THE number of hate crimes reported in the Avon and Somerset Police area increased by 9% from 2016 to 2018, new figures reveal.

In 2018, the force registered 3,324 hate crimes, up from 3,025 in 2016.

More than 58% of the crimes were racially motivated, 6% motivated by religion, 10% motivated by sexual orientation, 9.2% were disablist hate crimes, 2% were transgender hate crimes, and 5.7% were gender motivated crimes.

And the force said the result of the EU Referendum was among contributory factors, which is said to have emboldened and validated individuals already inclined towards racial hate to act.

The increase has also been attributed to improved recording of crime, a greater awareness of hate crime and an improved willingness of victims to come forwards.

Superintendent Andy Bennett, force lead for hate crime, said: “Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in the number of hate crime being reported to us.

"We have come a long way in strengthening our relationships with victims of hate crimes. I am confident that these crimes are becoming increasingly rejected in our society and that we are seeing more people come forwards to report hate crimes.

"Having said this, there are still too many communities are still at risk of under reporting hate crimes due to a wide variety of factors including language barriers, a fear of payback and a lack of understanding of about what happens when a crime is reported as well as accepting hate crimes as normal behaviour.

"We need your help to identify those who are committing these crimes and ultimately stop it happening.

"If you have been a victim of a hate crime, we encourage you to come forwards, either to us or to one of our partner organisations, and report the incident as soon as you can."

In recent years, the force said it had seen a rise in the number of religious hate crimes, particularly anti-Muslim hate crimes.

From September 2017 to August 2019, we logged 159 anti-Muslim hate crime victims representing 47% of all religious hate crimes in the area.

In the same period, 72% of religious hate crimes targeting women in Bristol were anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Data showed Muslim women over the age of 45 are at high risk of under-reporting hate crimes due to language and cultural barriers, and a lack of knowledge of what happens when a hate crime is reported.

Transgender and disablist hate crimes also continue to be severely under-reported.

This has been widely attributed to the complex nature of these crimes that makes them difficult to identify, as well as little awareness about the services available to victims.

Yesterday saw the start of National Hate Crime Awareness Week and Avon and Somerset Police said it wants to send the message that hate crimes will not be accepted in the area.

Officers and staff will be working hard to raise awareness of all different types of hate crime to ensure the public are able to identify them, the force said, and to highlight the services and support available to victims with the aim of boosting the number of crimes reported.

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Sue Mountstevens, Police and Crime Commissioner, added: “It is only by standing together that can we truly tackle hate crime and our message is clear – perpetrators who affect communities with their hatred will not be tolerated.

"As individuals, I believe our differences should be celebrated; it’s our uniqueness that makes each and every one of us who are. Being targeted because of your age, race, sexual orientation, religion or any other reason is unacceptable and as communities if we see this behaviour we must challenge it and report it.

“We must help give victims of hate crime the confidence to speak to the police and partner agencies about their experience.

"There are some fantastic organisations offering support to victims of hate crime and we need to ensure victims can speak out and know where to go for support.”

And Alex Raikes, director at Stand Against Racism and Inequality (SARI), said: “At a time when we need to work harder than ever to ensure that we pull communities together and don’t allow division and hostility to increase, National Hate Crime Awareness Week is a great opportunity for us all to come together, promote awareness and strengthen our communities so they can report and respond to hate crime at all levels.

"SARI is very pleased to be working with Avon and Somerset Police and many other partners to make a positive difference.

"We hope to see you at some of our exciting events over the next coming week.”