The killings of six women of Asian descent in Georgia this week have prompted fresh calls to pass hate crime laws in the handful of states without them and for law enforcement elsewhere to invoke protections already in place. US hate crime laws vary widely by state, and prosecutors do not always use them. But experts say such laws – which establish tougher penalties for crimes that are motivated by racial, gender or other types of hatred – offer important protections. “Having a hate-crime law tells victims of hate crimes that ‘you matter and we’ll take it seriously if somebody hurts you,'” said Northeastern University criminology professor Jack McDevitt. Authorities in Georgia have yet to determine what drove 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long to kill six Asian-American women and two others on Tuesday. Long, a white man, told investigators that a sex addiction led him to violence, but lawmakers and anti-racism advocates have said they believe the killings were at least in part motivated by anti-Asian sentiments. Meeting with Asian-American leaders in Georgia on Friday, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would bolster the federal government’s response to hate crimes, and improve state and local reporting. Only three US states – South Carolina, Arkansas and Wyoming – have no hate crime laws. A key backer of a pending bill in Arkansas said the Georgia shooting raised the prospects of getting the measures passed.