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Racial harassment has damaging impact on mental health

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There has been a spike in hate crimes following Brexit, evident in the recent report on hate crimes published by the Home Office and extensively reported in the media. The Home Office publishes annual reports on hate crime statistics based on police reports. However, these sources do not provide information on who experiences the harassment. The last report to provide such information was based on a 1994 survey.

A research team from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex has analysed data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study to look at who experiences ethnic or racial harassment.

The study presents an overview of the prevalence, intensity and persistence of harassment in British society today. Are particular ethnic and religious groups more likely to experience harassment? Which types of individuals within these groups are more vulnerable?

The study looked at whether ethnic minorities living in certain types of areas are at a greater risk of experiencing harassment and look for the causal impact of residential characteristics on harassment.

Researchers also looked to identify protective factors against the negative impact of harassment on mental health and wellbeing, to uncover factors that make individuals resilient to the negative consequences of harassment on mental health and wellbeing.

The study also looked at the effect of ethnic or racial harassment on health behaviours. What is the effect of ethnic and racial harassment on the health behaviours of the adult foreign born? and what is the effect of exposure to ethnic or racial harassment on the health behaviours of UK born (or raised) ethnic minorities?

Professor Shamit Saggar, Professor of Political Science & Public Policy at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, said, “This study paints an important and textured picture of racial harassment in the UK today. The prevalence of racial or any other form of harassment is one of the most serious issues facing British society. We know now that place is significant. Ethnic minorities who live outside areas in which minorities cluster are more likely to experience harassment. The question is now how government, local government and other public authorities address how the perpetrators are behaving in these areas and consider with urgency what can be done to change these behaviours to create a safer and happier multi-cultural Britain. The study shows that harassment is not a defensive fantasy in the mind of some but rather a genuine harm that affects innocent people each day. This is a clear case for fresh and timely action to bear down further on harassment”.

Dr Alita Nandi, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex said: “We hope this evidence will be taken up by law enforcement in identifying high risk places and making public spaces accessible to all, and by mental health professionals by considering ethnic and racial harassment as an additional factor in mental health issues experienced by ethnic minorities in Britain.”

Dr Renee Luthra, Director of the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Essex said: “Our study has found that ethnic and racial harassment is experienced by the broad population of ethnic minorities, and damages mental health, even among those who do not directly experience it”.

The findings

  • Who experiences ethnic and racial harassment, defined as being physically or verbally attacked because of their ethnicity, religion or nationality? Around 4-10% of men and women of most ethnic minority groups report experiencing ethnic and racial harassment in the past year. This proportion is higher, around 15%, for Chinese men and women, Pakistani men, Indian-Sikh men, Indian-Muslim men and Bangladeshi women

  • Where do they say they experienced it? They are most likely to experience it in the streets, shops and public transport. They are less likely to experience it if they live in areas with a higher proportion of their own ethnic group members

  • Who lives with the fear of having such experiences expressed in feeling unsafe and avoiding places? For most ethnic minority groups, twice as many people anticipate or fear harassment than actually experience it, with the exception of black Caribbean and black African groups. Women are more likely than men to feel unsafe and avoid places, but men are more likely to report actually experiencing ethnic and racial harassment.

  • Individuals reporting ethnic and racial harassment are not necessarily the most disadvantaged. This risk is higher for ethnic minorities who are younger, more highly educated and male. The reported harassment is predicated on being in public places and possibly having the confidence to identify and report it.

  • Risk of harassment positively associated with certain types of places: areas of high white concentration, areas with higher proportion of UKIP or BNP voters, more deprived areas (net of ethnic composition). But surprisingly, this risk is not related to other crime.

  • There is a substantial association of ethnic and racial harassment with worse mental health. Those experiencing ethnic and racial harassment were more stressed and anxious. There is some evidence that ethnic ties are a resilience factor. Some factors are more effective for UK born ethnic minorities while others more for the foreign born.

  • There are widespread ripple effects of ethnic and racial harassment as reflected through its persistence over time and spill-over effects, especially for UK born ethnic minorities

The study has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council Secondary Data Initiative.

Read the Briefing Note

Image credit: Anthony Cullen