This is a question the writer and journalist, Katherine Quarmby asked recently in an article written for the Guardian newspaper (22nd July 2015). Katherine writes:
"After the Equality and Human Rights Commission 2011 report on disability hate crime, Hidden in Plain Sight, the government agreed to publish perpetrator analysis. Yet despite repeated requests it has not. So the Disability Hate Crime Network, a voluntary group campaigning against the crime, carried out a small, online survey of 100 disabled people last month to ask them more about the perpetrators of hate crimes. We asked about the gender, race and age of the attackers, location of the incident, whether the attacker acted alone or in a group, and about perceived motivation. More than half of respondents (57%) said they were attacked on the street, and one-fifth on public transport.
A quarter of incidents occurred at home. Other people were attacked in pubs and shops, with some mentioning social media. Perpetrators were overwhelmingly white. Around half (49%) of all attacks were group based. Women were involved in most group attacks (men were more involved in lone attacks). One victim said they were: "Pushed from chair by women, verbally abused by both men and women. Usually older people." Another reported: "Worst incident - an older white woman. Otherwise, mostly men." Another said: "Young mother with child abused me in a shop car park." In the Crown Prosecution Service Hate Crime Report 2013-214, women were convicted of 25% of disability hate crimes, but only between 13-15% of other forms of hate crime."
So, Katherine rightly asks two questions in her article. Firstly, why is official information about such attacks not being released to campaign groups and researchers so that 'we' may gain a better understanding of the underlying motivation of people who commit these attacks? Secondly, why are so many women involved? As Katherine points out, 25% of those convicted of disability hate crime attacks are women.
I wrote an article for Disabled-World last year (2014-05-06) on a similar topic, touching on the role of gender within hate crime. Certainly, the majority of all conventional crime is committed by males and similarly, the majority of all hate crimes committed against Race, Sexuality, Religion and Disability are also committed by males. But considering that the female of the human species is 'supposed' to be more caring than the male variety, a figure of 25% for disability hate crime is indeed a very high figure, especially when compared to other forms of hate crime. Katherine is right to point this out.
While this new study is a small study, it speaks volumes and actually mirrors much of my own research and the research of other organizations. While some incidents in the study seem to be motivated by jealousy of the perceived 'perks' of disability such as welfare benefit payments or access to mobility cars (11 out of 60), many incidents are not so easily classified. Katherine writes:
"Disabled people are also perceived as in the way. "On one occasion when I fell a man just stepped over me like I was vermin", said a respondent. Another said: "There's usually some kind of 'useless' part of the labelling.., a get out of the way, or why are you blocking everything up, or some such." Space on buses came up as a common flash-point: "The bus was quite full but a guy who had a pram wanted to sit with his partner and demanded I move. I said no and tried to explain my disability. He called me a 'spas' and a 'mong'".
Being 'in the way' is something that has also often been reported to me. Arguably the perception of disabled people being 'in the way' stems partly from the mistaken perception that the disabled are primarily a burden on society and resources - being dependent on others for help. Chiefly, this perception may have originated from the myth that most disabled people cannot enter the world of employment because they are either unfit, unreliable or unproductive. Partly, the enormous amount of negative political and media rhetoric surrounding welfare benefit fraud that we have seen within the UK over the past number of years, may have also helped contribute to the perception of disability as a 'burden' on society.
The terms 'sponger', 'layabout' and 'scrounger' are certainly terms often reported to me as being those used in abusive language towards disability, particularly physical disability. However, the terms 'spastic' 'Leg Iron' or 'mong' are equally common terms used in attacks, terms that go back many decades within British social history, and terms that precede negative political and media rhetoric on benefit fraud. However, all these terms or phrases indicate a set of underlying beliefs held about disability, beliefs that have originated over time and beliefs that indicate a deep-rooted and longstanding prejudice towards disabled people.
This new study carried out by the Disability Hate Crime Network, a UK voluntary group campaigning against the crime, certainly illuminates the diverse nature of 'disability hate crime'. As I have also been saying for a very long time now, hate crime occurs everywhere and anywhere, in the home, on the street, in shops, in pubs, on public transport and via social media. However, the majority of perpetrators are 'white' males. But as this study highlights, while males tend to act alone, women tend to act more in groups or gangs. But why should this be the case
Acts of abuse or violence towards Race, Sexuality or Religion committed by males have often been argued to have been committed purely out of delinquency - acting out of 'boredom', 'having a laugh' or 'status seeking' behavior amongst peer groups (Chakraborti and Garland 2012; Levin and McDevitt 1993). In some cases 'hate crime' may even be considered to be a 'defensive' crime, where male perpetrators are responding to a 'trigger' incident or to a perceived threat and/or intrusion within their community, and thereby rationalizing their behavior in terms of protecting themselves or their community (Levin and McDevitt 1993).
