Campaigners have warned that new figures showing a record increase in online disability hate crimes could be just the “tip of the iceberg”, as they called on government and social media companies to do more to protect disabled people online.
Figures obtained by the charity Leonard Cheshire show a 33% rise in the number of reported instances of online disability hate crimes between 2016/17 and 2017/18, increasing from 263 to 313.
However, the figures also show that some regions have an even larger issue. For example, Suffolk saw a rise in the number of reported incidents increase from two to twenty, while incidents in Norfolk jumped from four to twenty-three.
The charity said that while this surge in incidents could be explained by more disabled people coming forward to report hate and abuse, many more incidents remain unreported.
Neil Heslop, chief executive of Leonard Cheshire, said: “Police are increasingly recording online offences, but we know it remains an underreported area and that disabled people may have reservations about speaking out.
“We suspect many crimes remain under the radar, with survivors never getting support and perpetrators facing no consequences.
“These offences can have a devastating impact on the lives of survivors. We know from our work with disabled people that hate crime causes long-term fear, anxiety and in some cases, isolation.”
Terence McCorry, Leonard Cheshire disability hate crime advocate, added: “They may not think the incident is worth bothering police for or they may have had a bad experience reporting issues in the past.
“They may lack confidence in speaking out and traditional reporting methods, such as the phone, may not be accessible for their disability.”
The charity is calling on government and social media companies to work alongside disabled people to develop an effective strategy to combat online hate and abuse.
A Home Office spokesperson said the government is “committed to tackling hate crime in all of its forms”, and this includes “abuse targeting disabled people”.
They continued: “The government works closely with stakeholders to tackle disability hate crime, including funding community-led projects, developing CPS guidance for disabled victims and witnesses as well as our public awareness campaign which included specific material making clear that disability hate crime is unacceptable.
“Last month the Government published the Online Harms White Paper, which will introduce a statutory duty of care to make companies take responsibility for the safety of their users, enforced by an independent regulator. This will include hate crime content.”