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Stop Hate Crime – Disability


This report contains offensive language. These are examples of hate crime that were expressed over the course of this research. This language has not been censored as it is important to understand the nature of this type of crime as it occurs.

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Disability covers physical, learning and mental disabilities. Although there were only 22 incidents of this type in North Yorkshire in 2013/14, the effects can be long-lasting, particularly if victims are vulnerable as a result of their disability. Disability hate crime attacks vulnerabilities and can exacerbate feelings of being unsafe in the local community. Most often, this type of hate crime occurs in public places. It is intimidating and can cause anxiety in those victims.

There are 135,119 people in North Yorkshire and York that have a disability that limits their day to day activities a lot (58,717) or a little (76,402).[1]

There is an established ‘norm’ that abuse is consistent or even expected. The focus group participants expressed the most difficulties in communicating with the police, if their disability meant that communication was impaired in some way. For those with disabilities, hate crime seemed to be the most prevalent and the most underreported.

Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate: Disability Hate Crime [2]

May 2015 saw the publication of the CJJI progress report into disability hate crime, following the 2013 review. The report considered disability hate crime as unique and separate from the other four characteristic strands due to the level of diversity enveloped by the term ‘disability.’ Overall, the CJJI found that progress was slow and inconsistent and that far more work needed to be completed to ensure that disability hate crime was a prominent issue for police forces.

Four recommendations were made, specific to police forces. These were adopted by NYP as follows:

  • Police, CPS and probation should adopt a single, consistent definition of hate crime (‘any criminal offence 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’)
  • Police, CPS and probation should consider disability hate crime and the need for its reporting to increase
  • Police, CPS and probation should consider how front line staff participate in effective disability hate crime training
  • Forces should review how information about disability hate crime is received to ensure victims can be identified

As of June 2015, the disability-specific definition had not been incorporated into the hate crime procedure and policy at North Yorkshire Police. Stop Hate UK was introduced in March 2015 across North Yorkshire and York as an alternative reporting mechanism, but has received 4 contacts since implementation. Hate crime training has not seen any changes at NYP and there has been no review or evaluation of hate crime reporting at this stage.

Understanding of Hate Crime

  • What does hate crime mean?
  • Do you understand what ‘mate crime’ is?
  • Have you been a victim of hate crime? How did you know? What did you do? Where did it happen?

In the last year, there have been 22 reports of disability hate crime in North Yorkshire. From this research alone, it is apparent that this is massively disproportionate and does not reflect the true picture. Some of the reasons for not reporting hate crime to the police are given below:

  • I don’t want to cause trouble
  • I don’t want to get anyone into trouble
  • Snitch
  • They will know where it’s come from
  • I don’t want to get anybody locked up
  • They’re scared of getting into bother
  • They’re scared of the police
  • The person might come back and it could get worse
  • You think it’s your fault
  • Some people might be scared
  • It’s like crying wolf every time to the police 

Some individuals with complex learning difficulties in particular, either didn’t understand that they had been a victim of hate crime, or feared ‘getting into trouble’ themselves if they spoke to the police. Some groups and organisations had good links with local police officers so there was a greater level of awareness, yet others who had not engaged with police at all, particularly those with severe learning disabilities, felt more frightened.

There was a lack of understanding about what constituted a hate crime – especially around ‘lower level’ public order and intimidation issues. ‘There were people staring, sniggering, laughing…They don’t think it’s a crime.’

When you’re out and about and you see young people talking and carrying on, I always think that they’re shouting at me, but I never know if they are or not. You can tell by gesture and body language but I just think, ‘what can I do about it?’’

Mate crime was a feature for people who mostly had ‘hidden’ disabilities. ‘I didn’t tell them but they even knew what day I got my disability benefit.’ The feeling of having been taken advantage of financially by people who had been considered friends was not only prevalent, but had long lasting impacts on people with disabilities: ‘my friend used to…beat me up and put me in hospital. He used to get his daughter to hurt me as well.’ Some found it impacted on other, true friendships, or prevented them from making new friends in new social environments.

 ‘There are a lot of people who aren’t as active [as us] and they’re the ones that put up with it. They actively don’t know that the behaviour they put up with from people who are “normal” has a limit. That work isn’t done by the police, it’s by families, which is why it’s important that they are educated.’

Relationship with the police

  • What is your attitude to the police generally?
  • Did you report the hate crime?
  • How did the police respond to you? How did they treat you? What was your opinion of the officer that dealt with the crime?
  • When you’re going about your day-to-day routine, do you feel safe? Are there any places/times where you feel unsafe or vulnerable?

