The number of recorded disability hate crimes have surged by a third over the last year, according to shocking new statistics uncovered by the charity United Response.
Figures obtained through freedom of information laws, ahead of this year’s ‘National Hate Crime Awareness Week’, reveal that 32 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales who responded to a freedom of information request reported a 33% rise on recorded incidents over the last year compared to the previous year.
Offences included physical assaults, stalking, harassment and malicious communications. Disability hate crimes recorded by police as ‘violence against a person’ saw the largest increase, up 17% on the year before.
However, the true level of disability hate crime is likely to be higher than recorded, as 11 forces across England and Wales did not provide numbers and many crimes remain unreported.
According to United Response, West Yorkshire saw more hate crimes than any other region (536), while Gloucestershire and Humberside have seen the biggest percentage increases since 2016-17 (167% and 132%).
United Response is now working with West Yorkshire Police to hopefully bring these numbers down, by training staff and other organisations to help victims and recognise the signs of disability hate crime.
Joanne Silkstone, United Response hate crime lead, said: “It beggars belief that that there are people out there who are targeting some of society’s most vulnerable people and doing them harm.
“This is unacceptable and we all must do everything we can to empower those who suffer this type of appalling abuse and discrimination to speak out.
“Victims must know that they need not suffer in silence. With the right tools, we can help them to report these crimes to the police when they do experience hate crimes.”
The charity believes that many hate crimes are going unreported. People with Down’s Syndrome or autism “may not recognise the abuse they’ve experienced as a hate crime or may lack the confidence to report these crimes to the authorities”, the charity says.
United Response CEO Tim Cooper said: “Often this is a hidden and underreported crime. Victims can sometimes lack the confidence in coming forward and reporting their experiences to the authorities. Sometimes they don’t realise they have been a victim of hate crime.
“That is why it is crucial to equip people with disabilities with the knowledge they need to stand up to bullies and bigots.”
Amanda (not her real name) has a son with Down Syndrome who was the victim of disability hate crime in York.
She told United Response: “Once, I put my recycle bins at the front of the house which one of my neighbours clearly didn’t like. She started telling my son Alex (not his real name) to move them. She was quite nasty about it to both of us.
“It quickly spiralled into her entire family giving us both abuse and whenever he was home alone they were intimidating him, openly talking badly about me to upset him.
“Alex started ripping his clothes with the stress and anxiety, something he has done since he was little. I found enough ripped clothes to fill a black sack which was hidden behind his bed.
“He was losing his independence as he wanted me to be at home all the time for fear of them upsetting him. We had to call the police several times and she eventually received a police caution.
“Even after that, I had to contact the police again. This stopped her from doing anything further but her mother and her children continued the harassment. After nearly two years, we decided to move to get away from them.
“I suffer with anxiety, panic attacks and depression on and off and it made me extremely ill. I have never, ever come across someone who had disliked my son’s disability. She said she couldn’t understand why my other neighbours had him round.
“I had to ring all of Alex’s day services to explain what was happening which is distressing and they had to talk to him and keep an eye on him to stop him from ripping his clothes.
“I had to go to the doctors for help and speak to a counsellor. It still affects me. I now keep to myself and try not to engage with the new neighbours. I also keep the blinds down in the kitchen and try to go to the garage when nobody is outside.”
“Even recalling it all now, I feel sick and tearful,” she said.