Learning disability and autism hate crime victim support

It’s estimated that 70,000 people a year are victims of disability hate crime, and that people with learning disabilities and/or autism are four times more likely to be victims. But, in 2018/19, only 8,256 disability hate crimes were reported by police and nearly half of people we asked said they didn’t report what happened.

We want to help you understand this type of hate crime better and how you can support victims. It’s time to make the criminal justice system fairer.

Communication tips

The victim will likely be in distress and if they have a learning disability and/or autism they might find it even harder to communicate with you, some people might not use words to communicate.

Make sure you speak clearly and concisely. Keep your voice calm and give them extra time to process.

  1. Tell them your name and that you are there to help them.
  2. Ask them their name and try to use it often, in a reassuring tone.
  3. Don’t touch them without permission.
  4. If they have been knocked to the ground, don’t try to lift them if there is any risk of injury to yourself or them. If you can, put something underneath them to preserve their warmth.
  5. Ask them if there is anybody they trust who you can call for them.
  6. Let them know what is happening and why. For example; “We’re waiting for the Police to come so they can help us.”

You might also find it helpful to talk about your surroundings – point out buildings and what the weather is like. General conversation can help calm the tension and help them build trust with you.

Building trust

Sometimes, victims with autism or a learning disability might find it difficult to communicate and engage with you.

There are steps you can take to help them and build up that crucial level of trust.

  • Talk to them in a quiet and comfortable environment where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Ask if they would like to talk alone or have a parent present.
  • Don’t embellish, be clear with what you’re saying and avoid using metaphors.
  • Use visual cues to help them understand what you’re saying and so they can communicate too.
  • Give them extra time to process what you’re saying, think about what they want to say and communicate that with you.
  • Let them communicate in a way that makes them feel comfortable, their parent or carer will understand this best.
  • Give them clear, concise questions to answer.
  • Write a clear, simple plan about what you will do to help them and what they need to do.
  • Be aware that challenging behaviour is their way of expressing frustration at their environment and not being able to communicate.
  • Be aware that meltdowns and shutdowns aren’t voluntary and they may make movements or noises to block the world out.
  • Give them time to calm down and don’t treat them as the perpetrator.
  • Ask them and talk to them regularly, not just about hate crime. Make sure they know they can trust you and can approach you to talk.

It is important that they feel comfortable talking with you. They might need somebody they trust with them.

We have written this page about hate crime for people with learning disabilities and/or autism, it can help you with those conversations.

If they meltdown or shutdown

When things get too much the body reacts to protect itself. This can be in the form of a meltdown (aggressive) or a shut down (withdrawn).

  • They may make noises or movements to block out the world.
  • They may lose the ability to speak.
  • They are not trying to get attention or be naughty.
  • They do not respond to punishments or offers of help.

How you can help:

  • Don’t ask lots of questions.
  • Let them safely shut out the world (e.g. going to a quiet area).
  • Allow them time to recover.

If they display behaviours of distress

Behaviours of distress are a way of expressing frustration at the environment and not being able to communicate.

Behaviours of distress can look like they are being violent. They do not intend to cause harm.

Remove anything that could cause harm, give them space and gently talk to them, offering reassurance.

Supporting people to make a report

We’ve worked with the National Police Chief’s Council to make a guide about how to spot and report a disability hate crime, and what happens when people do. Please share these far and wide – the more people who understand how to spot and report a hate crime, the more the police can help victims.

Share the free guide for parents and carers

The guide is for carers and supporters of victims of disability hate crime, but the information it provides can help anybody who is concerned about someone at risk of a hate crime.

It gives readers an understanding about what will happen when they report a hate crime and the rights of the victim.

Share the hate crime reporting website

The report-it website can give victims and their supporters more information about how to report a hate crime.

Clive’s story

In summer 2017, Clive who is a victim of hate crime presented his experiences to a crowd of people and how he moved forward. He’d like to share it with you.