Disability hate crime: Taking back the power
Rachel, a disability hate crime awareness campaigner, reflects on some of her experiences which led to her becoming an advocate.
Truthfully, once you have experienced a disability hate crime, it never truly leaves you. I am relatively lucky in that I only had to endure two such incidents, both verbal in nature. Since these occurred in the community in broad daylight, the fear of the next one and whether it will be violent is constantly at the back of my mind.
To slightly adapt the well-known saying: knowledge is empowerment. There are so many things about hate crime that, in hindsight, I wish I'd known. Where and how to report a hate crime, how to be the best witness possible or simply the fact that hate is not an unavoidable part of disabled life to be put up with. If the reporting process was demystified and support more visible, I believe more people would come forward.
If the reporting process was demystified and support more visible, I believe more people would come forward.
Realising what an issue hate crime is
For me, a vital piece of information came in the form of a Yorkshire Evening Post article published in 2020. It stated that West Yorkshire recorded the highest number of hate crime reports for the third year running (a feat repeated the following year). It motivated me to dig deeper into the issue and, hopefully, find meaningful solutions.
I have the incredible privilege of being part of Citizens UK, a nationwide organisation dedicated to working with communities to bring about lasting social change. They hold decision makers accountable by sitting them around the table with those directly affected by their choices. It's people led, rooted in storytelling. And it works!
Whilst campaigning with Citizens for fairer wages in the care sector, I chaired a meeting with Leeds Disabled Peoples Organisation. I was there gathering first hand experiences when I met Helen Whitelam. At that time, Helen was part of Leonard Cheshire and fighting disability hate crime is her pet cause.
Through her, I became involved in monthly "being safe" meetings, an online collective of disability charities and disabled people, as well as representatives from the emergency services and Leeds city council. There I learnt that transport was a hate crime hotspot. I heard about the prevalence of "mate crime" (where a person builds a false friendship or romantic relationship to exploit disabled people) and the continuing problem of online abuse.
What support is available
Amongst the grim facts, however, there is hope. Organisations like Leep1 are a great example. They are a self-advocacy organisation supporting adults with learning disabilities to speak up for themselves. Members of Leep1 have put on drama performances to educate primary school children on the lasting harm hate can cause. And there are safe spaces schemes across the country which provide sanctuary and support for victims of hate crimes.
An online resource is also being developed in collaboration with disabled people by Dr Leah Birch of Liverpool Hope University. The project aims to be a one-stop shop, providing information on the justice system and tips to stay safe and where to get support.
In closing, remember this; we can always take back power from those who victimise us, and with it, we can change the world!