Why are disability hate crimes so under reported?

This week is National Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016. It is very timely as only a few weeks ago Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Ccommissioner, reported a "horrible spike" in largely race hate offences after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Despite the decrease in reportings after this sharp rise in June and July, it had still not returned to pre-referendum levels. At the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, we want to draw attention to disability hate crime, a crime that is very much under-reported.

The Crime Survey of England and Wales of 2012/13 to 2014/15 found that disability hate crime made up just under a third of all hate crime monitored strands. It was the second-highest form of hate crime reported after race. Yet in 2014/15, it represented only 5% of police recorded hate crimes as compared with the other four monitored strands in which 82% were race hate crimes, 11% sexual orientation hate crimes, 6% religion hate crimes and 1% transgender hate crimes.

These statistics show a significant discrepancy between the two surveys, and as a result, disability hate crime is one of the Home Office’s key areas to tackle in the next four years as mentioned in their new action plan to tackle hate crime.

Why are disability hate crimes so under-reported?

I attended the Combating Hate Crime Conference a few months ago and one of the speakers said a possible cause is that people with disabilities face victimisation and abuse on such a regular basis that it becomes the norm. This is also what people with learning disabilities have told me, along with the need for support to report it – if people don’t get support in most cases it’s not reported, especially if they have communication difficulties.

Many people have experienced a history of not being believed or understood, so feel it’s not worth reporting such a crime. Through our work on hate crime at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, we have heard stories where people do not realise that they are victims of hate crime, and in particular, mate crime (people who 'make friends' with someone with the aim of taking advantage of them).

Members of our hate crime project reference group with Crown Prosecution Service Chief Executive Nick Folland

Members of our hate crime project reference group told us about 'friends' and neighbours who have moved in rent free with them, made  derogatory comments and borrowed money, never to be reimbursed. It is only when people have space to discuss these issues do they realise they have been a victim of hate crime.

It is not only the Home Office that want to do something about disability hate crime. In September we were visited by the Chief Executive of the Crown Prosecution Service, Nick Folland, and members of the hate crime stakeholder team, including Mick Conboy, hate crime stakeholder manager. They wanted to speak directly to people with learning disabilities to hear of their experiences and to find out more about our current work on hate crime. Members of our project reference group, along with other self-advocates from East Sussex and Rotherham had the opportunity to tell people in the Crown Prosecution Service  about the nature and impact of disability hate crimes.

More needs to be done

The Crown Prosecution Service acknowledge there is much more needed to be done to support people with learning disabilities who have been victims of hate crime. They want to keep in touch with the reference group and continue to learn from them because they realise they need to understand more about the experiences of people with learning disabilities in order to address those barriers around reporting and supporting victims going through the criminal justice process.

The members of our reference group felt they had been listened to in a meaningful way and a few days after the meeting I received an email from one of them to say "it was the best meeting I’ve been to all year," because it was the first time he had been given the chance to speak to people who really can influence future policy and practice. We look forward to continuing this relationship with them and having some influence to improve processes.

Whist there is some way to go to improve the reporting of disability hate crime, we do know that there is some fantastic work going on out there. Earlier this year we hosted an online survey to find out what are the most commonly used disability hate crime schemes across the UK and what factors made them work well.

We received a great response and in the next year the project reference group will speak to and visit a number of these schemes across the UK to find out what are the most effective ones so that local areas can use their resources in the best way possible. Our aim is to launch the findings highlighting the important factors behind running a successful hate crime project late next year.