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National helpline urged in strategy to tackle racisism

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Britain needs a ‘Race Support Line’ – the equivalent of Childline and Samaritans -to combat racial harassment. The UK-wide helpline, where victims could seek immediate advice and support, would form part of a new, national framework for responding to incidents and the continued under-reporting of attacks.

The proposal comes in a comprehensive new guide to existing action being taken by police, local authorities, housing associations, community organisations and other groups. Racial Harassment: action on the ground is based on a survey of over 250 agencies in 67 districts of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where the majority of black and minority ethnic people in the UK live.

Good practice in four case-study areas – Ipswich, Leeds, Reading and the London Borough of Waltham Forest – is also examined. Over 20 examples of innovative practice from other parts of the country are also described. Guidance for policy makers and practitioners will be available early in 2001 on a Government-funded website, www.raceactionnet.co.uk.

The survey, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, finds that most agencies consider under-reporting of racial harassment to be a problem, even though publicity following the murder of Stephen Lawrence encouraged more victims to come forward. It also suggests that some incidents, even when reported, fail to receive an appropriate response because the racial motive is not taken into account. In addition:

  • Action against perpetrators of racial harassment is still rare. Ten to 15 per cent of reported incidents result in criminal court action, and only a small proportion of cases reported to social landlords lead to civil injunctions or eviction orders.
  • Few tenants in social housing are transferred to another home as a result of racial harassment.
  • Many areas have established multi-agency forums or panels to tackle racial harassment, often involving racial equality councils, the police, education, housing, social services and victim support schemes. But some forums have experienced conflict, while some in large cities have proved hard to sustain.
  • Better victim support tends to be available where agencies and staff who specialise in harassment cases are on hand, as in the four case-study areas. Support currently ranges from advice and counselling to home security improvements and provision of personal alarms and mobile telephones.
  • Efforts to establish ‘third party’ reporting centres for racial incidents – a move endorsed by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – have been patchy. Many practitioners question whether such centres will make it more likely that harassment cases are reported.
  • Although most frontline staff in the police and housing departments have received training in equal opportunities or race awareness, specific training on racial harassment is less common.
Examples of good practice identified by the study include: school and community awareness campaigns against race and hate crimes; use of cable TV to encourage victims to come forward; local ‘one-stop shops’ and hotlines for reporting incidents; a planned refuge for victims; witness support schemes; police and probation schemes to change the behaviour of perpetrators; a restorative justice project making perpetrators more accountable to their victims.

The report, nevertheless, argues the need for a clearer national lead and sense of purpose in tackling racial harassment. It suggests that a new, national framework could include:

  • Multi-agency forums in all areas with the staff and financial resources to assess local priorities and work to specific targets for tackling and reducing harassment.
  • A well-publicised UK helpline for reporting racist incidents. Staff would have access to an up-to-date database of local agencies able to support victims and take action against perpetrators.
  • A national network of organisations specialising in support for victims of harassment to ensure consistency of service and shared innovation and good practice.
  • National standards of training and competence for police, landlords and the other main agencies involved in racial harassment cases.
  • A national programme of work – possibly led by probation services – to educate and change the offending behaviour of racist perpetrators.

Gerard Lemos of social researchers Lemos&Crane, the author of the study, said: “Our survey not only confirms the view that many racist incidents are not being reported, but also highlights a lack of a clear and agreed overarching purpose shared by the agencies involved in tackling harassment at local level. This lack of clarity, rather than a lack of commitment, is part of the reason for disputes and frustration.

“We need to understand why some multi-agency forums are struggling and we need to find out why so little use is being made of potentially effective tools like injunctions and anti-social behaviour orders. There is an urgent need not just for compliance with good practice, but also for new ideas and responses. We should also pay close attention to good, existing practice and to potential improvements, like a national helpline.

“Above all, we must remember that what victims of racial harassment want most is for the behaviour causing them fear and distress to stop. At present that is too often ignored or forgotten.”

Endorsement from Sir William Macpherson

Sir William Macpherson, Chair of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, has pledged his support for the new report and website. He said: “I warmly welcome and commend Gerard Lemos’s report Racial Harassment: action on the ground which builds on some of our analysis and recommendations in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The Lemos&Crane website, RaceActionNet, should also assist all relevant agencies to take effective action against racial harassment and racist attacks.”

Racial Harassment: action on the ground by Gerard Lemos is published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by Lemos&Crane, 20 Pond Square, London N6 6LR (020-8348 8263), price £9.95 plus £1.50 p&p, distributed by Plymbridge (01752-202301).

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