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Protections against hate crimes

The Attorney General’s Office enforces the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and protects against hate crimes, including threats, harassment, violence, and other bias-motivated conduct.

Hate crimes

Hate crimes are crimes that are motivated by the offender’s bias toward the victim because the victim is a member of a protected group.

Under the primary Massachusetts hate crime statute, there are three elements of hate crimes:

  • Underlying criminal offense: The offender committed an assault or a battery upon the victim or damaged the victim’s property.
  • Offender’s intent: The offender acted with the intent to intimidate the victim.
  • Victim’s protected characteristic: The offender targeted the victim because of the victim’s race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or other protected characteristic.

Perpetrators of hate crimes are typically brought under criminal prosecution and, in some cases, can also be prosecuted civilly.

Other bias-motivated conduct

The Attorney General’s Office brings civil cases against violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act that have three basic elements:

  • Underlying conduct: The perpetrator engaged in threats, intimidation, or coercion.
  • Interference with civil rights: The perpetrator interfered, or attempt to interfere, with the victim’s civil rights.
  • Bias motivation: The perpetrator’s conduct was motivated by bias against the victim because of the victim’s membership in a protected group or activity.

Hateful and offensive speech or symbols alone do not necessarily violate the law. Rather, the law prohibits certain kinds of physical or verbal conduct, such as threats, intimidation, or coercion.

The Attorney General’s Office may obtain an injunction, compensation for the victim, and in some cases, civil penalties, against a perpetrator who threatens, intimidates, or coerces another person on the basis of that person’s membership in a protected group (e.g., race, national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability) or protected activity (e.g., exercising the right to vote or the right to associate).

Civil rights injunction

An injunction is a court order that prohibits the perpetrator of a crime from taking certain actions. A civil rights injunction typically will order protection for a victim and prohibit the perpetrator from engaging in further acts of threats, intimidation, or coercion. A violation of a civil rights injunction typically is a criminal offense and can result in fines of up to $10,000, and up to two and a half years in a house of correction or, if bodily injury results, up to 10 years in state prison.

Damages and civil penalties

Compensatory damages are a sum of money that a court awards to a victim to compensate the victim for injury or other losses, including emotional distress, incurred as a result of the perpetrator’s unlawful conduct. A civil penalty is a financial penalty imposed as punishment for certain kinds of wrongdoing. A court may award civil penalties in a civil rights case involving the interference or attempted interference with any constitutionally protected right.

File a civil rights complaint

You should immediately contact your local police department if you feel you are the victim of a hate crime. Victims of hate crimes can file a civil rights complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or call the office’s special hotline at 1-800-994-3228.

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