The hidden issue of disability hate crime

Disability hate crime is on the rise, even so, only one in 62 cases end in a criminal charge. Lorne Gillies goes behind the crime to discover why cases are not being reported and what more needs to be done.

If you have experienced negative or violent behaviour or incidents directed to you because of your disability, you have been subject to a hate crime.

In 2019, one in four adults* aged 16 or over had experienced disability hate crime, however, this figure may be significantly higher as many people do not come forward or report incidents to the police.

“I think disability hate crime is the hidden hate crime. It is not talked about,” emphasises disability hate crime advocate for Leonard Cheshire, Terry McCorry.

It is not uncommon to see instances of crime towards others in the headlines, however, rarely if ever do we see headlines referencing hate crime specifically due to a person’s disability.

Terry continues: “We don’t get the shock and disgust from the wider community saying how awful the crime is.”

In fact, disability hate crime goes beyond representation in the headlines.

INJUSTICE

Adam Pearson has experienced hate crime Credit: Piers Allardyce

Adam Pearson has had a successful career as a journalist, actor and campaigner. Even so, Adam has faced hate crime targeted directly towards him due to his condition, neurofibromatosis, which causes benign tumours to grow from nerve endings.

In Adam’s case, tumours grow from his face. The law, in some sense, is also discriminatory of representation.

“If a crime is committed based on race or religion there is a two-year addition to a sentence,” explains Adam. “But for disability and gender-based crimes there is only an additional six months.

“It makes it seem like less of a crime or less important. If we’ve got identification of certain groups who need legal protection, surely, they should all be treated equally – it’s called the Equality Act for a reason.”

Disability hate crime can take many forms, from teasing, intimidation, online abuse to threatening behaviour and physical violence. It would appear, unfortunately, that hate crime targeted towards the disabled community is on the increase.

NEED FOR EDUCATION

During the period of 2019/20, 7,300 disability hate crimes were reported to police but the number of police charges didn’t equate to the number of crimes reported.

There are many reasons people don’t come forward, and in a sense, lack of understanding is a driving factor.

“A lot of disabled people feel they have contributed somehow to the circumstances which have made the hate crime happen, particularly people who have acquired a disability,” emphasises Terry.

Education for the disabled community and wider society is imperative to ensure more people feel safe and informed when coming forward to report a crime, or even reach out for support.

Adam adds: “Disabled people need to be made aware of their rights, people need to know what is or isn’t acceptable, and what is or isn’t legal.

“It is very important that disabled people know, understand and recognise hate crime and what it is so when they see it, they can call it out and know what their rights are; not only for them but for other disabled people.

“We need to look at what is hate crime and what is just bad behaviour – there is a really thin line,” continues Adam.

“[Hate crime] affects people in a really dramatic way, from not wanting to leave the house or not going to certain places at certain times – it really affects a person’s ability to live in their own skin, it is very restrictive.”

FAILURE

Another sad reality is that many disabled people feel failed by the legal system.

A recent report from Leonard Cheshire and United Response revealed that only one in 62 reports of disability hate crime received a charge.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was put forward to 36 police forces across England and Wales, which found that nearly 21 crimes were reported on a daily basis during 2019/20; on average 10 crimes per day involved an act of violence towards a disabled person.

Adam says: “It gives zero faith that the system works. If you were a parachutist and they told you only one in 62 parachutes work then you wouldn’t do it; that’s how disabled people feel about the parachute that is the legal system. This is a terrible feeling to have.”

Regardless if you feel an incident is too small to reach out to the police, it is imperative to document every incident.

Terry adds: “It is recognised that if an incident continues, typically it will continue and start to become a crime. The anti-social behaviour, the intimidation, it can escalate.”

Adam has reported a crime targeted towards his disability, but, after the accused was questioned by police, the charges were dropped by The Crown Prosecution Service.

“I didn’t realise hate crime had a severity, I thought it was either illegal or it wasn’t,” Adam adds emphatically.

Despite challenges faced, it is never acceptable to feel scared or intimidated in your own home, local community, or even online. Document any occurrences that have left you feeling upset or stigmatised to help build a case should you reach out to the police.

“The more disability hate crime is discussed the more it enables the disabled people who experience hate crime to talk about it,” emphasises Terry.

“It will enable people who see disability hate crime happen to recognise it and potentially become an upstander instead of a bystander.”

And Adam passionately concludes: “If it feels wrong it probably is wrong; talk to someone such as a trusted confidant. Report it, go to the police and let them do the due diligence and the legal work because that is what they are there to do: it is not your job to defend yourself legally.”

Visit Leonard Cheshire and Citizens Advice. If you have experienced hate crime phone your local police station, in an emergency call 999.