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Dealing with racial harassment

If you have been racially abused or harassed, you have a number of options open to you, depending on the circumstances. This page explains what racial harassment is and how you can deal with it.

What is racial harassment?

Racial harassment takes place when a person from one racial group offends, upsets or threatens someone from another racial group. Under the Equality Act 2010 harassment is any behaviour which:

  • violates your dignity, or
  • creates an intimidating or hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.

So, any behaviour that makes you feel distressed, alarmed or afraid can be classed as harassment under the Equality Act. This can include:

  • verbal abuse, such as name-calling, insults or racist jokes
  • vandalism and racist graffiti
  • nuisance phone calls, texts or emails
  • bullying, intimidation and threats
  • physical abuse or violence.

You are protected from this:

  • at work
  • when buying or renting property
  • when dealing with the council.

This page looks at dealing with racial harassment in housing situations, for example, if you are being harassed by your landlord, the council, your neighbours or other people in your local area, or family members.

You can find out more about dealing with racial discrimination here.

How should I deal with racial harassment?

Never feel that you have to put up with racial harassment, that it's just part of life and should be tolerated. Often, people are afraid to take action against those who harass them racially, because they fear it will make the situation worse. However, if you don't act, there's a danger that the incidents may get worse, escalating from offensive name calling to criminal damage or even physical violence.

Should I try talking to the person who's harassing me?

In some cases, it may be worth talking with the person in question and explaining that you find their behaviour upsetting.

For example, if your landlord or a neighbour has made racist comments, this may be due to ignorance rather than malice, and they may not realise that they're offending or distressing you. Ask a friend or family member to come with you when you approach the person, to back you up or to act as a witness. If the person's conduct is affecting other people as well, it may be a good idea to get some support from them.

Talking things through may help prevent any further incidents. However, if the person's behaviour persists, you may need to take further action.

Don't ever put yourself in any danger - if you feel threatened or intimidated by the person, it may be best to avoid a direct confrontation and to take the steps outlined below instead.

Can I take further action?

If tackling the issue directly doesn't work or you don't feel safe confronting the person, you may be able to take further action. At this point, it's a good idea to discuss your options with an adviser or to get legal advice. You can get advice at:

If racial harassment is making you depressed, anxious or frightened and you need some emotional support, you can call the Samaritans free and in confidence on 116 123.

However you choose to deal with the situation, it will help if you collect evidence to back up your claims, for example by:

  • recording details of any incidents that take place in a diary
  • keeping any notes, letters, texts or emails sent to you
  • taking photographs of any damage caused
  • talking to other people (for example, other neighbours or tenants) who may have been affected by the person's behaviour.

The page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has more information on how to do this, and also has practical advice on confronting people who are upsetting you.

Harassment in other circumstances

You may experience racial harassment in situations that aren't covered by the Equality Act. These include situations where you may be harassed by:

  • your neighbours
  • other people in your local area
  • ex-partners or family members.

In these situations, the options open to you include:

  • getting help from the council
  • reporting the situation to the police
  • taking action in court
  • moving away.

How can the council help me?

Councils have a responsibility to promote diversity and prevent racial harassment and many have a special reporting procedure for racist incidents. For example, you may be able to call a helpline or submit a report online. Check your council's website to see what's available in your area.

Harassment and racism are forms of antisocial behaviour, and the council may be able to use antisocial behaviour laws to bring the harassment to an end. For example, they may be able to take out an antisocial behaviour order (ASBO) against the person or people who are harassing you. The section on antisocial behaviour explains how this may help.

How can the police help?

The police encourage anyone who has experienced a racist incident or hate crime to report it as soon as possible.

What is a racist incident?

The police define racist incidents as 'any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or by any other person'. Examples of racist incidents include:

  • the use of threatening, abusive or insulting language
  • nuisance telephone calls
  • offensive letters, texts or emails
  • stalking
  • damage to your property (for example, grafitti on your home or vandalism to your car)
  • physical attacks and violence
  • any behaviour which stirs up racial hatred (for example handing out racist leaflets).

You don't have to be from a minority group to experience a racist incident. For example, you may be abused or harassed because someone thinks you're from a particular racial group, even if you're not, or because you have friends who are from a particular racial group.

What is hate crime?

Hate crime is crime motivated by prejudice against a particular group of people, for example, against people of a particular race, colour or religion. If a person stands trial for hate crime, the court must take into account the fact that their crime was motivated by prejudice and can give them a heavier sentence as a result. Therefore, if you are abused or attacked because of your race, it's important that you let the police know this.

