Headlines over the last few weeks have given the impression that Disability Hate Crime involving children is on the rise. However when reading the articles it becomes apparent that reporting of Disability Hate Crime has risen and not necessarily the number of incidents. It’s heart-breaking that children have had and are still having such horrendous experiences.
Thinking about this subject takes me back 25 years to when I was at a middle school. For an extended period, of time I was targeted by individuals in my school. My lunch was often stolen, harassing and threatening notes were left in my lunch box always referring to my deafness. It got to the point that I became frightened and withdrawn. Worse still was that the school never got to the bottom of who was doing this. Fast forward a number of years to my teens and I was physically attacked on the bus on my way home by a group of youths. Again the reason given was my deafness. “Stupid deaf bitch” they shouted as they pushed me onto the floor and managed to get a few kicks my way. Luckily the bus driver stopped the bus and intervened, kicking them off the bus. At the time this wasn’t reported to the police or to anyone else for that matter. There wasn’t any such thing as “hate crime” then and to be honest I was ashamed and embarrassed. The impact that these incidents had on me was profound. I became anxious about travelling alone and more importantly this perpetuated my own negative attitude to my disability at the time – there was something wrong with me, I was substandard if you like and needed to be fixed. As I got older my perception of my deafness altered and I have started to realise that my deafness was and is an integral part of me and has made me the person I am today.
My own experiences of hate crime are almost trivial in comparison to some of the stories that we hear today. The charity Leonard Cheshire released some research this month that to me reflecting on my own experiences isn’t a surprise. 30% of disabled adults they surveyed said that they had experienced hostile behaviour motivated by their disability and the same numbers reported that concerns regarding hostile behaviour prevented them from going out in their local community. I am sure we can all agree that this just isn’t acceptable.
I am pleased that hate crimes are being reported more now as this shows that there is a better understanding of what hate crimes are and that people are coming forward and reporting them more. However, the research by Leonard Cheshire also showed that 27% of disabled people who had experienced crimes motivated by their disability hadn’t reported it to police. This clearly shows that there is much more work to be done in this area. Personally, I hope that this is an area of priority for the UK government but after reading the report released by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) earlier this year criticising the government and its treatment of disabled people I wonder if this will truly be the case?
In the meantime, for me these statistics highlight the importance of the work that Enhance the UK and many other charities are doing in the field of challenging perceptions of disability and raising awareness. People fear what they don’t know about. I believe the more understanding that people have around disability the less disabled people will be stigmatised. I can hope, right?