Figures this week showed that the number of prosecutions for hate crimes against disabled people has risen by more than 40% over the last year. I have a learning disability, and I live in supported housing run by Mencap. When staff there told me about the rise in hate crime, I was shocked but not surprised.
For me it started because I had one friend who I trusted to be in the house with me, but then they invited another friend who I didn't know. They would come in my house without asking, and eat the food out of my fridge. After a while there were five or six of them. I thought they were my friends, that's what they told me.
It started with them calling me names, taking the mickey, taking advantage of me basically. Then it started getting out of hand. They would ask me for money - normally £5, but sometimes £10 or £20. One time a girl told me that I was the father of her baby, and that she needed to give her money for nappies and milk. I didn't understand why she would say that to me, but I ended up giving it to her.
Things like this happened about twice a week for nearly five years. It was very difficult for me. I felt intimidated, anxious and agitated and frustrated.
One day I was in my bedroom playing on my phone, and they asked me to come out, and I didn't want to. They kept on forcing me, and said they would beat me up if I didn't come out.
Then they took me to a place, an alleyway, and suddenly started beating me up and taking my phone. They kicked me in the back, punched me in the temple a couple of times. I got punched in the back of my head and the side of my face.
After this happened I told the police, but the people who hurt me were never prosecuted. I was told there wasn't enough evidence because I couldn't remember some parts of what happened, and there was nothing on CCTV. It made me feel helpless and worried how if you have a learning disability and struggle to communicate it can mean crimes against you could be missed and not investigated fully. I felt like I was living life without the protection other people take for granted.
Luckily, that changed things though. Now, the police will come round my house sometimes to check that I am all right. They've been a huge help and we need to make sure everyone in the police force has training on learning disability.
Things are much better for me now. I had bad friends for a long time, but that's long gone. After this I started going to a social group through Mencap where I met my girlfriend Jessica, and I've started DJing. I get a lot of support now, and I would like to find a job as a gardener or maybe a tree surgeon.
Sadly, a lot of people seem to think none of this is possible for people with a learning disability. There's a lot of negative attitudes to learning disability, and I feel my experience shows how these attitudes can start small like name calling, get worse and worse until it comes to stealing, intimidation and physical abuse.
It's thought that there are still many more cases of hate crime that go unreported. Those who abuse vulnerable people are criminals and should be prosecuted. The people who hurt me pretended to be my friends, but friends should be people you trust, not people who take advantage of you or even use you for money.
Hate crime against people with a disability needs to stop. There are too many people out there with the same story as me. We need to fight to make sure this doesn't happen anymore.
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