Ways I’ve learned to cope with disability hate crime

Cassie Lovelock

Cassie shares her experience with hate crime and some practical advice on what to do if you are a victim.

Cassie in Barcelona

Disability hate crime did not exist in law until 2003 when it was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act. It is defined by Citizens Advice as any criminal behaviour directed toward you that you believe was motivated by a person’s prejudice or malice due to your disability. Disability hate crime is sometimes reported as disability hate incidents. They rarely come ‘solo’ – often occurring in tandem with other crimes like property damage or assault. It could be (but is not limited to): harassment, intimidation, assault, name-calling, unwanted sexual behaviour, attention, or being videoed with your consent.

Experiencing a disability hate crime can be incredibly isolating and frightening. Being on the receiving end of baseless contempt often leaves you scrambling for a justification to downplay what happened. It can be hard to make sense of. And you find yourself doubting if it was a hate crime at all.

Being disabled is so inherently tied to who I am and how I see myself that I find myself desperately looking for other explanations when I am a victim of a disability hate crime. How can this thing that is so integral to me, to how I see myself, be seen as such a negative?

What has my hate crime experience looked like?

The hate I have experienced varies significantly. From being told by strangers, ‘I can f*ck you better,’ to having people follow me in the street, yelling abuse, taking photos of me and posting them online. I remember being tipped out of my wheelchair by a mother who was desperate for the wheelchair space on the bus for her baby. Or having someone grab inappropriate parts of my body under the guise of helping me, hate crime can and does take many forms.

The difficulty with identifying something as a hate crime lies in the idea of ‘hate’ itself. When we think of hate, we picture visceral rage fuelled attacks. And while this is certainly a hate crime, there are other types too. Every day disabled people have to deal with malicious comments and behaviours, so much so that it’s intertwined with our daily experience. This means it can be hard to know when something is a hate crime. In response to this, I’d say trust your gut (even if, like mine, it doesn’t really work). If something feels bigger, more significant than an everyday comment, it likely is.

Because disabled people are positioned as vulnerable, we are forced to depend on others for a wide range of things.

How do I deal with the emotions?

Well, I certainly don’t always deal with them well (all my friends and partner can attest to that). Sometimes it’s easy to let it roll off your back. To just think that that one person is a bit of an ass and move on. But sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes it feels heavy, debilitating, and all-consuming.

For me, it was as if my disability dictated my value, and that value was minimal. My disability granted people a free pass to treat me negatively, and that treatment is my fault for being disabled. Victim blaming narratives are very common for those who experience hate crime. But I think it is even more so when you’re disabled.

We exist and grow in a culture where the pervasive attitude toward us is that we are a burden, our needs are ‘special’ or extra, and that we should accept being treated as less because disability has in some way made you sub-human. Experiencing a hate crime plays into those ableist narratives that swirl in our heads. It’s our fault. We deserve this treatment because we are ‘less.’

I’m here to remind you (and myself) that it’s okay when your thoughts play up like this, particularly after a hate crime.

How do you feel safe again?

Honestly, you don’t really feel safe again. I didn’t go out alone or in my wheelchair for a significant amount of time after I experienced my first hate crime. Even now, I get anxious leaving the house with any of my mobility aids. When I experienced my first online hate crime, I didn’t look at social media for days.

A big part of being disabled is that we don’t often discuss how we are forced to give away our trust constantly. To those who deserve it, those who don’t, and those who are complete strangers. Because disabled people are positioned as vulnerable, we are forced to depend on others for a wide range of things. Small things like trusting a lift to work or a disabled toilet not only being available but accessible. Or bigger things like relying on support to access and stay in employment or education.

When you experience a hate crime, giving away that trust becomes harder. It becomes scarier, particularly when you have to give away that trust to the perpetrator. I remember a taxi driver refusing to lift my wheelchair out unless I gave him a kiss; safe to say, I very rarely take taxis now.

Feeling safe meant figuring out when and where to give away my trust and who deserves it. It meant taking a sad step back from things I love that made me feel too vulnerable. It meant recovering from the burnout that occurs with constantly giving away your trust.

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

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    Finding the ground under you once more

    After my first hate crime, it took me a long time to ‘find my feet’. So, I’ve penned some of my most important learnings:

    • Take the time to surround yourself with people who will remind you of your value. People who can help you separate yourself from the pervasive idea of burden that surrounds disability.
    • Seek out disabled joy. Watch disabled comedians like Rosie Jones or read books by disabled people about disabled people. Consume content made by disabled people and be reminded that disabled people are one in five of all of us, that our joy is beautiful and rebellious in a system that says we should hate ourselves.
    • Remember to breathe. We all have difficult relationships with our disability and our body. And experiencing hate crime only makes it more complex. Let yourself feel and forgive yourself for whatever you’re experiencing.

    Practical advice

    • You can seek help from the GP or specialist disability charities for more formal support. I had some intensive therapy after my first hate crime to help with the agoraphobia.
    • Seek out peer support - whether this is online or in person; having other disabled people around you who, unfortunately, will have had similar experiences is invaluable.
    • You can take a break from university or work.
    • Do not let anyone or yourself rush you into making any decisions – yes, you can report and prosecute, but you do not have to.
    • You can anonymously report, so you are adding the stats without talking to the police.