We are often inclined to use the term hate crime for acts of bias committed against individuals or groups based on perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity or expression, and sexual identity and orientation. However, the term hate crime must be restricted to actions considered a crime as defined by the law. This page cites definitions from the Department of Justice, RCW 9A.36.080 of the Washington Code, and the Campus Policy Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment. When there is a bias-related attack on someone that does not fall under the legal definition of a hate crime, we refer to such an attack as a bias-motivated incident.

A. Hate Crime

A hate crime is a criminal act committed against a person, group, or property thereof because of perceived social identities such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, gender identity or expression, and or sexual identity. It can be generally defined as a crime which in whole or part is motivated by the offender’s bias toward the victim’s identity status. Hate crimes are intended to hurt and intimidate individuals because they are perceived to be different concerning their social identity. The purveyors of hate use physical violence, verbal threats of violence, vandalism, and in some cases weapons, explosives, and arson, to instill fear in their victims, leaving them vulnerable to subsequent attacks and feeling alienated, helpless, suspicious, and fearful. These acts of hatred can leave lasting emotional impressions upon their victims as well as entire communities. Hate crimes are illegal and subject to prosecution. Yet, many incidents involving bias or hate do not rise to that level, and harm occurs even when the responsible parties acted unintentionally, from ignorance, without hate or hostility, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

The Department of Justice, specifically the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, further defines a hate crime as follows:

"Subsection (a)(1) criminalizes violent acts (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when those acts occur because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person...Subsection (a)(2) of § 249 protects a wider class of victims. Subsection (a)(2) criminalizes acts of violence (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when motivated by the actual or perceived gender, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity of any person. It will also apply to violent acts motivated by animus against those religions and national origins that were not considered 'races' when the Thirteenth Amendment was passed...Subsection (a)(3) of § 249 provides for prosecution of crimes committed because of any of the characteristics defined in (a)(1) or (a)(2), whenever such crimes occur within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction (SMTJ) of the United States.

The statute criminalizes only violent acts resulting in bodily injury or attempts to inflict bodily injury through the use of fire, firearms, explosive and incendiary devices, or other dangerous weapons. The statute does not criminalize threats of violence. Threats to inflict physical injury may be prosecutable under other hate crimes statutes, such as 42 U.S.C. § 3631 or 18 U.S.C. § 245. Such threats may also be prosecutable under generally applicable federal laws preventing interstate communication of threats."

The Washington State definitions of hate crimes are important as well. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW 9A.36.080), hate crimes are prosecuted as "malicious harassment." This is a felony charge and is also subject to civil lawsuits. Hate crime charges are taken very seriously. Washington State law defines malicious harassment as follows:

"A person is guilty of malicious harassment if he or she maliciously and intentionally commits one of the following acts because of his or her perception of the victim's race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, or sensory handicap:

  • Causes physical injury to the victim or another person;
  • Causes physical damage to or destruction of the property of the victim or another person; or
  • Threatens a specific person or group of persons and places that person, or members of the specific group of persons, in reasonable fear of harm to person or property."

B. Bias and Hate Incidents

A hate/bias incident is an action in which a person is made aware that her/his status is offensive to another but does not rise to the level of a crime. The key difference between hate crimes and hate or bias incidents (the two terms are often used interchangeably) is that hate crimes are acts included under hate crime laws, and hate incidents are not. The motivation for both is the same--bias against a particular group of people--but hate incidents are not, technically, crimes. They are often covered under campus conduct rules. Bias-related incidents or hate incidents are referred to campus conduct administrators if the alleged person(s) is perceived to violate policies outlined in the institution’s policies (e.g., code of conduct, student integrity code, faculty code, staff policy, and procedures), but does not rise to the level of hate crime.

a. Bias

A personal inclination of temperament is based on unreasoned judgment or belief regarding a person’s protected class status.

b. Bias Incident

Any action committed against a person or group that is motivated, in whole or in part, by bias against the person’s or group’s perceived or actual social identity or social identities. A bias-motivated incident can express hostility against an individual or group because of the other person’s or groups’ perceived social identity or a mix of social identities. Depending upon the circumstances, a bias-motivated incident may not be a crime and may be considered protected speech.