One of the disability groups expressed that they felt the police should offer specific crime prevention and safety advice to people with disabilities. They raised concerns that many disabled people (physical and learning disabilities) live on their own and might be intimidated or frightened when alone, especially at night. Crime prevention and ‘keeping safe’ advice could be given to disabled people by the police, to ensure they know where to turn if they become a victim of crime.

Others felt that local knowledge of police officers would be beneficial to people with disabilities, with regard to crime and safety more broadly and developing police community relationships. The ‘familiarity’ and ‘that person isn’t scary to talk to’ would reassure local people and encourage them to talk to the police if they became a victim.

Some individuals with learning disabilities expressed that they were frightened of the police, based on programmes they had seen on TV from ‘The Bill’ to ‘Police Interceptors’ and similar shows. They felt that the police could be quite aggressive and physical and they didn’t wish to put themselves in harm’s way, or cause harm to happen to an offender.

A carer who reports instances of disability hate crime on behalf of another said that they found the process very difficult due to the fact that police focus on ‘outcomes’ and ‘doing something,’ when in reality, some victims cannot or are unwilling to give specific details about who committed a crime, for example. ‘The police don’t mean to be obstructive, it’s superficial.’

In the Ryedale area, assisted accommodation for people with disabilities is in more socially deprived areas: experiences of the police here were drugs raids in the early hours and serious violent crime such as an alleged attempted murder at the end of 2014. Incidents such as these heightened the fear of police: ‘because I think they’re coming after me. I’m literally scared of the police I really am I’m terrified of them. But I know that they’re nice people underneath.’

Deaf people expressed that they had particular difficulties in communicating with the police and other agencies. There was a distinct lack of awareness of the non-emergency 101 number, and the relevant text phone services (emergency and non-emergency). The group expressed that text phone services required use of a mini-com, which is outdated and underused. Stop Hate UK has a British Sign Language (BSL) web chat service, so users can communicate by sight (Sign Video).[3]

I would tell the police but I don’t know how to contact them.’

The deaf community don’t know how to contact the police. Because of that they’re keeping all the bullying to themselves.’

It is important to note that for many BSL users, English is not their first language, so written English can be challenging. The police can ask deaf people to put their concerns in writing, however this is not appropriate for all deaf people and may not be suitable depending on the circumstances.

We sometimes have to write things down and people become verbally aggressive.’

Others shared their experiences where officers had not engaged with deaf people effectively or appropriately.

I went to the mobile police office in York for some advice and the policeman asked my son to interpret for me – he’s only eight.’

This highlights both a lack of disability-specific resources and also concerns around appropriate alternatives – if this was a sensitive concern, would it be suitable to ask a child to interpret? Communication difficulties with police put victims off, and made them less likely to report crime in future.

The ‘normality’ of disability hate crime

  • Do you feel like you are treated differently because of any differences between you and others? Is this a ’norm’?

For the majority of the general public, it is hard to understand that some people with disabilities can be victims of hate every day.

‘I spent time with a blind friend… he had a white stick and without fail, every day, someone would drive past and shout, ‘watch out for that lamppost, mate.’ It disorientates him.’

Wider awareness of the ‘normality’ of disability hate crime would inform and probably shock the vast majority of people. Raising awareness more broadly around disability hate crime could help protect vulnerable victims when ‘out and about.’ New programmes such as the ‘Safe Places’ scheme which is being launched across the county, provides a safe place for people with disabilities to go when they are in town or feel unsafe or disorientated. If schemes like this are more publicly widespread, then a broader understanding of the issues could help others to spot and report disability hate crime.

Users of mental health services felt that ‘it probably is quite comical’ when an individual is having a mental health crisis in a public place. One individual expressed that he felt he was being laughed and pointed at during his crisis, by younger people. For people in crisis however, their immediate concern was their health, rather than reacting to the potential crime committed by others at the time.

It was expressed that there is an overall lack of understanding about mental health from the public more widely and that derogatory terms or phrases are used frequently. ‘Everybody calls everybody a nutcase, it’s a throwaway comment. People say ‘you’re mental,’ but if they knew what it was like to be mentally ill, they wouldn’t be saying that.’

People with learning disabilities felt that the randomness of name calling and hate crime in public places was normal.

In some places in Scarborough, there are still places where people are saying things when they walk past.’

There are places where you just know something is going to happen, but you put up with it.’

Derogatory terms referring to the physicality of disabilities are apparent: ‘they say things like, ‘here’s a spacker coming down the street.’’

Transport was seen as a major area of contention for people with disabilities where they regularly felt victimised. From not being able to use public transport at all, through to receiving abuse when travelling, disabled people felt frightened and exposed when using public routes.

