"While the main study of hate crime as arguably been conducted from a sociological or criminology perspective, the emotional aspect of hate crime has often been overlooked."
As we all know, disability hate crime is a rather unique 'hate' crime. Like abuse, harassment and violence committed against Race, Ethnicity, Religion and Sexuality, hate crime against disabled people has largely been argued to be motivated by bias and prejudice, rather than the deep emotional dislike of 'hate' itself (Jacobs and Potter 1998). The primary trust of this argument focuses on 'hate crime' as an opportunistic, transient phenomena committed by absolute strangers, rather than offenders on a 'mission' motivated by deep-rooted hostility towards the identity characteristics of the victim. It also orients us towards the notion that it is therefore, not out-and-out 'extremists' as such who tend to commit such acts, but otherwise quite 'normal', ordinary people (Comstock, 1991).
Therefore, using the term 'hate' to describe abuse, harassment and violence motivated by the victim's identity, is often regarded as not only a harsh term but inaccurate. However, for something said to be motivated by 'bias' and 'prejudice' (in other words, hostility towards the identity of race, ethnicity, religion, race, sexuality or disability) we may simply be contradicting ourselves by replacing the term 'hate' with that of 'hostility', because both terms pretty much mean the same thing - being by definition... synonyms.
Similarly by definition, bias or prejudice(s) cannot be considered to be opportunistic, transient or temporary opinions or beliefs, but something much longer lasting. For disabled people with a perceived intellectual impairment, hate crimes are certainly not always opportunistic nor transient acts, nor acts committed by strangers but by people known to the victim. People who may even be neighbours, friends, relatives, partners and carers (Mason, 2005).
The first important point to remember is that disability hate crime contains two separate and distinct groups, physical impairment and intellectual impairment. This distinction is often conflated into one as regards the phenomena of hate crime, even though there may actually be visible differences in the types of crime generally experienced by each group. The second point to remember is that hate crimes committed towards disability are not always one off incidents but often repetitive offences, often committed by the same people and against the same victims. Therefore, can we really say for sure that the term 'hate crime' is a misleading term? For 'hate crime' to be an actual misnomer, we would have to regard bias or prejudice as existing primarily within its own little bubble, with no accompanying or underlying emotional responses such as anger, dislike, resentment, fear or indeed, hostility and hate?
Using a term such as 'prejudice' about something, indicates a strong inclination or preconceived opinion. Ask any lawyer to define bias and prejudice, and you can be sure that they will agree that is a 'predisposition' or 'preconceived' opinion that prevents a person from being impartial. That in itself indicates that prejudice is not something generally regarded as temporary or transient. So, in reality, the concepts of bias and prejudice may not be that far removed from the concept of 'hate' itself, particularly if we define hate as a habitual emotion or habitual feeling of deep dislike, resentment or hostility towards something or someone.
While the main study of hate crime as arguably been conducted from a sociological or criminology perspective, the emotional aspect of hate crime has often been overlooked. So much so, that not only as the concept of 'hate' been removed from the term 'hate crime', in favour of the concepts of bias or prejudice, we now seem to on the verge of dropping the concepts of bias and prejudice altogether from any discussion of disability hate crime completely, and replacing it with the concept of 'vulnerability'. Possibly something influenced by British law, where although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recognises that many people with disabilities do not consider themselves to be vulnerable:
"There will be cases where, notwithstanding the fact the victims do not consider themselves to be vulnerable, the evidence points to the offender having treated them as such".
Therefore, for all intent and purpose, we have a theory presented within British law that proposes that a disabled persons 'vulnerability' is indeed a motivator in some hate crime offences. Something that is now arguably becoming seen as one of the prime motivators - ahead of prejudice itself. However, all crime may be said to be partly motivated by 'vulnerability' to some degree, as a criminal will arguably look for areas that can be easily and quickly exploited, compared to others. Just because some kind of vulnerability exist, that does not necessary mean it is the chief motivator of the crime.
It was the field of social psychology that arguably got us thinking about the possible motivations behind abuse, harassment and violence way back in the 1950's. For example, it was the social psychologist Gordon All port who also made the initial distinction between 'Anger' and 'Hate'. For Allport, anger is a transitory and temporary emotion generally aroused by the blocking or thwarting of an activity, particularly one that may have been potentially rewarding. While 'Hate' is not regarded by Allport as an emotion but considered to be more enduring set of habitual aggressive impulses, bitter feelings or accusatory thought(s) that may be directed towards an individual or group. These habitual impulses are subsequently directed towards those individuals and groups that are considered to be 'out-group' members, people considered to be 'different' in some shape or form, from the majority of society (Tajfel, 1974).
Therefore for Allport, 'hate' cannot be ever described as a transitory or temporary affliction, but something deeper rooted within the individual's consciousness. However, as we cannot separate an individual from the rest of society, socio-cultural influences will be a very important factor in shaping our own personal consciousness, our own personal belief system and our very own personal prejudice(s) or hang-ups. If we take Allport's definition of 'hate' as a set of habitual aggressive impulses, bitter feelings and accusatory thoughts about something or someone, that does not necessarily mean that 'hate' can only ever be considered to be the preserve of the 'extremist', particularly as acts of 'accusation' are very common within hate crime committed towards disabled people, as we will see later.
A number of years ago after reading through a set of transcripts and reports of hate crime committed towards both physical and mental impairment, I quickly picked out a number of useful 'tools' or key themes for analysing such crimes. One that uses the concepts of Accusation, Exploitation, Incarceration and Entertainment (Dodenhoff, 2014).
Certainly, a quick glance through any report of disability hate crime, can often and easily pick out one or more of these key themes at play. For example, you may be able to pick out a clear pattern of 'exploitation' where the victim is being taken advantage of in some way. Secondly, you may be able to pick out a pattern of domination where abuse, harassment and violence is initiated primarily by an 'accusation' of some sort. Accusations of sexual crimes or other deviant behaviour that have a long social history (Quarmby, 2011). Thirdly, you may pick out an attempt to 'incarcerate' disability, either briefly by blocking someone from going about their business, or by stopping disabled people from leaving their own home. Finally, you may detect that perpetrators are also getting a cheap 'thrill' out of their actions, using disabled people merely for some kind of crude 'entertainment'.
However, in analysing the motivation behind disability hate crime, it may also be useful to keep in mind the research of McDevitt, Levin and Bennett (2002) who identified four broad categories of offenders in general.
Similarly, after analysing a number of cases of disability hate crime, we may also see thrill seeking behaviour, where victims are targeted simply for a 'laugh' and for 'fun'. However, others seem to be 'defending' their community from those who have traditionally been institutionalised and segregated from society. In cases that involve accusations, they may simply be examples of 'retaliatory' behaviour, although such accusations may be used simply as an excuse for any forthcoming abuse and violence.
While I haven't personally come across incidents where British offenders seem to be on a 'mission' to get rid of disabled people, the shocking murder of 19 residents of a facility for people with disabilities in Sagamihara, Japan earlier this year, would certainly qualify as a 'mission offence'. A murder in which the suspected perpetrator Satoshi Uematsu, was reported as saying that the purpose of the crime was to indeed 'eliminate disabled people from the world'.
Arguably, like the four key themes of Accusation, Exploitation, Incarceration and Entertainment. The themes of thrill seeking, defence of the local community, mission offenders and retaliatory offences may all be gathered together under the overarching theme of 'domination'. Where the able-bodied are arguably seeking to re-establish some kind of historical and traditional dominance or control over disability. However, it's pretty difficult to get a precise or definitive explanation of what 'dominance' really means and how it relates to the wider concept of oppression. Most 'common-sense' definitions class dominance as being the 'exercise of major influence or control over others', but as we can imagine, academics would arguably require a much fuller explanation in order for the concept of dominance to become relevant to the study of disability hate crime.
The only more complete definition I can offer is an old one proposed by Schjelderupp-Ebbe (1922) where:
"Dominance is an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals characterised by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation. The status of the consistent winner is dominant and that of the loser subordinate".
A bit of a long winded definition I admit, but one that sets up the discussion nicely for assimilating the pattern of dominance created by two individuals (one of whom is consistently the winner, while the other is consistently the subordinate) into the wider theme of 'oppression'. Marion Young (1990) considered that the concept of 'oppression' itself could actually be broken down into five individual component elements:
By using this model to discuss the injustice and disadvantage that disabled people generally have to put up within the UK, we may see how events of the past can feed into present day social interactions between the abled-bodied and the disabled.
The concept of 'oppression' used in this context, can be described as stemming from the intentional or unintentional behaviour of people that reduce the potential for other's to be fully human, or to put it another way, actions and behaviour that may make people feel 'less' human.
However, this isn't just about behaviour that treats disabled people in a dehumanizing way, it also concerns the denial of assess to education, housing or employment, and access to other opportunities that may help the disabled to become fully human in both mind and body. For example, if disabled people are denied access not only to opportunities due to the discriminatory practices of potential employers or landlords, but also access to public spaces where they may be targeted for ridicule, abuse, harassment and violence. Then they are not free to pursue their interests or plans, and may be made to feel less than 'human'.
While Young's analysis is primarily within the Marxist tradition, the concept of exploitation may certainly be used to analyse the interactions and situations that some disabled people may come to find themselves involved in. For example, Thomas (2011) uses the term 'mate crime' to illuminate actions perpetrated against disabled people by relatives or those considered to be friends to the victim. 'Mate crime' is considered similar in some quarters to domestic violence, which may not only contain acts of cruelty, humiliation and violence, but also acts of exploitation and theft. However, down-grading hate crime simply to the level of a 'domestic', may simply be ignoring the criminal element of these actions.
Marginalization may be described as the confining or positioning of a social group of people to a lower social standing, and one that may also confine them to the edges of society itself. It is a process of exclusion that effectively positions certain groups as not only 'inferior' within society, but also makes that group largely 'invisible' within society.
Discrimination over employment may be one way in which the disabled become marginalized within society, behaviour largely hidden behind closed doors and therefore we may have no real idea about the numbers of disabled people who may apply for jobs and not be selected solely because of their impairment. Previous research indicates that such discrimination within the UK does indeed exist, and there is no reason to believe that this situation has significantly altered within recent times. Marginalization may therefore expel whole blocks of disabled people from full participation in social life, which may not only create a situation of helplessness and powerlessness, but also a culture in which the disabled not only become 'invisible', but may be expected to be invisible and remain invisible.
Marginalization may also be one way in which the disabled are 'indoctrinated' with negative images about themselves, and another way in which they become 'dehumanized' within society. Garland-Thomson (2011) argues that an 'ability/disability' system operates within western society that actively constructs disability and inequality by the ideological comparison and the differentiation of 'body's'. Or to put it more simply, the medical and scientific comparison of 'body's', including appearance, ability and IQ, not only mark out physical or psychological difference, but become authoritative works that are drawn upon to medically or socially monitor and control physical or mental difference. It is through such discourse that beliefs and assumptions are produced and disseminated throughout popular culture.
Similarly, Shakespeare (1994) argues that disabled people have become `objectified' by such cultural representations of disability within society, and are often treated as 'objects' rather than people. As an example, Shakespeare cites the 'freak-shows' of yesteryear that portrayed disabled people as 'freaks of nature', 'animal like' or 'non-human'. Arguably, western medical practice may also objectify and dehumanize the disabled, either intentionally or unintentionally, by the investigation, monitoring and labelling of deviations from the 'norm' of physical or mental ability.
It is through such imagery and social practice that help to marginalize and exclude the disabled from mainstream life. It is interesting to note that sports-people with a physical or mental impairment are often described in the media not purely as athletes like any other, but often as 'superhuman'. However, using 'comic book' imagery like this in a positive manner, may simply conjure up thoughts of 'heroic mutants' that may still (intentionally or unintentionally) mirror the 'freaks of nature' theme of yesteryear.
Cultural Imperialism involves taking the culture of the dominant groups within society and establishing it as the norm. While the disabled make up a significant proportion of the UK population, the disabled are generally considered as being deviant from the expected norms and established standards or measures of ability that are set in place via scientific and medical discourse. These norms and expectations of 'ability' feed into all walks of life, and are displayed daily within our interactions with others.
However, such norms and expectations of ability, create hierarchies of superiority and inferiority that can have disastrous consequences for anybody considered to have a physical or mental impairment. We only have to look throughout history to see the dangers of taking such thoughts of 'normality' and 'deviancy' to an extreme. From the segregation of mental impairment or illness into residential institutions and the rise of the 'Eugenics' movement, both within the early twentieth century.
Another form of this extremism and one conducted at the 'micro' level of human interaction is violence. Violence is probably the most obvious and visible form of oppression. Disabled people live daily with the fear of random, unprovoked attacks on their person or property. These attacks do not necessarily need a motive stemming from negative 'attitudes', but may be 'behaviours' intended to humiliate, damage and in some cases, destroy the person.
There may be many reasons why violence is used against disabled people. Certainly, beliefs, opinions and values may play some role within such actions, but it is far too simplistic to say that holding negative attitudes towards disability is the sole cause. Not everybody holding negative attitudes towards race, sexuality, religion or gender is motivated to actually commit acts of violence, and there is no reason to believe why this should be any different concerning disability.
However, as we have seen with the killing of Solder Lee Rigby by Islamic extremists in London 2013 (which is thought to have provoked a huge surge of anti-Muslim 'hate crime') such horrific public events may indeed give some individuals an opportunity to act out their 'anger', and an excuse for others to act upon any negative beliefs and attitudes that they may hold. Similarly, negative political rhetoric and negative media reporting of 'disability benefit fraud' are also argued by many to have contributed to a rise in 'hate crime' committed towards people with a perceived physical disability.
Taken at a most basic level, we could argue that such actions are either motivated by temporary, transient 'anger' or by habitual, negative thoughts and beliefs about the social group in question. If we refer back to Allport, we could may find an opportunity to separate out the temporary and transitory emotions of 'Anger' and the habitual aggressive impulses, bitter feelings or accusatory thoughts known as 'Hate', as possible motivators of disability hate crime.
However, Allport (1954) arguably also gave us another useful tool in proposing a 'scale of prejudice', a tool for categorising 'prejudiced' behaviour that may be exhibited towards those considered to be 'out group' members, of which disabled people can be argued to be one such group.
* Antilocution. This is a form of 'hate language' or 'hate speech', arguably with the aim or effect of dehumanizing or demonising an individual or group. This includes jokes.
* Avoidance. Avoiding members of marginalized groups. Harm may not be intended, but is often committed through the acts of isolation and exclusion.
* Discrimination. Actively targeting marginalized individuals or groups and denying opportunities to resources such as jobs, housing or education.
* Physical Attack. Physical harm committed on members of marginalized individuals or groups, including violence and vandalism.
* Extermination. The attempt to massacre entire groups of people.
A study by Beadle-Brown et al (2014) recorded the types of experiences of victims with an intellectual disability. Arguably, we may be able to analyse this report even further by using many of the tools outlined above. These characteristics are:
As we can see, the list is rather long and depressing. However, by using the themes of Accusation, Exploitation, Incarceration and Entertainment we can now begin at least to categorize the majority of incidents (Table 1). Certainly, we may need a great deal of interpretation in order to place incidents into some sort of system that makes logical sense, while some incidents may also fit more than one category. But at least we can begin to structure our thinking, especially when considering the possible motivation underlying such incidents.
|Name Calling||Asked for Bank Cards/details||Told that they shouldn't be out or seen in public spaces||Sworn at/Threats|
|False Accusation||Theft||Held against their will||Butt of Jokes|
|Coercion||Refused access or exit||Jeers/Stares|
|Taking Photos||Having things thrown at them|
|Manipulation||Followed and Harassed|
|Home abused by Friends||Physical attacks and confrontation|
The majority of these incidents were perpetrated against those who had been identified with the 'condition' Asperger's - a condition that is said to produce various difficulties with social interaction, social communication and flexibility of thinking or imagination. In addition to these perceived difficulties, there may be also sensory, motor and organizational difficulties. The perpetrators themselves tended to be adults as well as children or teenagers, mainly boys but also girls, some were strangers to the victim but most where not, and some were also reported to be neighbours, friends and relatives.
The location of incidents covered many different places:
We could argue that many of the acts of 'entertainment' in the table can also be considered to be 'thrill seeking' behaviour. However, we could argue that some perpetrators may indeed be 'defending' their community from those who have traditionally been institutionalised and segregated from society. As we can see from the study, many of the incidents occurred in a variety of public places, within the community itself, on buses, in shops or in the workplace. Places that the intellectually disabled may have been excluded from in the past. However, false 'accusations' such as those of being a weirdo, a paedophile or a pervert are arguably not only simple crude 'entertainment' actions, but 'defensive' actions too. As well as possible excuses for any 'retaliatory' behaviour that may follow.
If we take Allport's 'scale of prejudice' and also applied that to the study above, we may be able to categorise a number of incidents (Table 2).
|Butt of Jokes||Refused access to shops, transport and pubs||Refused access to shops, transport and pubs||Violence|
|Being Sworn at||Coercion|
As we can see, many incidents can be closely fitted upon Allport's 'scales of prejudice', which becomes also a useful analytical tool. But what does all this actually tell us?
Table 1 and Table 2 are arguably useful for getting us to think about the possible motivation underlying abuse, harassment and violence committed against intellectual impairment.
