The Guardian newspaper published an article in October which states that Home Office figures show more than 52,000 hate crime offences were reported to police in England and Wales in 2014-15, an 18% increase on the previous year.
The statistics also revealed that reported incidents of hate crime towards disabled people had risen by 25%, yet less than 4% of disability hate crime is actually reported to the police. This forces the question of why disabled people do not report such incidents and what steps need to be taken to not just combat hate crime but actually report the aggressor?
Having previously worked at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and being involved in a disability hate crime inquiry in 2010, I discovered the 'dark' side of living with disability as I heard about cases that ranged from emotional abuse to rape and even murder.
Up until then I never actually recognised the term 'disability hate crime' for two main reasons. Firstly, from a very young age I was subjected to hearing comments and so called 'banter' about my disability which hurt and made me feel vulnerable, but somehow it was the 'norm' as adults would tell me 'oh ignore them' or 'they are just being silly' and subconsciously I accepted these words of torture as part of life. Secondly, acknowledging that you are targeted for your physical ability and to associate it with hatred is a chilling concept - it is one thing to be hurled at with words of abuse or taunts that you automatically attribute to people being mean or silly, but to identify it as disability hate crime just transforms the incident from a random encounter into a more personal one.
To accept that some people will target you and hate you for being disabled is a frightening thought that most will try to escape, hence perhaps the failure in reporting it. I guess partly it is psychological, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy where if you believe in the term 'disability hate crime' then you are in constant fear. If you experience abuse on a certain bus route or area then you would automatically just go through a different route and attribute the incident to its location - but when recognising it as a disability hate crime you then have a fear of being You and experience a feeling of exclusion,
A disabled friend of mine has been mugged twice on her way home. Both times, someone had grabbed her bag and tipped her wheelchair until she fell on the ground, leaving her screaming for help until local residents came to her aid. She reported both of the mugging incidents as mere mugging, yet when she asked the police, GP and social worker as to why anyone would mug her especially as she was not carrying anything valuable, the reply was "people assume that the disabled have drugs - as in strong painkillers or even morphine". Surly this is a direct admission by all that it is a disability hate crime but was not treated as such?
A few years later the same friend had her wheelchair stolen which she reported to the police. They eventually found the wheelchair and arrested the culprit but the police suggested to my friend that it would be best to accept his apology rather than press charges. Their reason was that as a minor he would only get a caution and as he lives locally he may then target her further, but by meeting and apologising there is a big chance he would learn from his mistake.
In theory it is a positive approach but is that the kind of advice the police should give? Out of fear for future attacks you don't report it? Shouldn't the culprit face the consequences of his crime regardless of his age?
There needs to be many reforms before disability hate crime is eradicated and reporting of it is made easier and more accessible. Still to this day women often don't report sexual abuse for fear of stigma or the fact that they are led to believe they are somehow to blame for what happened to them. I think in a similar manner people living with disability fail to recognise they are being victimised and for many the taunts and verbal abuse is just dismissed as part of being disabled.
My experience of bullying was confined to the school environment but for my friend it has been a life long 'foe', so what steps do we need to take? I personally believe that education is the key to teach children about disability and acceptance. Similarly people living with disability must be encouraged to report hate crime and, more importantly, be taught to recognise the incidents as disability hate crime.
Disabled people should not have to brush it aside as part of life and suffer in silence.