I’ve had my worst experiences with trains… I’ve had three occasions where there has been a problem and I don’t use the train very often. Once there was a ramp at the platform and I was told that ‘you’ve not given us 24 hours’ notice so we’re not going to use the ramps.’ Another time they said they weren’t trained to use it, so I had to wait until someone else came on, even though my train was there. I used the intercom to call for assistance once and they told me they couldn’t do anything and I explained that I needed help and they got aggressive.’

Evidence such as this was common in focus groups: many expected abuse on public transport. Several individuals mentioned unwillingness from other members of the public to move. Many felt that the driver could have done more to resolve the situation.

It can cause a big debate on the bus with everybody. Who wants to be the focus of everyone’s views and opinions? Nobody.’

One person stated that buses could be difficult because bus drivers were not willing to stop at all: ‘I know someone who had to wait for 3 buses before getting on one.’

Others shared that public transport could be an environment where hate crime took place.

‘We were on the bus, at the back of the bus and there were three boys and a girl on the other side of the bus. We were chatting and one of the lads was repeating what [she] was saying in a posh voice and then they were throwing rolled up bits of newspapers in her direction. At the next stop, we moved to the front of the bus and then she told the driver but he just ignored her. They got off at the next stopped and one of the lads called her a ‘psycho.’’

People with learning disabilities felt more vulnerable on public transport and were intimidated by other users, even if there was no evidence that any crime was being committed. ‘In case people are drunk… I had to get up and move, I felt so uncomfortable.’

Conclusion: disability hate crime is a unique problem needing specific solutions

The individuals involved in this research suggested, by sharing their own experiences, that disability hate crime is very widely underreported in North Yorkshire and York. Disability presents in many different ways and as a consequence requires a far greater understanding of what disability means, in order to provide the most appropriate response for that individual: disability can mean physical, mental and learning, as well as disabilities you might not think of such as Autism or diabetes. Some of the limitations to reporting hate crime for those with sensory and severe learning disabilities are particularly significant.

  • Diverse groups have no relationship with the police in North Yorkshire and York

On the whole, many felt that they would approach the police and knew how to contact them via 999, if there was a serious crime. However, hate crime was not deemed to be serious enough to justify contacting the police. People with learning disabilities in particular felt there needed to be a sense of danger and urgency to contact the police, that was not often apparent with hate crime. Some said that they felt safer when they saw a police officer. Some individuals with learning disabilities, in particular, were frightened of the police, due to lack of contact or misconceptions about the role of aggression in policing. Some disability social groups had arranged meeting with PCSOs and local officers, meaning that there was familiarity and understanding between groups and officers.

  • There are barriers to reporting hate crime

For individuals with some physical disabilities, getting in touch with the police or other services was a challenge. Deaf people did not know about the text phone services and felt it was an out of date system. Those with sensory impairments had no knowledge of the non-emergency 101 number and so did not report crime because they did not want to call 999. Some felt that talking to services was hard if they had communication difficulties and that people were not patient with them, which increased anxiety levels. Only those at YREN and those local to the Eastfield Centre in Scarborough noted the use of 3rd Party Reporting Centres, suggesting that these are widely underused and/or inaccessible.

  • Victims become victims because they are different in some way

Individuals with learning disabilities did not always understand that they had been a target of hate crime because of their disability, suggesting that there is a gap in education about why hate crime occurs. Others recognised that their victimisation was as a result of their ‘difference.’

  • There is an established ‘norm’

Significantly, the majority of respondents in the disability groups used phrases like, ‘it happens all the time,’ ‘it’s always been like that,’ and ‘it’s normal.’ Those who had life-long disabilities felt that they had been targeted for ‘as long as [I] can remember,’ and had become used to habitual abuse.

  • There is a heightened sensitivity to hate crime

There is a high awareness of hate crime in disabled communities, but the sensitivity to ‘do something’ or report it was low due to the nature of the crime and regularity of occurrences. There was some feeling that non-disabled people wouldn’t help if they saw a disability hate crime occur.

  • Police response to hate crime is poor

Responses to the police were mixed: some had a very thorough service, whereas others struggled to even communicate with officers or staff. There was recognition that the nature of hate crime meant that police may be unable to help if the incident was random or the victims didn’t know the offender. Few were aware of external support agencies or networks: participants at YREN expressed knowledge of Stop Hate UK and its functionality for disabled people. There is little awareness of alternative reporting mechanisms and no understanding of the need to record hate crime

[1] Office for National Statistics, Census Overview, 2011

[2] Criminal Justice Joint Inspectorate, Disability Hate Crime Review, 2015

[3] 15% (9.6million) of the UK population has hearing loss. At a very rudimental level, this equates to 119,040 people in North Yorkshire and York (using the overall population of North Yorkshire and York as 1.24% of the entire UK population). This could be even more, bearing in mind the increasing ageing population of the county.