Allport argued that 'anger' was transitory while 'hate' or 'hostility' was habitual. One off hate crimes may indeed be considered as simply opportunistic and transitory acts. But owehIf aggressive impulses, bitter feelings or accusatory thoughts become habitual, then we could argue that when hate crime itself becomes repetitive and habitual, we are not only dealing with prejudice, but perhaps 'hate' itself. Particularly, as 'hostility' and 'hate' mean exactly the same thing. Clearly, 'thrill-seeking' behaviour may be difficult to fit into either the categories of 'anger' or 'hate'. However, as Chakraborti and Garland (2009) point out:
"There is therefore more to these attacks than bored youths simply seeking "thrills", as they reveal the existence of negative attitudes and stereotypes about marginalised groups that somehow render their pain meaningless".
Perhaps we may still be able to fit in the concept of bored youths committing 'hate crimes' against disability, within a model that sees habitual negative attitudes, impulses and accusatory thoughts as the underlying causes of 'prejudice'. Particularly, if we also consider previous research and discourse that suggests that 'hate crime' may simply be more than a personal expression of individual prejudice or bigotry. Because prejudice may be so deeply (and historically) embedded within the institutional structures of society and within its procedural social, cultural norms or social representations, that it also reproduces entitlement or discrimination based upon a social hierarchy of 'difference' (Perry 2001).
We are all born and socialised into a dominant socio-economic system in the west that promotes employment as the 'norm', a hierarchical, organizational structure where every entity in the organization is subordinate to a single other entity. That concept is therefore only one step removed from the concept of a socio-hierarchical structure that exists outside of the world of employment, and one that arguably reproduces a similar degree of entitlement or discrimination. It's not difficult to imagine that anger, hostility or hate is generated at times towards those who are seen to be inferior to others upon that hierarchical ladder, particularly if some social groups are perceived to be getting more or less than their traditional entitlement.
This is a theme Perry (2001) takes up in her concept of 'doing difference', where hate crime against race, ethnicity, religion and sexuality is basically a hierarchical power display (or power battle) where the traditionally dominant are enforcing or trying to reinforce their dominant position over those perceived as being traditionally inferior.
In recent years, it's hard not to argue that there has been a number of improvements in the way the UK deals with disability. Firstly, disabled people are not institutionalised on masse like they were used to. Secondly, the widespread establishment of the 'social model of disability' recognises disability is actually caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person's impairment itself. This model suggests that barriers in society are therefore often created by the able-bodied, and when such barriers are removed, people with disabilities can indeed be independent and equal within society. Together with the Equality Act 2010 which makes it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of a mental or physical disability, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (an international human rights treaty), we can see that some improvements have indeed occurred.
However, Perry's model on 'doing difference' is arguably also a predictive model. Because any improvements for disabled people would not only be expected to cause a backlash of 'hate crime' when the traditionally dominant able-bodied perceive their historical 'privileges' as becoming increasingly eroded. But because as 'doing difference' also penetrates the structural and institutional fabric of society, we would also expect some kind of 'state' backlash to occur too.
And there is evidence of both within the UK. In September this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a study on crime conducted towards disabled people, a report based upon the annual Crime Survey for England and Wales. Despite a decrease in the incidence of overall crime overall, crime remains higher for disabled people compared with non-disabled people of the same age. And with hate crime perpetrated against disability estimated to be anywhere between 43,000 cases to 69,000 cases per year.
In March, a damning House of Lords Select Committee report concluded that the British Government has actually failed in its duty of care towards disabled people. This failure covered many years and many areas, but most shockingly, by the fairly recent introduction of tribunal fees and the withdrawal of access to legal aid that create barriers that effectively curtail disabled people's right to fight discrimination, particularly over employment. An area where Britain's disabled are highly likely to face discrimination over employment, as well as victimization, abuse, bullying, harassment and violence within the workplace.
In June, the UN's long awaited investigation into the human rights abuses of Britain's disabled concluded that the UK's government's 'austerity' policies had indeed breached its international human rights obligations towards disability. And in July, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also launched a blistering attack on British attitudes, prejudices and practices towards disability, arguing that thousands of disabled people are still being treated like 'second class citizens' within their own country. Denied access to the even the most basic things in life, including access to transport and housing, pubs, theatres, restaurants and sport or music events.
Whether these 'popular' induced or 'state' induced backlashes are underpinned by a temporary release of anger and frustration, or by a much deeper-rooted and habitual hostility or hate that permeates not just social interaction in general, but also state institutions, should certainly be open to further investigation and inquiry.
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Thomas, P. (2013) Hate crime or mate crime: Disablist hostility, contempt and ridicule, in Roulstone & Mason-Bish, H. (Eds). Disability, Hate Crime and Violence pp135-146. London: Routledge.
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