Paul Dodenhoff is an independent researcher and writer. See 'bio' for contact details.
The Disability Hate Crime Network based within the UK is an award winning group of disabled people with over 6000 members, that work with disabled peoples organizations, charities, academic establishments and a range of official and non-official bodies within the UK (including Police and CPS representatives) in order to challenge hate crime committed against disabled people.
The first remarkable thing about the DHCN is that they do this entirely unfunded. The second remarkable thing is that they stay well clear of politics, no mean feat when dealing with subject matter that is highly emotive and where there is very little understanding about the actual motivation underlying disability hate crime.
The DHCN doesn't have a political agenda primarily as it recognizes that 'hate crime' is deep rooted within British society, where negative attitudes and behavior towards the disabled have existed for hundreds of years. Therefore, no matter what political party comes into power in the future, hate crime will likely to continue, unless changes take place in how disability is perceived and treated.
In addition to an ever growing number of members of the Network, there has been an increase of the numbers of disabled people officially reporting abuse, harassment and violence to the police. This may not necessarily indicate that hate crime is increasing, but the fact that disabled people are becoming much more confident in actually doing something about hostility and violence committed against them.
Historically, victims of disability hate crime have not reported abuse and violence for several reasons. For some, 'hate crime' was incorrectly considered to be 'anti-social behavior', and something that they felt or where told that they could do very little about. Others felt that they wouldn't be believed when reporting crimes committed against them, having little faith or confidence in the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
However, these thoughts, feelings and reactions pretty much parallel those who are victims of 'hate' motivated by bias and prejudice towards race, ethnicity, religion or sexuality, and who also often fail to report crimes committed against them for similar reasons. Comparing official reports of 'hate crime' committed towards all social groups, with the annual British crime survey, we know that 'hate crime' as a whole is woefully underreported. However, 'hate' committed against the disabled is estimated to be at least 30 times higher than official police records indicate. And we should be aware that there are many features of 'hate' that are unique to disability hate crime alone - unique factors that sometimes compound failings by the police and local authorities in protecting and preventing 'hate crime' perpetrated against disability.
A recent study called 'Hidden-Hate' focused on disability hate crime within the Greater London Region, and confirmed that failings by the police, CPS and local authorities continue to exist. However, some regions have certainly improved things for its disabled in terms of giving the disabled a 'voice'. One of the factors that has made a difference for some people is the implementation of 'Third Party Reporting', a scheme that has had remarkable success.
Third Party Reporting
One major success in building confidence when reporting hate crime committed against disability is the use of third party reporting centers. The very best of these are run by disabled people themselves, especially if reports are given to people who are also disabled. This type of reporting allows victims to report abuse, harassment and violence to a third party that will in turn forward it to the police, forming a link between the victim and the police if needed, and where the organization may also be a place for support and advice.
Blackpool, a town close to me in North West England, has found that reporting of disability hate crime has more than trebled after the introduction of third party reporting. The implementation of a system that the Disability Hate Crime Network have been heavily involved in setting up and running.
A lack of research into the motivation underlying 'hate'
There is an urgent need of getting a better understanding of the characteristics and the motivation behind those who commit acts of disability related abuse and harassment. There has been a consistent failing of British governments past and present in not commissioning research or supporting research into the motivation of the perpetrators who commit such acts. The majority of research conducted upon 'hate' directed towards the disabled, focuses primarily on counting and categorizing incidents. While these studies are important for getting an idea of the scale of the problem, there are no current studies within the world (apart from my own work) that attempts to understand the motivation underlying disability hate crime. That is quite a shocking fact, considering that we have an abundance of academic interest in 'hate' committed towards race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and gender.
At present, less than 2,000 crimes against disability are officially recorded by the police per year in the UK, while government estimates put that figure around 60,000 crimes per year - an estimate that is also likely to be on the low side. So, while getting an accurate figure of the numbers of hate crime is important, unless we start to understand the motivation behind the crime, we will not be able to effectively fight the problem. If we don't know what causes 'hate' towards the disabled, then how we can ever know what measures are needed to help halt this insidious crime.
Dropping 'hate' from the agenda
There is a very deep concern that the major disability charities, who are supposed to be committed towards supporting disabled people, have increasingly let disability hate crime slip from their agenda. Where tackling 'hate' has come less of a priority now, as charities increasingly focus on the consequences and after effects of welfare benefit reform instead.
However, discrimination, negative attitudes and negative behavior towards the disabled have arguably the same influences - bias and prejudice. As we are only just starting to get a better indication of the scale of the problem within the UK, now is not the time to be walking away from it. Therefore, all the major disability charities still need to put pressure on present and future governments to take disability hate crime more seriously.
