When I was a little boy and throughout my teenage years I was frequently laughed at, mocked and stared at, all because of how I looked. I was born with a large birthmark on my face and so people seemed to think it was okay to call me awful names, comparing me to ‘evil’ film and TV characters. I would often be cornered by a group of people who would compete to see who could call me the most offensive names. Nasty things were written about me online, I was told I would never achieve certain things in my life and frequently mocked
All this was because of how I looked.
I would like to say that things got easier as I got older but the staring and the abuse didn’t stop. This week a new hate crime campaign is being launched by the charity Changing Faces to raise awareness of the kind of abuse people with a disfigurement suffer every day because of how they look. They, and I, want more people to report this abuse as a hate crime because it is exactly that, a crime motivated by hate.
Why is this so important? Let me tell you about the impact that abuse has had on me.
For a start it completely shattered my self-confidence. I sometimes wondered if it was worth being on the planet with the amount of abuse that I had to put up with, which became almost unbearable at times.
So what can we do to stop hate crimes?
I believe that parents need to teach their children from a very young age not to judge anyone by how they look, by their race, their gender or sexuality. They need to set an example so that more and more children grow up with an understanding that not everyone looks the same, and that everyone should be given the same chances in life no matter what they look like. If there is more diversity in the media, in films, and on TV then people of all ages, especially young children, will realise that we live in a very diverse world and that diversity is a beautiful thing.
We also need more people to actively report hate crimes. Not just those with a disfigurement but their friends, family and those who witness any abuse. Often, people don’t even know that they can report the harassment they’ve experienced as a hate crime – every year there are around 67,000 cases of hate crime relating to disability, including disfigurement, yet only half of those are reported to the police. If more people actively report hate crimes then awareness will grow.
Better training for the police will also mean that when people report these crimes they will be dealt with sensitively and effectively. The more seriously this kind of abuse is taken, the higher the reporting and prosecution rate, the more chance we have of people being deterred from acting in this hateful and criminal way.
So join with myself and Changing Faces to break the cycle of #VisibleHate. Speak up, speak out, together let’s stop it.