Hate Crimes

One of the most rewarding experiences about working abroad is being afforded the ability to experience and learn about a completely different legal structure and set of laws.  This probably sounds obvious, but actually experiencing it everyday puts it under a new perspective.  

Some of these distances are no more extreme than what we experience from state to state.  For instance, most of the work I do on smuggling is on laws, sanctions, and punishments that are different than what they are in the States, but no matter how different the sentencing guidelines may be, both countries still have laws that assign punishments to crimes that are generally comparable.  The next level up are the laws that reflect a completely different viewpoint on crime and punishment.  For example, while crimes and sanctions are aggregated with few limitations in the States, Lithuanians will often only issue the most severe punishment or sanction, no matter how many crimes or charges are related to it.  In addition, Europeans are generally less inclined to issue out prison time than Americans.  For better or worse, these changes map out a very different criminal justice system.

However, sometimes laws are so different between countries, they become difficult to even compare.  My coworker, for instance, is currently performing some research on hate crimes in Lithuania and drastically different perspectives made it difficult for us to wrap our heads around each other’s respective laws.  In Lithuania, hate speech of all kinds is a crime and can be tried in a criminal court.  This extends to any hateful or inflammatory speech about a nation, race, religion, gender, or social or non-traditional sexual orientation and has lately been primarily prosecuted for incidents arising over the internet.  Anyone who has used an online web community in the state’s knows that hate speech, while not accepted or promoted, is fairly widespread.  In Lithuania, these comments are taken much more seriously.

Upon getting over the novelty of such a law, you start to see that Lithuania (and many other European nations) has plenty of good reasons supporting this law.  What’s really interesting, though, is how a law like this is actually carried out and enforced.  Saying an online forum is expansive is a bit of an understatement, and as such, there is no logistical way that the Lithuanian police force could actively seek out this sort of crime.  This crime is, therefore, unique in that it is almost entirely self-reported based on the offence take by the crime.  

Because a victim has to not only see the hateful speech, but also consider it offensive enough to warrant a trip to the police station, the reported victims of these crimes in Lithuania don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of hateful speech within Lithuania.  For instance, while researchers at the Institute predicted that there would be a high amount of hateful speech directed at Russians, Jewish people, and the LGBT these groups had relatively few registered hate crimes against them.  The largest group that reports hate crimes and hateful speech in Lithuania is, actually, the Polish people.

Another interesting aspect of this crime is that because most of the reported hate speech is on online news forums, there is that the news itself could influence the rate of hate crimes.  For example, a news story about Russian influenced politicians in Lithuania could serve as a forum for hate speech that might not have existed before the article was published.  However, research at the institute has shown that the largest trend in reported hate crimes is not politics, but soccer.  While many news stories attract hate speech, Polish hooligans are the most common target.