At present, official recording of 'hate' puts disability hate crime at the lower end of all hate crimes committed within the UK. However, while most organizations, including government, the police, CPS and local authorities now recognize that disability hate crime is often heavily under reported, pressure is still needed to keep disability hate crime within the public spotlight. As the 'Hidden-Hate ' study confirmed, immense failings in the way we treat abuse, harassment and violence committed towards the disabled within the UK, still continue.
Inequality in the sentencing of 'hate' towards the disabled.
There is at present an unacceptable inequality in the sentencing process for hate crimes committed against disability.
Current legislation treats disability hate crime differently to hate crime committed towards race, sexuality and religion. Any disability related abuse or violence can only be treated as an aggravating factor to the crime, which may attach an extended judicial sentence under Section 146 of the law, if it is implemented by the court. Current hate crime legislation relating to incitement of abuse and violence on the grounds of race, sexuality and religion, therefore still does not include disability.
Changes to this law were proposed in 2013 but were rejected by the UK's Law Commission, as the Commission believed that such incitement towards disability may not even exist. Arguably, this rejection not only indicates an unwillingness to treat abuse, harassment and violence committed towards the disabled as seriously as abuse, harassment and violence committed towards race, sexuality and religion. But sustains the notion in some people's minds that abuse, harassment and violence against the disabled may actually be a normative part of society.
The report 'Hidden Hate ', highlighted that although very few hate crimes are reported to the police, most of these do not actually make it to court, and those that do, rarely see the application of Section 146 . As it stands, Section 146 is inadequate, as it leaves the application of this piece of legislation up to the presiding judge, and very rarely does it get used.
How can we move forward
Firstly, we need to address all the issues outlined above. Secondly, we need to remove the stigma attached to disability, and certainly not add any 'new' ones that may further compound the problem. Disability hate crime is motivated primarily by the same influences that motivate discrimination, and until we understand the stigma underlying disability and how this stigma is generated, then we will fail to reduce disability hate crime.
Stigma surrounding disability may be generated in a number of ways, from stereotypes and social representations attached to disability itself - including the conflation of physical disability with mental disability, and mental disability with mental illness. Some people may even have a genuine fear of disability, or hold feelings of disgust and dislike of the disabled, simply because they have very little knowledge or contact with them, apart from what they read in the tabloids, see on TV or in the movies. Disability to most abled bodied may therefore be as 'alien' within the social world as E.T is, despite the large numbers of disabled people that exist.
It is estimated that 10 million people within the UK are classed as having a recognized disability - a substantial number of people. Yet very rarely do we actually 'see' the disabled in public or holding positions of importance, responsibility and power within society. It is this lack of 'visibility' that is not only a remnant from the days where the disabled were systematically removed from society or viewed purely as 'entertainment' if on view, but indicates that social stigma surrounding disability is as alive as it was 2 to 3 hundred years ago.
Groups like the DHCN therefore work wonders, not only in continually highlighting the serious nature of disability hate crime and keeping disability hate crime in the public spotlight, but in the training of organizations, local authorities and the police, in dealing with the problem. However, while I said at the beginning of this article that the DHCN is unfunded, perhaps a better term to use would be 'self-funded', as these people give up their own time and resources in the fight towards reducing 'hate' towards the disabled. I am not going to bang on about politics in this article, purely out of respect for groups like the DHCN, who admirably try to stay help well clear of such subject matter. However, I will make two quick points.
The first point to make is that 'disability hate crime' is a massive social problem within the UK at present, and that certainly makes it a massive political issue too - and something that any future government needs to seriously address. The second point is about funding.
While we are a nation that is constantly portrayed as being on its 'uppers' and short of money, we are in reality still a very wealthy nation. It is certainly unacceptable that both government at local or national level consistently fail to allocate any funding to groups like the DHCN and research into 'hate'. For the DHCN do work that is entirely for the benefit, not only of disabled people but also for society in general. A reduction in crime levels would not only make the UK a safer place to live for all, but actually help reduce public spending on the police and local authority services.
We most certainly won't see any reduction in 'hate' towards disability unless we address the issues in this article, and that will mean an allocation of funding of some sort, and at some point, in order to keep organizations like the DHCN going and to also fund future research on disability hate crime itself. And we are not talking about huge sums of money either.
But unless that happens, both local and national government will continue to show a real lack of commitment in tackling 'hate' committed towards disability - as fine words from our politicians alone will not stop abuse, harassment and violence committed towards the disabled. Only 'action' will do that.
Paul Dodenhoff is an independent researcher and writer. See 'bio' for contact details.