What is Disability Hate Crime?

A disability hate crime is a criminal offence motivated by hatred or prejudice towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability. 

Disability Hate Crime Definition

Any incident/crime, which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability or perceived disability.

Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

The incident can be a one-off or it can be a series of ongoing harassments.

Despite initial assumptions that it is only strangers to the victim that commit these crimes, perpetrators can also be carers, neighbours, family members or someone that was considered a friend.

What is ‘Mate Crime’?

People with learning disabilities are at high risk of ‘mate crime’. This is a form of disability hate crime in which the victim is abused and manipulated by someone they believed to be their friend.

In a study conducted by the National Autistic Society (NAS) in 2014, 49% of adults with autism reported that they had been abused by someone they thought of as a friend. The Wirral Autistic Society’s survey of Merseyside the following year found that 80% of those over 16 felt like they had been bullied or taken advantage of by someone they considered a friend.

What Does Disability Hate Crime Look Like?

Forms of disability hate crime may include:

  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Threatening behaviour
  • Damage to property
  • Online abuse
  • Stalking and harassment

How serious is disability hate crime in the UK?

7,226 disability hate crimes were recorded by the police last year (up 30%).

Hate Crime Report 2017/18 for England and Wales

This is a staggering 30% increase on those reported in 2016/17. The most common disability hate crime was public order offences (including offensive or threatening language), followed by violence against the person, stalking and harassment and criminal damage and arson.

Despite these shocking figures, the actual figure is said to be much higher. Many people with disabilities do not report the crimes that have happened to them due to lack of confidence or a lack of understanding that what has happened to them is a crime. The Crime Survey for England and Wales, which also records crimes that have not been officially reported to the police, estimates that 52,000 cases of disability hate crime happen each year.

This is an obvious indication that more needs to be done to raise awareness of disability hate crime and help victims gain the confidence and knowledge they need to come forward and report incidents.

Why is it important to discuss disability hate crime?

It is important to discuss disability hate crime because cases often go unreported, and when reported can be handled incorrectly or overlooked.

The number of hate crimes recorded by the police have more than doubled in the last 5 years.

Hate Crime Report 2017/18 for England and Wales

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, last year emphasised in her foreword to the CPS Hate Crime Annual Report, that all types of hate crime are under-reported. She stressed “how difficult it can be for victims of disability hate crime to come forward”.

The Joint Inspection of the Handling of Cases Involving Disability Hate Crime published in October 2018 found that although there has been substantial improvement by the CPS over the last five years, more needs to be done by prosecutors and police in handling disability hate crime cases.

The report found, for example:

  • Hate crime flags not always applied
    Hate crime flags are not always applied to the relevant cases which means that victims to do receive the specialist support to which they are entitled to.
  • Inadequate reporting
    More than half the police files examined in this report were deemed as ‘requiring improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. Most improvements were required at the investigation stage, however, it also reported that the police also sometimes inappropriately used out-of-court disposals.
  • Lack of understanding about disability hate crime
    At the point of a case reaching the CPS, issues were identified around the application of the disability hate crime definition. However, thanks to previous reports, there has been a sustained drive by the CPS to raise awareness and identify these cases to ensure they are recorded on the system.

By discussing disability hate crime, the definition will become clearer to everyone, including those in power.

This will mean that the victims of disability hate crime get the support and justice that they deserve.

How should disability hate crime be reported?

If you believe it to be a hate incident then it should be recorded in such a way. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, if the crime has been classed as a disability hate crime, the judge can impose an ’uplifted’ sentence. Therefore it is important to state when reporting a crime that you feel it was motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a disability.

When you are reporting a crime you should report all incidents if there has been more than one.

You can report incidents directly to the police. However, if you don’t feel comfortable going to a Police Centre you can go to a Hate Incident Reporting Centre. These are based in most cities and are there as an alternative. There are also independent reporting services available such as Stop Hate UK. You can report any incidents through their website (www.stophateuk.org) or call their Stop Learning Disability Hate Crime Line (0808 802 1155). 

Can I report a disability hate crime if it wasn’t directed at me?

You can report a disability hate crime even if it wasn’t directed at you. If you are a friend, family member, neighbour, support worker or even a passer-by, you can report any incident using the same methods as above.