22 February 2012 Victimisation, Threats and Abuse - Disability hate crime revealed

Young disabled people are failing to report threatening behaviour and verbal and physical abuse in public due to a fear that these crimes will not be taken seriously,Trailblazers campaigners have warned today.

Watch us on ITV's Daybreak 22 February 2012: 41 mins 

Trailblazers are urging police authorities to review their handling of disability-motivated hate crime, as a new report, Under Investigation, launches today showing that up to 80 per cent of young disabled people believe that the police do not take disability harassment and hate crime seriously enough.

Our survey reveals that:

  • two out of three young disabled people have been taunted or verbally abused because they are disabled
  • 62 percent of young disabled people say they have been or may have been the victim of disability hate crime
  • only four out of ten young disabled people who completed the survey and have been harassed or abused, have reported the incident to a person in authority
  • eight out of ten young disabled people who completed the survey think the police do not take disability hate crime seriously enough.

Trailblazers told of reluctance to report incidents of verbal abuse, spitting and confrontational behaviour, due to the belief that their local police force would fail to take action or that the incident was not ‘significant enough' to warrant police time.

Trailblazers is now calling for a nationwide initiative between forces to crack down on disability-motivated crime by building links with local disabled groups, providing alternative ways for reporting abuse, and reviewing approaches to recording and tackling incidents.

The Under Investigation report reveals that 60% of people surveyed said they had been a victim of disability hate crime, in contrast to the tiny amount of cases reported to the police every year. In 2010 only 726 cases of disability hate crime were prosecuted in England and Wales.

Marc Pyle from Swindon says that he has been faced with repeated incidents of verbal abuse from strangers, but only felt able to inform the police following a physical attack. He said:

People regularly taunt me for the way I walk, which has changed due to the muscles in my legs weakening. The perpetrators are usually big groups of men, who like to shout comments or mimic my walk. I've been attacked physically once, while at university in Newport. I was on the way to the pub with a group of friends, when a gang of young lads surrounded us on the pavement. My friends were able to run from the scene, but I couldn't and was kicked onto the floor.

Having been beaten up for being disabled it seemed fair enough to report this to the police. However, they didn't really seem to care. It took three hours for them to get to the scene and as no one was prepared to act as a witness they said there was nothing they could do.

Becky Oughton from Lancashire tells how after experiencing a violent incident in a nightclub she was reluctant to contact local police. She said:

I was attacked a while ago and decided not to report it to police as I had no faith they would do anything about it. My husband used to be a DJ, and I often joined him when he was working in clubs.

One evening I was approached by a stranger who claimed to know me. She and her friends encircled me. She started claiming loudly that she had been to school with me and that I wasn't disabled then. Aside from this being utterly untrue, like most muscle-wasting conditions, mine is progressive - I could walk as a teenager but my disability is getting worse the older I get. I tried to diffuse the situation, but she refused to listen. She lunged at me and grabbed my hair, and tried to pull me out of my wheelchair by it. It was only because my husband saw what was happening from the DJ booth and cut the music dead that the bouncers came over to intervene.

Since the attack Becky's local police authority has proactively invested resources into tackling disability-motivated crime, leading her to feel greater confidence in reporting incidents. She said:

At the time I didn't think there was any point in reporting it to the police. I faced this kind of aggression so regularly that it didn't seem to be worth bringing it up. However, Lancashire police force has done a lot of outreach work since then. I'm now confident that next time it happens people in authority will take it seriously. If the police don't tolerate disability motivated abuse, then neither do you.

Bobby Ancil, Project Manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, said:

It's disturbing that in 2012 young disabled people are still facing these kinds of offences.

Many of those who tell us about incidents of unprovoked abuse and threatening behaviour have no idea that they have been victims of a "hate crime" in the eyes of the law. People feel that attacks have to be sustained and physical for the police to take them seriously, and that sadly, day to day intimidation and verbal abuse must just be tolerated.

I hope this report inspires the victims of hate crime to report the abuse they face and that the police start working effectively with disabled people's groups like Trailblazers to put an end to this shameful situation.

If police forces are to regain the trust of young disabled people and tackle the underreporting of intimidation and abuse, we need to see both willingness and ability to do so across each and every police authority. We need a joined up approach."

Samples of press and TV coverage

Read more on this story in today's Independent newspaper

Listen to Tanvi and Krishna discuss the issues further on BBC Radio London between 10am and 11am today.


Tags: East Midlands, East of England, London, North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South East, South West, Wales, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, campaign, disability

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