I am a member of the public. What can I do to help someone?

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. If you see someone in distress, there are some steps you can take to help.

A hate crime is any crime where somebody is targeted because of their disability.

If you are witness to a crime, you need to put your safety first. Don’t physically intervene if there’s a risk you will be hurt.

Step 1 – call the police

If it’s an emergency call 999 – tell the call handler to let the police know that this victim might have a learning disability and/or autism so might respond differently and need alternative forms of communication.

If it’s a non-emergency call 101 – report the incident so the police can keep accurate records for the area.

Step 2 – judge when to step in

Your safety is a priority so make sure you stay alert and safe.

If there is a risk you will be hurt, don’t physically intervene. This is when you should let the police handle it.

If you’ve judged that there isn’t a risk you might be able to defuse the situation by talking to the victim. This will not only give the victim support, but may also deter the perpetrator from continuing.

If it is safe to do so, call the police before intervening. The call handler may advise you to not do anything.

Step 3 – support the victim

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 grount, 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.

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 challenging behaviour

Challenging behaviour is a way of expressing frustration at the environment and not being able to communicate.

Challenging behaviour can look like they are being violent.

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

Step 4 – talking to the police

The police need to understand that the victim has a learning disability and/or autism, and might communicate differently.

Advise that in the event of challenging behaviour, meltdown or shutdown they give them time to calm down and don’t physically restrain them or treat them as the perpetrator.

Ask police to:

If you are asked to report the crime, make sure you put everything that you remember about the incident in writing.

Step 5 – look after yourself

The victim might trust you or they might not trust you.

If they trust you, they might want you to go to the police station with them. If you aren’t comfortable doing this you don’t have to.

Calmly tell them that this police officer will go with them to the station and they will look after them. Remind them that they can trust the police and to think about someone the police can call to come and meet them.

If they don’t trust you, calmly tell them that this police officer will take them to the police station and will look after them. Remind them that they can trust the police and to think about someone the police can call to come and meet them.

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