism.