Disability hate crime and what needs to change


Melissa shares her hate crime experience, where we're going wrong in society and how we can change that.

Melissa posing in her wheelchair

We need to see concrete plans for how disabled people will be given their voice when it comes to hate crime issues, not just education for police forces and broader society. But in other areas such as:

  • How to educate disabled people on what constitutes a hate crime.
  • How to adapt the police service and criminal justice system to meet individual access needs.

We don't know the true figures

Over 7,300 disability hate crimes were reported to the police across England and Wales in 2019/20, yet only 1 in 62 cases received a charge. That’s 7,300 crimes against disabled people.

Of course, the actual number will be far larger. There will be people who didn’t see the point of reporting in the blur of experience, miscommunication and prejudice.

I have experienced this blur: I was afraid when a man took control of my wheelchair and wouldn’t release me for a mile, but was it a crime? Did this man who repeatedly heard me say “no” as I begged to be released cross a criminal line? Was it a hate crime?

As a disabled person, I am used to hearing these stories - and these questions from other disabled people - disabled women in particular, who experience abuse and are told not to complain or protest.

Ableism is a powerful force within all our lives. Yet when I met with a police representative, she couldn’t define the word. She aimed to improve the relationship between disabled people and the police - but she couldn’t explain this twisted, toxic thing she was trying to remove.

Rob, a volunteer, with Sam, a resident, in his bedroom at Lavender Fields

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We need to change the way we talk about disability

The way we talk about disability is a problem. But unfortunately, the same attitudes that led to the crimes have also led to a crisis in reporting them — the stigma and myths around disability and the idea that we can’t live independently and report crimes committed against us.

A problem of ignorance runs through our society, these crimes and the police forces designed to protect us.

Education is critical but has long been championed as the only solution. Yes, disabled voices – and our lived experiences - need to be listened to and included in planning, but the burden shouldn’t be exclusively on us. You can’t blame disabled people for a relationship breakdown when we’ve never been given the proper access. Further, don’t expect us to be grateful for the bare minimum.

We’ve heard about how the police want to change fundamentally, but so many disabled people remain sceptical as they fear any change will be superficial and self-serving.

Public perception of the police and the police’s activities have also had an impact on whether disabled people feel able to report hate crimes. For example, I have spoken to disabled women who have experienced verbal and physical abuse because of their disabilities. They cite examples of sexism, racism and ableism, which have long been associated with the police, as reasons not to report.

I have also spoken with deaf people who intended to report their experience of hate crime but couldn’t because there was no accessible method for them to do so. So again, we need to see accessible options become more widely available — for example, in this case, access to a BSL interpreter or a possible text service.

We need to remove the stigma

We have discussed education to combat stigma for generations, which hasn’t helped us. We need more concrete solutions as the problems persist and worsen.

Until more is done around education, removing prejudice and the general perception of our police forces. We need to see disabled people given more assistance to report hate crimes - for example, a third party or a support network can ensure that disabled people’s access to justice is preserved at every step.

We must improve education and remove prejudice from our police forces and society. But we are now dealing with a problem that has lingered for generations.

The solution? Finally, we need to take more concrete, practical steps to include disabled people in our criminal justice system.