Hate crime against disabled people comes in many forms

The majority of disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions, are victims of day-to-day hostility which has a massive impact.

Stephen Brookes MBE is a disability and equality consultant, a coordinator for the Disability Hate Crime Network, and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK

The majority of disabled people, particularly those with mental health conditions, are victims of day-to-day hostility which has a massive impact on their lives.

Being disabled means that we have to carry additional baggage: we are viewed as ‘different’ and, in these politically motivated times, are also often portrayed as a burden: as cheats; scroungers and the great work-shy – leading to verbal abuse.

These issues become even more difficult when any form of mental health condition is involved.

It is perhaps no wonder, then, that with those issues to fight, the reporting of minor crimes and anti-social behaviour against us does not register high on the table of important actions in our lives? It is all too easy to say that ‘they won’t do anything about it’ if we report these things.

In many presentations and workshops recently, I have put forward the idea that the local statutory and voluntary community – including disabled people themselves – can help by not allowing this to happen.

But in answer to that comment, I often ask: who are the ‘they’? The answer comes back, ‘well the police’; but the police cannot do anything if nobody reports an incident. By spreading the word, hopefully more people will report hate crime in future and help other victims and themselves before it’s too late; and here is the key point, because communication is not just up to the police, it is up to the neighbours and social services to report it and the police to listen and take action.

Cases of disability hate crime are easier to identify than they used to be, not least because of the Crown Prosecution Service definition, which defines disability hate crime as:

“Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability.”

So the excuse of lack of knowledge is no longer acceptable. Here we see that the key words are ‘hostility or prejudice’ – the word ‘hate’ has been removed, as it is harder to prove than hostility or prejudice, particularly in the difficult area of mental health or learning disability.

But the process of reporting and maybe going to court is not one most people relish, and this is why the CPS and the police work to support victims through Witness care, witness support, and where applicable, though special measures, all of which are intended to make justice available to disabled people.

So while we do see that there has been movement toward recognising and responding to hate crime incidents, I accept there are a lot of real problems, and very patchy actions in areas of social care, housing associations, local authority and the criminal justice system as a whole. If one body or group acts in a negative way, the whole confidence is destroyed.

If a specific police officer or social service staff member doesn’t seem to take notice, then go further and demand actions is taken and report beyond their level.

That is why the message has to be that disabled people, their organisations, carers, families, friends, and neighbours need to be part of the culture of change, and if that means us being forceful to stop stupidity, laziness or institutional ignorance and therefore stop disability hate crime, then so be it.

Earlier today Left Foot Forward looked at today’s Sun, and the paper’s misleading and execrable headline on crime and people with mental health problems

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