Why We All Need to Tackle Disability Hate Crime Together in the Brexit Era

In the wake of the EU referendum there have been increases in hate crimes across the UK, particularly racial and religious hate crime. Yet one of the most misunderstood and neglected types of hate crimes is that against disabled people, and the current uncertain political climate means that there is a pressing need to change how we deal with disability hate crime.

Government funding cuts are impacting upon the lives of disabled people, threatening their ability to live independently and reducing the capacity of agencies that support them, leading to increased isolation.

This means that people with learning disabilities or mental health conditions could be more at risk of being targeted by unscrupulous individuals. At the same time, there is a real danger that hate crimes against disabled people will be overlooked in a Brexit climate where ethnic and religious intolerance have increased.

What is hate crime and what are the problems with disability hate crime?

Research has shown that acts of intolerance and hostility against disabled people are commonplace but are rarely reported. The True Vision website was developed to make it easier for the public to report hate crime to the police, yet too many victims remain unaware of its existence.

The term ‘hate crime’ itself causes confusion as many people believe it requires actual ‘hatred’, this means many crimes of intimidation and abuse fail to be reported because they’re not seen as examples of ‘hate’.

In reality, hate crime is defined as any criminal offence which is ‘perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a general personal characteristic such as race, religion, sexuality, disability or transgender’.

However, while the reporting of a hate crime is based on the victim’s perception of the experience, in order to actually prosecute as a hate crime, actual evidence of hostility is required. In race hate cases the hostility of the offender usually takes the form of racist abuse. In disability hate crime, disablist abuse may be used by an offender during the incident or crime. But this is not always the case.

Do you consider yourself vulnerable?

Sometimes the offender will target a disabled victim because they see them as ‘an easier target’ than a non-disabled person and so the offender ‘takes advantage’.

Because of this, a recurring problem with disability hate crime has been a failure to recognise hostility, or a lack of clarity about how to prove it.

Instead it has become common practice to suggest that disabled people are targeted because they are perceived to be ‘vulnerable’. But disabled people are not vulnerable as a class of people nor are they inherently vulnerable as individuals. Just like non-disabled people vulnerability is situational and depends if they are in are in proximity to a person who chooses to do them harm.

Would you know, for instance, if you or a friend were in danger of becoming a victim of a ‘mate crime’? This is where an offender forms a ‘friendship’ with a disabled person and then begins to exploit and abuse them. It is particularly common against people with learning disabilities or mental health conditions and can involve carers as well as bogus ‘friends’.

It has parallels with grooming offences where vulnerable young people have been befriended and then exploited for sexual and commercial purposes. A problem in both situations is that the victim may not realise that they are being exploited and the abuse often continues or escalates.

Vulnerability or hostility?

This tendency to focus on the vulnerability of the victim rather than the hostility of the offender has often resulted in a failure to realise the seriousness of a situation and repetitive incidents have not been linked. So we continually see cases where disabled people have been exploited, abused and sometimes even killed which are prosecuted as non-hate offences without the uplift in sentence which can be given if a judge believes that the offence was motivated by hostility towards a person based on their disability

Disabled people should be able to live without fear of hostility and abuse. Criminal acts must be taken seriously and those that choose to prey on the disabled should be condemned. Not because disabled people are ‘vulnerable’ but because the acts of hostility and prejudice should be recognised for what they are, in the same way as they are against other minority groups. Until this injustice is remedied, disabled people and their families will continue to feel like the second-class citizens of the criminal justice system.

By Loretta Trickett

The International Network for Hate Studies

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