By Kate Green MP - 23rd November 2011
Kate Green MP says there needs to be clear leadership to send a message that disability hate crime is taken seriously, that all necessary steps will be taken to prevent it, and to tackle it when it occurs.
"Treated as a punchbag... a savage attack, cruel, brutal and vicious, and on a very vulnerable man."
"I was getting National Front, swastikas... as graffiti on my property."
"...they’d done it for a laugh."
Disability hate crime – crime committed against a disabled person that is motivated or aggravated by his or her disability – is one of the nastiest forms of crime. The quotes above – the first from a trial judge, the others from two disabled people – are reported by writer Katharine Quarmby in her book ‘Scapegoat: Why we are failing disabled people’, published by Portobello Books earlier this year. They starkly reveal both the viciousness and the casualness of such harassment and attacks. Yet, in the words of a recent EHRC report, such abuse and criminal behaviour are all too often ‘hidden in plain sight’.
1.9 million disabled people were victims of crime in 2009/10. We don’t know how many were victims of harassment, but we do know disabled people are more likely to be victims of crime than non-disabled people. There’s also some evidence to suggest they’re more likely to be victims of anti-social behaviour.
Serious violence against disabled people shocks and appals us when we hear of it. But violent crime is all too often the culmination of a protracted period of harassment, abuse and low-level criminal behaviour, which has escalated over time. Now the EHRC, and organisations like RADAR and the Disability Hate Crime Network, are demanding concerted action by public authorities to intervene early and effectively, to nip such behaviour in the bud.
This week, we'll be debating in Parliament the measures the government could take. The signs are good that ministers will listen: during the Commons stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill, the Lord Chancellor responded positively to my amendment to align the tariff for murder where the victim’s disability is a motivating or aggravating feature with cases where race, religion or sexuality is a factor in the crime. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now, calls for further measures enjoy widespread, cross-party support.
Public authorities have much more to do to deliver effective support for disabled victims of crime, and to tackle offending behaviour. We need better data collection, earlier identification of patterns of abuse, and information for victims about how to report crime. We need better training for professionals, more research into what drives the behaviours of perpetrators, and an understanding of the interventions that change behaviour.
Most importantly, we need a sea-change in attitudes. Too often disabled people simply accept harassment and abuse as an inevitable part of their lives. Often they’re reluctant to report it, fearing they will not be believed. Too often professionals focus on the behaviour of the disabled person, expecting them to curtail their own activities to avoid coming into contact with the abuser rather than challenging and dealing with the perpetrator’s behaviour. And too often, professionals lack confidence in dealing with disabled people, and fail to take the action they should.
There needs to be clear leadership to send a message that disability hate crime is taken seriously, that all necessary steps will be taken to prevent it, and to tackle it when it occurs. In her response to the debate this week, the minister has the opportunity to get that message across. But words won’t be enough: a demonstration of action is needed now.
Kate Greenis shadow minister for women and equalities. She has been Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston since 2010.
Member Response: Voice UK
Voice UK welcomes this debate and the opportunity for Parliament to have a better understanding of the pernicious and damaging nature of hate crime.
Voice UK has campaigned for many years to highlight the inequalities in the criminal justice system for people with learning disabilities. In recent times we have seen progress, but as the EHRC inquiry report shows this is still the beginning of a long journey towards equality.
We are delighted that Katharine Quarmby is speaking at our next meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on 29th November at 3.30 pm in The House of Commons, Committee Room 6.