Leicester Centre for Integrated Living – a disabled people’s user-led organisation deservedly with one of the longest and best reputations – kindly invited me yesterday to give a speech to their Annual General Meeting on the topic of disability hate crime.
On the back of the EHRC’s “Hidden in Plain Sight” report on the same topic, which was published on Monday, the timing couldn’t have been any better. I’ve thus reproduced the main body of my speech below, which conveys the main points I’d want to about the topic.
All feedback and debate welcome. It made for an interesting discussion, especially given there were police in the room listening to it…
Disability hate crime: the current picture
It is customary to tell the story of a particularly harrowing case of disability hate crime in order to demonstrate the extent of what can be done to one human being by another because of their impairment.
I’m not going to do that.
For me, any incident in which someone is subjected to any kind of poor treatment because of their impairment, no matter how great or small, is one incident too many.
Anyone who is shouted at across the street.
Anyone who is taken advantage of by their so-called friends.
Anyone who is subjected to a series of incidents that are never dealt with because they’re considered by the authorities to be “anti-social behavior”.
These are all incidents of hate crime.
And they should all be treated and reported just as seriously as some of the better-known cases that have made it into the newspapers and onto the television news reports.
Levels of reporting
If we know that hate crime is much more widespread than the authorities, newspapers and others would suggest, what is the true level of disability hate crime at the moment?
At a national level, the most recent figures said there were 1,569 reported incidents of disability hate crime. This was 3% of all hate crimes reported that year.
By way of comparison, hate crimes motivated by someone’s sexuality made up 10% of all hate crimes, and crimes motivated by someone’s race made up 82% of all hate crimes.
To put it another way: approximately 15% of the population – people from BME backgrounds or who are LGBT – suffered over 90% of hate crime incidents, whilst nearly 20% of the population – disabled people – suffered just 3% of hate crimes.
Of course, we shouldn’t compare these numbers in order to determine who is the worst off when it comes to hate crime, and I don’t mean to do this by my comparison.
But what these figures tell you, and what every bit of research about disability hate crime that has ever been written says, is that disability hate crime is a woefully under-reported issue.
To take a patch I know well: Essex.
Essex has a population of approximately 350,000 disabled people. In the figures that were released last week there was a grand total of 18 reported hate crimes.
As part of the series of disability hate crime work we did at ecdp, we convened a focus group of 20 people to share their lived experiences.
Each person in that room – every single one – had experienced at least one hate crime incident.
It sounds odd to say it, but I am secretly pleased every time there is an increase in the numbers of disability hate crime. I will stay pleased until the levels of disability hate crime represent a truer picture of what the situation really is and what the day to day experiences of disabled people really are.
Disability hate crime: the current problems
Unfortunately, under-reporting is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a long list of issues that contributes to the current problems regarding disability hate crime and how seriously it is taken (or not, as the case actually is).
I’m grateful in particular to the work of my colleague Faye Savage at ecdp and to colleagues at the Office for Public Management for their analysis, which I lift from heavily in what follows. My friend and ex-colleague Neil Crowther has also been a leading thinker on this topic.
One set of issues relate to how the police respond to hate crime incidents. The evidence is that they don’t particularly well, for which there are 3 reasons.
The first is that the police may not think a reported incident is serious enough to make them take action. They think of issues as anti-social behavior or “low level”.
The second is that the police have some negative stereotypes about disabled people, including thinking of them as “nuisance callers”, since they often make a lot of phone calls to report the very incidents the police also considers anti-social behaviour.
And the third is that there is evidence police can doubt the credibility of disabled people as victims of hate crime. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped a case involving a victim with mental health conditions because they believed that the victim would not be a credible witness.
The involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service hints at wider problems within the system. Key agencies – such as the police, local authorities, schools, the courts and others – simply don’t work together in order to tackle hate crime. Each assumes it’s the other’s responsibility, and occasionally seem to hope the issue will go away.
As the Equality and Human Rights Commission put it in their Disability Hate Crime Inquiry launched yesterday, there is a “culture of disbelief” around hate crime.
But we have to believe – because we know and have experienced it directly – that hate crime exists. And we have to believe it’s not just an issue that affects disabled people: OPM in particular has stressed how hate crime goes much wider in its effects. As they note:
The waves of harm created by hate crime have far-reaching implications beyond the victims, and strike fundamentally at social cohesion, citizenship, and even national productivity.
Hate crimes have powerful symbolic and concrete impacts that extend far beyond the physical and emotional harm experienced by victims.
Family members of disabled hate crime victims, who may not be disabled themselves, can similarly be victimised.
Other disabled people who have never experienced hate crime also restructure their lives to avoid putting themselves at risk.
Hate crimes degrade the communities in which they occur.
Disability hate crime: what the solution could look like
Given the hugely dispiriting picture that has been painted about disability hate crime, we should look to finding solutions.
Based on the work we’ve done in Essex, the recommendations of the EHRC’s Inquiry and initiatives that have worked elsewhere, I think there are 4 main components to the solution, which we call the USER framework.
U stands for Understanding – There is clearly a general lack of understanding of the complex issues surrounding disability hate crime. This is the case both for disabled people themselves as well as for organisations that are meant to support them and address hate crime. In order to successfully address the landscape of disability hate crime there needs to be greater understanding of all the issues that surround it.
S stands for Signposting and Support – There are very few services for disabled victims of hate crime and increasingly fewer services to direct people to those that are in place. Organisations which signpost and support disabled people when they are victims of hate crime should be widely available and well-coordinated
E stands for Education – To ensure wider change for disabled people, we believe education work should be focused on three particular groups of stakeholders: disabled people themselves, professionals and wider society.
And finally, R stands for Reporting – The core issue of under-reporting can be addressed by supporting disabled people to report disability hate crime both formally and informally. Disability hate crime falls through the gaps all too often, and third party reporting through disabled people’s organisations is one solution that (a) provides a separate space for people to discuss their issues, (b) enables people to access wider support, (c) provides a way in which people can report issues to the authorities if they wish to. Stronger processes for reporting will increase the number of investigated and prosecuted cases, and so to lead to the rise in reported incidents that will present a truer picture of the reality of hate crime.
At a local level, , the USER Framework should:
- Ensure disabled people are at the heart of all work undertaken to address disability hate crime and consulted at every stage of development
- Ensure greater representation of disabled people on hate crime panels, or any strategic system which replaces them
- Encourage partnership working at a strategic level to ensure that organisations share their (sometimes limited) resources to best meet the needs of disabled people. Going forward, this will involve working with other organisations to clarify a coordinated approach to hate crime within Essex.
- Embed a system of peer support for victims and a space for them to share their experiences; for example through both online and face-to-face forums.
More generally, it will place disabled people’s user-led organisations at the heart of addressing the problem of disability hate crime and mean we don’t have to rely on the police and the authorities to do something about it
The issue of disability hate crime sometimes feels like it starts and ends with the numbers of crimes that are reported each year.
What I hope I have done is share how this is simply not the case, and that it is an issue that goes right the very heart of how we as a society perceive and treat disabled people.
I’d like to finish with a quote from one of OPM’s report on the topic, which makes the point better than I can:
By doing nothing, we are making a damning indictment of our own sense of humanity and the kind of society we want to live in.
By thinking that disablist hate crime is merely a ‘disability issue’; that the characteristics of disabled people make them inherently ‘vulnerable’; that only the police, local authorities and services providers are responsible for dealing with it, we are allowing ourselves to be comforted by our lack of culpability in doing nothing.
This must change.
Hate crime against disabled people hurts all of us.