How do I report an incident to the police?

To contact the police, dial 999 in an emergency or call your local police station and ask to speak to an officer and report a crime . If you don't want to speak directly to the police, you may be able to report the incident remotely, for example through the council or your nearest racial equality council. Check your local police website to find out if this is possible.

What happens when I report a racist incident?

The police take racist incidents very seriously, and should investigate all incidents reported. To do this, they'll need to interview you and take a statement detailing as much information as possible about the incident. You can ask for an interpreter to attend the interview with you. The police will also need to question the person or people who have harassed you. If there is enough evidence, they will charge and arrest them.

The police will then send a report to the procurator fiscal. The procurator fiscal works in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and is responsible for deciding whether or not to prosecute someone who has been accused of committing a crime.

The procurator fiscal will prosecute the person who has harassed you if they believe that:

  • there is enough evidence for them to be tried in court, and
  • it will be in the 'public interest' to do so.

Otherwise, they may decide not to take the case any further, or issue a written warning or a fine.

The Scottish Victims of Crime website has more information about police procedure and what happens if the person is prosecuted and the case goes to trial. The Witnesses in Scotland website tells you more about what happens if you have to go to court as a witness, including special measures you may be able to get if you are particularly vulernable.

What if the person isn't charged?

Even if there isn't enough evidence for the police to charge the racist person, it's a good idea to have the incident down on record. This will help strengthen your case in the future, if the person continues to harass or abuse you, or it may help the police build a case against them if they go on to harm someone else. If you're worried about the person harassing you further, you could consider taking legal action to keep them away from you.

Where can I get help and support?

Reporting a crime and going to court can be difficult and stressful, and you may feel you need some advice and support. Victim Support Scotland offers practical help and emotional support to anyone who has been a victim of crime. You can also get help and support from the Crown Office's Victim Information and Advice service (VIA).

Can I get compensation?

If you have been injured as a result of violent crime, you may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

What legal action can I take?

If the police are unable to charge the person with a crime, you may be able to take action in the sheriff court to keep the person away from you and prevent them from harassing you further. There are two court orders you can consider applying for:

  • a non-harassment order
  • an interdict.

What is a non-harassment order?

A non-harassment order bans the person who's been harassing you from behaving in a certain way (for example, shouting racist abuse or making nuisance phone calls to you). If they continue to behave in this way, they will be committing a criminal offence and the police will be able to arrest them.

The behaviour you want to prevent must have taken place at least twice before you can raise an action for harassment. This may be behaviour which is not in itself unlawful, but which is making you feel distressed or afraid. For example, you may be able to take out a non-harassment order to prevent an abusive neighbour from posting offensive material through your letterbox.

You can find out more about non-harassment orders here.

What is an interdict?

An interdict is a civil court order that tells a person not to do something or to stay away from you, your children or a specific place, such as your home. If a person doesn't stick to an interdict, the police might be able to arrest them if the interdict gives them the power to do so. You can read more about interdicts here.

Can I get compensation?

If you have suffered loss as a result of the harassment (for example, if your property has been damaged or you have been forced to take time off work and have lost earnings), you may be able to raise a claim for damages - your solicitor will be able to tell you more about this.

Where can I get help to take legal action?

Before taking any action, you'll need to get legal advice from a solicitor. A solicitor can tell you whether or not your application is likely to be successful, and can apply for a non-harassment order or interdict on your behalf.

Solicitors are entitled to charge a fee for the advice they give you and any work they do on your behalf, so remember to ask how much it will cost when you phone to make an appointment. If you receive benefits or are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with court costs. You may be able to get a free initial interview with a solicitor through a Citizens Advice Bureau or law centre.

Moving away

If the situation is unbearable, you may wish to leave the area altogether. If you rent from the council or a housing association, you can apply for a transfer to a new area. You should get priority on the waiting list if you need to move because of racial harassment but unfortunately, due to housing shortages, you may have to wait a long while before you're offered a home.

The section on finding a place to live has more information on your housing options.

Remember, if you currently rent your home, you must end your tenancy properly before you move. If you need to move before your tenancy ends, you may be able to get housing benefit for two homes to cover your notice period.

If you have nowhere safe and permanent to go, you can apply to the council as homeless.

What if I'm being harassed because of my religion or beliefs?

The page on religious harassment explains what you can do if you are being harassed because of your religion or beliefs.

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