All hate crimes may therefore mirror traditional gender roles within society, similar to notion that 'boys will be boys'. Boys just want to cause mischief and mayhem and have a laugh, or otherwise are simply doing what males are 'supposed' to do within society - 'protecting' their patch, family or community from perceived threat. Female crime tends to be less focused on delinquency and violence but on obtaining money or goods to support themselves or their family, and by whatever means possible. By such, these crimes may be less about 'having a laugh' at somebody else's expense, but may arguably contain a 'defensive' or 'protective' quality about them.
Studies of 'white collar' financial fraud find that both men and women try to justify their crimes indeed with references to traditional gender roles. With males arguing that the crime was motivated by a need to be the main 'breadwinner' of the family, and females arguing that they were motivated by a need to be the main 'caregiver' of their family (Klenowski et al. 2011). Certainly, if negative political rhetoric and media rhetoric convince the British public that there are some people out there in society falsely claiming disability benefits and thereby draining the countries resources, then that may be perceived as making life harder for other people who are indeed the 'breadwinners' and 'caregiver's' within society.
The study carried out by the Disability Hate Crime Network indicate that female involvement in disability hate crime is much higher than for other types of hate crime - and by at least 10%. The fact that females tend to attack disabled people in groups rather than acting individually is also alarming.
Some researchers argue that females are far less likely to commit criminal acts because they are much more likely to conform to society's norms than males, particularly as they may have a lot more to lose if they are perceived to deviate from society's most dominant social expectations and values (Heidensohn 2000). This is one of the arguments of why females tend to commit less crime than males overall. However, in terms of disability hate crime, something seems to be saying that it is 'ok' for females to commit such acts. Certainly, females acting in groups together with other females or in conjunction with males, may be getting some kind of 'validation' for their behavior from the rest of the group. Arguably, there may be some kind of peer pressure involved, 'egging each other on' and encouraging each other or daring each other to go further. But at present, all we can do is speculate about the possible reasons why.
However, from research into hate crime committed towards Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Sexuality, it is important to recognize that crimes primarily motivated by 'bias or prejudice' may contain a certain 'symbolic' element to them - an element motivated by a kind of people watching and the monitoring of certain social groups. These types of crimes therefore send out a very clear social message, not just to the victim of the crime, but to the whole identity and membership group that the victim belongs to (Berk, Boyd and Hamner 1992; Perry 2001).
As Katherine Quarmby argues in her article, research into the motivation behind disability hate crime is now a priority. It is a national disgrace that while there have been many fine words spoken within the political world about tackling disability hate crime, no public money has been offered to help kick start research into the motivation behind such an heinous social problem. That in itself speaks volumes. Holding back government information that may also help to move this type of research forward, also speaks volumes.
Berk, R. A., Boyd, E. A., & Hamner, K. M. (1992). Thinking more clearly about hate-motivated crimes. In G. M. Herek & K. T. Berrill (Eds.). Hate crimes: Confronting violence against lesbians and gay men (pp. 123-146). London: Sage Publications.
Chakraborti, N. and Garland, J. (2012) 'Reconceptualising Hate Crime Victimization through the Lens of Vulnerability and 'Difference', Theoretical Criminology, 16 (4).
Heidensohn, Frances. (2000) Sexual Politics and Social Control. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Klenowski, P.M., Cope, H., and Mullins, C.W (2011). Gender identity and accounts. How white collar offenders do gender when making sense of their crimes. Justice Quarterly, 28(1), 49-69.
Levin, J., & McDevitt, J. (1993). Hate crimes: The rising tide of bigotry and bloodshed. New York: Plenum.
Perry, Barbara. In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. Routlege. New York. 2001
Sutherland, Edwin H. (1949) White Collar Crime, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Quarmby, K. The Guardian newspaper (22nd July 2015)
I have been writing articles for Disabled-World for a number of months, trying to raise awareness of my project, and hopefully raise issues that need to be raised as regards disability hate crime, and other connected disability issues. I have also been working voluntary for a local teaching enterprise since 2013, researching and developing employability and assertiveness courses to be delivered within disadvantaged communities. I became Research and Development director for this enterprise in Oct 2013 (again on an unpaid basis) and have also recently completed my first formal, adult education, teaching qualification.
Any individual or organization interested in funding or co-funding my PhD research, can contact me via: firstname.lastname@example.org