On February 24, 2015, Eva-Luise Kumari Andersen was walking down Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen with her bike on her way home from university. Suddenly, three young men surrounded her. They called her a “nasty negro” and told her that she was in no way welcome in Denmark. She shouted back before one of the young men spat in her face and the group ran off.
After the shock subsided, Andersen called the police, but they told her that they couldn’t help. It wasn’t the first time she had contacted the police to report a hate crime. In fact, she has reported several hate crimes committed against her. On one occasion, the police said they couldn’t do anything without the name or a detailed description of the assailant.
“What was I supposed to do? Quickly ask his name so I could report him to the police? That’s impossible,” she says.
On another occasion, she was subjected to racism on Facebook. But even though she had the person’s name, the police still refused to act.
“I was told that if I did not fear for my physical safety, then it would be difficult for the police to help, but that if I ever experienced a crime where I did fear for my safety, then the police would come. That day on Nørrebrogade I felt unsafe, but when I spoke to the police I was told the same thing – that they could do nothing,” Andersen says.
A 2016 report on hate crimes produced by the consultancy COWI for the Ministry for Integration found that 2.9 percent of the Danish population – 188,000 people – experience a hate crime every year. In 2015, however, the National Police (Rigspolitiet) only classified 198 reported crimes as motivated by hate.
The underreporting of hate crimes is a serious problem, according to political parties The Alternative (Alternativet) and the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten). Together with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, they have called on the government to draw up an action plan to devise better ways to combat hate crimes.
In 2015, Rigspolitiet introduced a new monitoring scheme to ensure that police register and can search for crimes according to a variety of different motives, such as ethnicity, skin colour, faith or sexual orientation.
The scheme hasn’t significantly increased the number of registered hate crimes, however, leading to criticism from Lisbeth Garly Andersen, a special consultant at the Institute for Human Rights, who is calling for a more holistic effort to address the issue.
“We have a very high number of experienced hate crimes and a very low number of registered ones. For that reason, more needs to be done in this area. These are very serious crimes that should not be happening in Danish society,” she says.
Rigspolitiet also recognises the continuing discrepancy between registered and reported hate crimes, and has called for new measures to help police register them. They hope this will increase the likelihood that citizens will report hate crimes to the police.
Ask Ulrich, spokesperson for hate crimes at LGBT Denmark, says that individuals in high-risk groups often experience being the victim of a hate crime more than once.
“The numbers indicate that this is a very serious systemic problem,” he says.
“If they learn that there is no benefit to reporting the crimes to the police, then they won’t keep doing it. That can contribute to the statistical mismatch.”
This is precisely what is happening, argues Birgitte Schepelern Johansen, lector in the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen.
“They simply don’t believe the police will do anything about it. Something needs to be done to create confidence in the police among the citizens reporting the crimes,” she says.
Johansen is backed up by Linda Kjær Minke, a sociologist and law professor in the Legal Department of the University of Southern Denmark, who co-authored the COWI report on hate crime.
“It is a problem because when a citizen reports a crime, the police should take it seriously, and there should be a clear reaction from law enforcement. When that does not happen, the victim feels violated,” she says.
No clear overview
The lack of concrete new initiatives exposes years of inaction by successive governments. In 2014, the former centre-left government promised to set out a plan to tackle hate crimes, but none materialised before the 2015 election. The subsequent right-wing Liberal Party government did invest a million kroner in a project to combat hate crimes in four schools, and is currently deciding whether new measures are needed to improve the reporting of hate crimes.
Enhedslisten has suggested a number of initiatives that the government could take up. They want all law enforcement officers to participate in a one-day course on hate crimes in order to develop closer cooperation between police and representatives of high-risk groups, such as the Jewish Society, LGBT Denmark, and other local interest groups in all police districts. Their proposed monitoring scheme has already been adopted by Rigspolitiet, but they also want a full review of criminal convictions prosecuted using hate crime legislation.
Alternativet also wants more attention on combating hate crimes.
“We do not currently give hate crimes enough attention. We simply don’t take it seriously enough,” says legal and equality spokesperson Carolina Magdalene Maier.
“When there is no national plan of action or public body to which victims of hate crimes can turn for legal and psychological aid, then we are not showing people that we as a society take it seriously. Alternativet wish to go a bit further than Enhedslisten on this subject, as we are calling for a public body with a specific focus on aiding victims of hate crimes – this body, according to the party, should be part of the national action plan.”
Focus efforts on schools
In addition to providing legal and psychological support to victims of hate crimes, Alternativet also want to implement an in-depth pre-emptive strategy by building awareness in schools.
“If we really want to combat this issue pre-emptively, we need to get much better at challenging young Danes by showing them that there are many different ways of being a person,” says Maier.
“We need a long-term strategy in place with the aim of building more respect between citizens across different groups throughout society – and this needs to be done as early as primary school in order to combat the issue of hate crimes long-term.”
The Institute for Human Rights believes that a cross-ministerial effort is needed, and that the government’s current efforts are insufficient.
“A plan of action could include efforts in primary schools, high schools and other educational institutions, and include the development of educational material and training of teachers. Furthermore, the plan of action could include municipal actions and pre-emptive efforts,” says Garly Andersen.
Birgitte Schepelern Johansen is not convinced, however, and points to evidence from the UK that pre-emptive strategies are not always effective.
“In Denmark, we have experienced that it is crucially important that teachers tightly control the efforts in schools, as it can result in even more serious bullying – especially if the at-risk students are in small groups.”
Lost all faith
Eva-Luise Kumari Andersen’s experiences have left her without faith in the police.
“I no longer believe that I can use the police when I am in urgent need of help. They will no doubt show up if there is a break-in in my basement, but not if I am the victim of a hate crime.”
Government representatives did not return requests for comment. M