Help for victim of a hate crime

December 1, 2005

Q.

Q. A South Asian adolescent boy in my practice has been the target of racial slurs and threats at school. The young man is so scared that he asked me to sign a form allowing him to be home-schooled. What does the law say about hate crimes at school? And what is the pediatrician's role in managing the victim of such a crime?

Rahul K. Parikh, MDWalnut Creek, Calif.

A. Harassing behavior, stalking, threats, and the like are criminal conduct punishable through the courts. Laws regarding hate crimes, however, differ from state to state. Moreover, each school typically has its own code of conduct, which may fold this type of behavior into a general code regarding acceptable behavior or may highlight it separately based on particular community issues or pressures.

A more effective course of action could include broader explorations of both the context of the abuse and its effects on the young man. You might, for example, explore why it is that the school is not acting on its responsibility to protect all of its students from abuse, and work with the boy's parents to insist that it do so. You should also consider collaborating with a mental health colleague to explore the young man's responses to the abuse and to help him develop strategies to counteract it.

On a more general note, verbal or physical abuse of children based on their race, gender, size, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or any other individual attribute should never be tolerated by peers, teachers, parents, schools, or governmental bodies. Nevertheless, it is clear that such stigmatization does occur-more often and with more vehemence than we would like to believe. Exposure and correction of this phenomenon is the responsibility of every responsible citizen. As community opinion leaders, pediatricians should be in the forefront of efforts to counteract stigmatization of children and the violence that stems from it.

Ellen C. Perrin, MD

DR. PERRIN is professor of pediatrics, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, and director of the division of developmental-behavioral pediatrics and of the Center for Children with Special Needs, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston.