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Hate crimes

Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes Involving Children and

The Differential Association Theory


A study of Hate Crimes involving children and how they are influenced by their parents and peers. A summary of Sutherlands, Differential Association theory is included to explain this study. Several journals and resources were used to explain and define Hate Crimes and the Differential Association Theory. Included in this study are statistics form the National Crime Reports and information from experiments on peer and parental influence on children. The results of these experiments imply that strong family and peer influence at an early age is the backbone of a child’s beliefs.

Hate Crimes Involving Children and the Differential Association Theory

A hate crime is any bias motivated criminal incident committed against an individual or group because of their race, sex, ethnicity, disability, and/or beliefs. In most cases, hate crimes are committed by the majority against the minority. Hate crimes range from vandalism or defacing property to rape or homicide, but in every case, someone gets hurt. According to the National Crime Reports in 1998, a total of 7,755 bias motivated criminal incidents were reported to the FBI from police and sheriff departments throughout the United States. Of these incidents, 4,321 of them were motivated by racial bias, 1,390 were religious bias, 1,260 were by sexual orientation, 754 were by ethnicity or national origin, 25 were by disability, and 5 were of multiple bias (NCJRS, 1998). This means that over 50% of all hate crimes are motivated by racial bias, and of these racially motivated crimes, more than 50% of them are against blacks. Unfortunately, though these crimes are reported they usually go unsolved do to the to the fact that most of these crimes are committed by random offenders. In most cases, the victim has had no prior association with the offender; therefore law enforcement agencies have little to no assistance in solving the crime. Only 14% of all state agencies have specially designated personnel assigned to address hate crimes, 33% with special policies or procedures that address hate crimes, and 4% with civilians assigned to units to address hate crimes. That leaves 49% of all state agencies with no special policies or procedures governing hate crimes (NCJRS, 1998). These crimes are not considered to be as prevalent as many other crimes therefore law enforcement agencies don’t designate the resources to these crimes that they do for other crimes. Unfortunately, these crimes tend to be more physically and psychologically damaging to the victim. These crimes usually happen at the home of the victim. The offenders are not only attac king the victim, but they are also attacking their homes, the one place that everybody should feel safe. In 1998, 31% of all hate crimes occurred in/on residential property, 20% occurred on highways, roadways, alleys and streets, 9% occurred in schools and colleges, with the remaining incidents widely distributed among various locations (NCJRS, 1998).

The theory that best explains these crimes, is Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory. Sutherland believes that criminal behavior is learned through interaction and communication with others. A person does not become a criminal simply by living in the environment. They learn it through association with others, who participate in criminal behavior. The most powerful influence comes from family and friends. The reason for this is the simple fact that the person will have more contact with these people, and more respect for these people than they might with others. Sutherland believes that people have definitions of the legal code that is either favorable or not favorable (Adler, 1998). Meaning that people with favorable definitions of the legal code believe that laws are important and need to be obeyed, while those who have unfavorable definitions of the legal code believe the laws are unimportant and do not need to be obeyed. It is the people with unfavorable!

definitions of legal code, that believe they are superior because of race, sex, ethnicity, disability, and/or beliefs, and they believe that they need to protect themselves from those who are inferior. These people believe that that they are superior in all aspects of life, and they should not have to associate with those who are inferior.

A very well known bias motivated incident occurred in the community of Bensonhurst on August 23, 1989. Bensonhurst is a predominantly white neighborhood in south Brooklyn, NY. On the night of August 23, 1989, a young black male named Yusof Hawkins, and two companions were car shopping, when a mob of over twenty white men attack and killed Yusof, because of the color of his skin. In trial after the incident, one of the offenders, said Yusof and his companions "were in the wrong place at the wrong time". In a study after this incident, young white youths were interviewed, in an effort to find out their opinions on why bias motivated crimes had increased in the city. The youths perceived the problem to be the blacks fault. The youths said: (1) the deteriorating economic situation, (2) blacks starting trouble, (3) a media which favors blacks, (4) racial prejudice, and (5) black political and economic power in the city, lead to the race problem in the city (Pinderhughes, 1993). The young people felt that they were victims of favoritism towards blacks. " You know, Italians used to run this city. We didn’t have any problems ‘cause we had political juice [power]. Now the blacks have taken over and we don’t get nothin’ from the politicians" (Pinderhughes, 1993).

