Disability and Hate: The “Invisible Crime” Plaguing Islington & Hackney
With London having experienced a 20% increase in hate crime towards disabled people of late, local communities in Hackney and Islington are facing increasing challenges to tackle one of the most underestimated and unnoticed forms of illegal activity. St John Street News deputy editor Valerio Esposito investigates…
The definition of disability hate crime is still very vague and its nature is not fully understood or empathized with. Most people are not familiar with this form of crime, which is deeply rooted in the climate of discrimination that disabled people are exposed to on a daily basis.
When asked about hate crimes, some people even fail to include disabled people among their potential targets. The victims themselves may struggle to recognize a hate crime as such when they are experiencing one, as a result of a general state of unawareness that has severe consequences for the community.
Some people spend their lives trying to convince themselves that their disability is not an obstacle. Yet disabled people are, on a daily basis, presented with barriers that do not come from their condition but from external, preventable factors.
The first impediments disabled people are presented with are the physical barriers they face when accessing public and private spaces that are not fit to accommodate their needs, the carelessness of people itself being a form of discrimination.
A recent survey by Choice in Hackney (see below) revealed that more than half of disabled people in Hackney feel they can’t live life to its fullest, for they face physical, financial and health barriers, with 46.67% of them suffering an increased fear of crime.
Katouche Goll, a 19-year-old student with cerebral palsy, was left in tears after being refused access to a club in Dalston last month:
“I was upset and frustrated, but not surprised. It was just a repeat of a formal discrimination that I’m used to by now,” she said.
“I kept on repeating that I would be able to navigate the venue. But they were trying to explain to me how my condition worked and convince me that I couldn’t. They assumed that I was stupid just because I’m disabled.”
“It’s a dangerous place that we’re in,” she added, “Because when you start perceiving and presenting someone as different or inferior to you, you pave to way to discriminatory behavior. It’s this initial mindset, apparently innocent, that leads to discrimination and eventually violence.”
The increase in disability hate crimes and incidents in the capital is proportional to the rest of the country, with a 41.3% rise in prosecutions for disability hate crime having occurred across England and Wales in the last year alone (see left).
According to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, disabled people are four times more likely to experience Hate Crime. On average, every working day a person appears in court for a crime against a disabled person. And half of the times these crimes involve violence.
Chris Cooper, Alternative Abilities Ambassador for Exposure, explained the situation: “The truth is that disabled people are easy targets. If a person is likely to commit a crime, disabled people are more likely to be the victims since they’re perceived as more vulnerable. Most of the time the perpetrators are people who may look nice, but they’re not.”
Evidence from the Commission’s report also showed that disabled people, on the other hand, are more likely to experience poverty, hate and social isolation than non-disabled people.
“As a disabled person myself, I live in a scary world where I’m dependent on welfare benefits,” Chris said. “Now that the government is cutting them people like me fear they might lose them and, for this reason, some people are committing suicide.”
Recent studies have additionally revealed that the life of disabled people is deeply affected by the fear of crime and the little support they receive from social bodies and public institutions results in a loss of trust and a diminished inclination to report these incidents.
Jimmy Telesford, Disability Hate Crime Advocate for CATCH in Hackney, expressed the concerns of some of his clients: “Most of the time they are worried they won’t be taken seriously by the police, who sometimes decide not to investigate a certain crime because they feel it’s not worth their time and resources.
“Other times people are unsure on whether they have been victims of hate incidents and prefer not to report them. They don’t have a point of comparison since disability hate crimes don’t make the news unless the person involved actually died in the incident.
“Finally, the police sometimes fail to classify a disability hate crime as such, filing it as a simple assault and making it feel like something they don’t take seriously”
This suggestion seems to be reinforced the Metropolitan Police Force’s monthly statistics (see below) presenting a record of hate crimes motivated by race, religion or sexual orientation rather than by disability.
This raises a question of whether the current level of ignorance on the matter is responsible for producing a climate of social injustice that is not being handled correctly by the institutions and the individuals.
A possible explanation is that when public bodies fail in educating people about these issues, they widen the spectrum of ignorance, indirectly encouraging a discriminatory attitude towards disabled people.
It’s quite common for disabled people to internalize and absorb this atmosphere of discrimination in a way that doesn’t allow them to perceive it as something anomalous and worth reporting.
On the other hand, it reinforces a perception of diversity that has a wider impact on the community and very often escalates to episodes of violence fostered by a sentiment of hate.
“The moment you consider people as inferior to you purely because they are different to you it makes that sort of behavior more viable. And they don’t treat people they consider as equal that way. If they did they would think twice before inflicting this kind of treatment on them,” Katouche said.
It is therefore perhaps important to stop seeing discrimination and hate incidents as two different things, and understand that they are part of a cause-effect mechanism. As Mr. Telesford pointed out, “The two things can’t be seen as separate. Hate crime is, in fact, the extreme expression of discrimination. And in a way violence is nothing but the physical manifestation of a discriminatory attitude.”
He concluded: “There’s a general perception that people out there are doing nothing to solve this problem. It’s just as if the problem was not there at all. That’s why it’s important to inform and educate the community, making it clear that unfortunately disability hate crime is a real problem and has now become part of everyday life.”
To learn more about disability hate crime, be sure to watch the BBC’s dedicated documentary here. If you’ve been affected by any of these issues or know anyone who has in the past, please get in touch and tell us your story on Facebook, Twitter or in the comments section below.