People with learning disabilities and autism aren’t respected or seen as equal. We’re the targets of hate crime for several reasons. People assume we are vulnerable and an easy target because they see us as ‘different’. Lots of people still don’t even know what a learning disability or autism is.
Fear of hate crime makes people limit their daily lives to stay safe. They are isolated and invisible. And the same is true online. We’re encouraged to avoid risky situations. This makes it difficult to be involved in online communities without hiding our disability.
I never go out on my own after 8pm. If I’m travelling, I make sure people are in the train carriage with me. I always stay on well-lit streets.
I regularly hear stories from people who have the same experience or worse. Many don’t feel safe in their own home and get moved away to protect them from abusive neighbours. I hear from people who are too scared to leave their house and don’t even feel safe going into their own garden. Meanwhile, there have been no consequences for their neighbours.
Recently, through my work with Dimensions, I met a man named Richard, who told me his story. Richard has endured a lifetime of bullying because of his learning disability. People have trespassed on his home and thrown eggs at him. They’ve set fires under his flat. They’ve demanded money from him and refused to leave without it.
Richard reported a number of hate crimes to the police, but he was told he needed an appropriate adult with him to make a report. But this isn’t true – this only applies to offenders who have learning disabilities or autism.
People like Richard rarely report hate crime because it is a part of their daily life and it rarely leads to a conviction. This is unacceptable. We can’t have an inclusive society until we all recognise people with learning disabilities and autism as ordinary people and allow them a normal life, where they can walk down the street and be free from fear.
Richard’s reports fell on deaf ears and he has lost confidence in reporting any further hate crimes. He feels hurt, angry and betrayed that his life is limited whilst his abusers get away with it time and time again.
We need to focus on changing the behaviour of abusers, not victims. We can start by changing the law and showing people hate crime won’t be tolerated. We don’t see enough prosecutions and convictions for disability hate crime.
Police, prosecutors and judges don’t always understand why people commit crimes against people with learning disabilities and autism. They don’t see the prejudice and hostility, they just see a vulnerable victim. At the moment the law doesn’t count this as hate crime.
The criminal justice system needs to listen more to people with learning disabilities and autism. They need to believe reports and see victims as credible. They should work with people who have disabilities to understand why people target people with learning disabilities and autism.
Richard knows his experience isn’t rare. If he felt he could, he would tell his abusers, “imagine if you had a child with a learning disability. How would you feel if someone treated them the way you treat me? That’s how I feel every day.”
The problems start early in life. We need more schools to use PSHE resources that teach respect. We need more heroes with autism and learning disabilities in children’s stories.
My big passion is tackling hate crime. I have worked to raise awareness of hate crime for years. Now I work as a Campaign Advisor at Dimensions for the #ImWithSam campaign to tackle learning disability and autism hate crime.
We work with policymakers to make change happen. We recently worked with the Petitions Committee in Parliament to explain the harm caused by online hate crime and the need for a change in disability hate crime law.
I train police on learning disability and autism hate crime, and I work with people who have disabilities to help them know how they can stand up to hate crime.
The most important part of #ImWithSam is raising awareness. A huge problem is that too many people, including victims, still don’t know what hate crime is and what to do about it.
In the long run, I want everyone to know what hate crime is and to realise it is wrong. I want people’s attitudes to change so people with learning disabilities and autism are seen as equal.
If you want people to be seen as equal then you can join the #ImWithSam campaign and say no more to learning disability and autism hate crime.