Documenting Hate Crimes in the United States: Some Considerations on Data Sources

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Hate crimes based on the victim’s perceived sexual orientation or gender identity first came to be identified in the United States as a social problem requiring national attention in the 1980s. Since then, the need for accurate documentation of the incidence and prevalence of such crimes has been an ongoing concern for policymakers, advocates, and law enforcement personnel seeking to understand their extent and track annual trends. This article describes and provides some historical context for 4 general documentation sources: victim reports to community antiviolence organizations, community surveys conducted with nonprobability samples of sexual and gender minority respondents, data from local law enforcement agencies compiled annually by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and surveys conducted with national probability samples. Each source type’s strengths, limitations, and appropriate uses should be considered when citing hate crimes data.

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