Hate crimes are so difficult to prove that Sweden sees few convictions, illustrated by the southern city of Malmö not issuing a single guilty sentence despite a “record number” of complaints in the last two years.
Most reports of hate crime filed nationwide concerned xenophobia, although homophobic motives and targeting a person based on their religious affiliation were also common, showed statistics from the Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebyggande rådet, Brå).
A total of 4,590 hate crimes were reported to the police in 2012.
The law does not, however, make hate crime an offense in its own right, but is considered an aggravating circumstance that can lead to tougher sentencing.
Yet the discriminatory aspect of committed crimes is hard to prove.
Regional newspaper Sydsvenskan reports that Malmö processed a “record” 480 hate crime complaints in a two-year span. But charges were filed in only 16 cases and none of the indictments led to a conviction.
None of the 44 anti-Semitic hate crimes reported in 2010 and 2011 even made it to a prosecutor, while one of the 23 reported islamophobic crimes resulted in criminal charges.
In addition, charges were filed in only two of 30 reported cases involving homophobia, but in both cases, the court ultimately ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove a hate crime had taken place.
Hate crime researcher Jenny Kiiskinen at Malmö College thinks it important that the justice system backs up effort on regional level to encourage people to report hate crimes.
“It’s important that the reports lead somewhere and aren’t just written off,” she told the TT news agency.
“It’s important for the individual but also for society.”
In addition to collecting crime statistic, the Crime Prevention Council does independent research into perceived offences, some of which are never reported to the police.
In 2010, the survey showed that 81,000 Swedes said they had been subjected to xenophobic crimes, while 19,000 said they were targeted by homophobes.
The challenge in reaching a conviction when people do report crime, however, lies in how to prove an assailant’s motive.
”That the problem, it is in general very difficult to prove a motive,” Göran Hellstrand at the Prosecutor’s Office (Åklagarmyndigheten) development wing in Malmö told TT.