Police Scotland is urging young people to “be greater than a hater” as it launches a campaign to raise awareness of hate crime.
A total of 5889 hate crime files were created in 2016/17.
Around 900 cases involved a perpetrator aged between 11 and 15 and one-third of those 900 incidents (32 per cent) also involved victims in the same age-group.
Officers warn that many recorded instances of hate crime have a cyber element as increasing numbers of youngsters use social media to bully their peers online or hide behind fake online accounts.
As a result, Police Scotland is today (Friday) launching a social media campaign and working with schools to target young people with the slogan “be greater than a hater”.
Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said: “Tackling hate crime is a priority for Police Scotland and we take reports of any such incidents very seriously.
“Young people may not realise that hate crime can have significant and long-lasting consequences for both victims and perpetrators.
“We are working with partners to inform young people in an effort to prevent these incidents.
“It is vital that people report any hate incidents to us. Everyone has the right to live in safety and without fear.”
Hate crime is defined as “any crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by malice or ill will towards a social group”.
Perpetrators will target victims based on their presumed sexual orientation, transgender identity, disability, race and religion or belief.
Despite a decreasing trend, race remains the most commonly recorded strand of hate crime.
There has, however, been an increase in recorded homophobic and transphobic incidents.
Hate crime is still believed to be under-reported although it is thought that the prevalence of younger offenders may be due to an increased willingness to report perpetrators in that specific age-group.
As well as a social media campaign, officers are also working with schools to help pupils gain a better understanding of what constitutes a hate crime, the impact it can have on victims and the consequences for offenders.
ACC MacDonald added: “We are aware that hate crime is often under-reported, however Police Scotland is committed to reviewing and fully investigating all reports of hate.
“I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of hate crime in any form, to come forward and report it to the police by calling 101 or 999 if it is an emergency.
“Hate crimes can also be reported online through the Police Scotland website or through more than 400 third party reporting sites, which offer support to those reporting hate crimes.
“It is only through reporting offences that we can form a more complete picture of the issue and address it in the most effective manner possible."
Community Safety Minister Annabelle Ewing said: “There is absolutely no place for any kind of prejudice in Scotland. This campaign will not only encourage and empower young people to recognise hate crime and report it, but also to see the long-lasting impact that such appalling act can have on victims.
“We are committed to working with Police Scotland and others to tackle this blight on our society and I look forward to seeing young people across Scotland support the campaign and stand up against hate.”
For links to Police Scotland’s hate crime reporting form and details of the third party reporting centres, visit http://www.scotland.police.uk/contact-us/hate-crime-and-third-party-reporting/