WILTSHIRE Police are supporting the national drive to increase the reporting of hate crime by running a campaign to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward.

The Challenge It, Report It, Stop It! campaign is part of the Government’s action plan to tackle the problem and aims to raise awareness, encourage victims to report hate crime, compel witnesses to come forward and deter potential offenders.

Hate crimes take many forms and can have a devastating impact on people’s lives.

The central cause is hostility and prejudice based on a person’s gender, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation.

This can manifest itself in bullying, hate mail, graffiti, vandalism and threats of violence or physical assault.

Wiltshire’s hate crime figures reflect a national trend of under-reporting, with research revealing that victims are reluctant to come forward through fear of attracting further abuse, or because they don’t believe the police will take them seriously.

In 2009/10, a total of 287 incidents of hate crime were reported to Wiltshire Police, including 233 racial incidents and two related to transgender.

In 2011/12, a total of 306 hate crime incidents were reported. This included 30 relating to disability, 242 of a racial nature and two concerning transgender.

Detective Inspector Kevin Osborn, from Wiltshire Police’s Crime Management Unit ,said: “Wiltshire is a predominantly rural community where people living in smaller communities suffering verbal abuse or intimidating behaviour may feel they don’t know who to turn to or that they just have to put up with it.

“Nobody has to put up with it.Hate crime is a crime in the eyes of the law and it will be treated the same as any other crime.

"We want people to know they will be supported, crimes will be investigated and there are teams of trained people and agencies who can help.”

Improving reporting mechanisms and increasing professional knowledge is crucial to understanding and handling hate crime.

To enhance the support to victims, Wiltshire Police has established a network of trained Hate Crime Advisers.

Alongside this, the police have introduced comprehensive reporting and recording systems which contribute to their drive to increase reporting and reduce hate crime.

Hate Crime Advisors are responsible for engaging with vulnerable groups, contacting victims to advise them of where they can seek support and also liaising with police investigating officers.

Since their introduction, the number of hate crimes and incidents reported and recorded has increased.

Detective Inspector Osborne said: “By the end of 2013, we want our figures to show the confidence to report hate crimes has risen.

“We want to foster trust and confidence, not only in hard to reach communities, but right across the county so victims will always know that they will be supported by the force if they come forward to report a crime.”

If you have been affected by hate crime you can report it to Wiltshire Police in person, to a police officer or PCSO on the street, or at a police enquiry office, via 999 if you think it’s an emergency or through the 101 non-emergency police number.

You can also email or write. Visit www.wiltshire.police.uk to see the contact options. All information is treated confidentially.

Help is at hand for the victims

One of the force’s Hate Crime Advisers was recently called out to help a distressed pregnant gay woman who was living in a community where she was being intimidated by criminal damage to her car, abusive messages scrawled near her flat and repeated knocking and kicking at her door.

She had spent many nights sleeping in her car and was contemplating suicide.

The officer was able to reassure her and put her in touch with other agencies who could support her, including the housing association, her GP and the council, all of whom were able to offer positive practical solutions and support.

She has since been moved and the local neighbourhood policing team now make regular visits to make sure she is safe.

In another case, a Wiltshire Police HCA was asked to visit a boy who had recently “come out” and was having trouble at school.

He was given the name of a local gay club for under 18s where he could mix with people in an understanding environment, relax and have fun. It was a simple but effective intervention which made a difference to his life.