A gentleman by the name of Keenan performed an experiment in which he monitored 567 caucasian boys from kindergarten to seventh grade. In this study, he monitored boys that did have a significant influence from a deviant friend, and those that did not have a significant influence from a deviant friend. His hypothesis was that family experiences might also moderate the impact of delinquent friends on delinquent behavior. His conclusion suggests that delinquent friends had a greater impact on delinquent behavior for adolescents who had weak family support, than for those who had strong family support (Vitaro, 2000). This experiment supports Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory and the impact that outside influence has on an individual.

Another survey was performed in California shortly after the crucifixion-style killing of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. Shepard was killed because he was gay. In this anonymous survey, 489 students at six community colleges in five counties in northern California were surveyed on their participation in antigay acts. The findings from this survey showed four factors-labeled, peer dynamics, anti-gay ideology, thrill seeking, and self defense that lead to antigay acts. The majority of the students admitted that the peer dynamics was the leading reason for the antigay acts. In peer dynamics, students admitted the desire to feel closer to friends, to live up to the friends’ expectations, and to prove toughness and heterosexuality to friends. Antigay ideology reflected negative attitudes toward homosexuality such as disgust, hatred, religious and moral values, and the belief that homosexuals spread AIDS. Overall, both assailants and nonassailants reported more antigay social norms among their parents than among their peers, and assailants reported significantly more antigay social norms than did nonassailants (Franklin, 2000).

The correlation between hate crimes and the differential association theory has been proven with these and other experiments. One topic that they have failed to address, are the situations in which peer and family hold opinions of hatred towards people of different race, sex, ethnicity, disability and/or beliefs, yet the individual that Sutherland’s theory suggests should affected, fails to be affected. For Sutherland’s theory to hold true in this situation, there must be a stronger influence in that individuals life towards anti-hatred than toward hatred. If this is true, the implications of this theory suggest that this problem might never be irradicated. Education and a strong influence outside of the family and peer group could help to alleviate the problem, but as long as there is a strong influence towards hatred, and bias motivated crimes, this problem will always exist. According to an HBO special on hate on the internet, large hate organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi skin heads are able to elicit more information than they ever have in the past through the internet. They have a large society of hatred that continues to grow, and will continue to grow because of the influence that they have on children. In today’s society, families don’t spend as much time together as they have in the past. Family influence is not as prevalent as it has been in the past, leaving room for peer influence. Unfortunately family influence is extremely strong within the hate organizations. Not only are parents starting hate sites on the internet, but children are following in their parents foot steps with sites of their own (HBO, 2000). Our influence must be stronger than theirs for it to be affective. There is essentially a war against hatred, and bias motivated crime occurring at this moment throughout the world, and as long as there is hatred, we are losing.


1. Adler, Freda. Criminology. McGraw-Hill, 1998. 143-145

2. Costello, Barbara J. "Testing control theory and differential association: A reanalysis of the Richmond youth project" Criminology. Beverly Hills; November 1999. 815-42

3. Franklin, Karen "Antigay behaviors among young adults: Prevalence, patterns, and motivators in a non-criminal population" Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Beverly Hills; April 2000. 339-62

4. Home Box Office. October 23, 2000. 10 PM

5. May, David C. "Scared Kids, unattached kids, or peer pressure" Youth and Society. Thousand Oaks. September 1999. 100-27

6. NCJRS (1998). Facts and Figures. Retrieved November 25, 2000, from the World Wide Web: http//

7. Pinderhughs, Howard. "The anatomy of racially motivated violence in New York city: a case study of youth in south Brooklyn" Social Problems 40. November 1993. 478-91

8. Van de Ven, Paul. "Talking with juvenile offenders about gay males and lesbians: implications for combating homophobia" Adolescence 30. Spring 1995. 19-40

9. Vitaro, Frank. "Influence of deviant friends on delinquency: searching for moderator variables". Journal of abnormal Child Psychology. New York. August 2000.

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