Position statement: hate crime towards people with learning disabilities and autism

Hate crime robs people of their confidence, their independence and, sometimes, their lives.

As a support provider working with 3500 people with learning disabilities and autism, Dimensions is frequently on the front line of hate crime.

For our staff, the people we support and their families, hate crime is physically and emotionally destructive. This policy position sets out the changes Dimensions believes must be made, if we are to seriously challenge learning disability and autism hate crime.

1.   What is learning disability hate crime?

Learning disability and autism hate crime is any offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person’s learning disability, autism or perceived disability and autism.

This definition is intended to encompass crime where an individual is taken advantage of physically or financially due to their learning disability or autism, such as ‘mate crime.’

For that reason, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is adopting the term ‘crime against disabled people’ in preference to ‘hate crime.’ (Whilst this term removes the fervour of “hate”, it does focus more on the disabled victim, consequently Dimensions supports this change.)

2.   We believe:

2.1 Government statistics do not reflect the reality of learning disability and autism hate crime

The most recent Home Office statistics show a 44% year on year increase in hate crime. Dimensions thinks this may actually be good news, showing that hate crime is increasingly being reported. 3,629 disability hate crimes were recorded by the police in 2015/16.

In contrast the National Crime Survey estimates a true figure of 70,000 disability related hate crimes – a figure which reveals just how few people report offences.

Dimensions welcomes the reported increase because it means more victims are coming forward. For too long hate crimes were left to go unchallenged. We may feel that society is now more likely to challenge prejudice, but the figures show that this is not a time to be complacent.

Police data does not discriminate between crime against people with learning disabilities or autism and other disabilities.  Our research shows that 73% of people with learning disabilities and autism have experienced hate crime.

People with learning disabilities and autism are a specific target for crime, and in future data must be able to:

Distinguish between people with learning disabilities or autism, and others

Identify patterns in crime that particularly apply to this group

2.2 All disability hate crime is serious

You might think that name calling at the bus stop is not, in itself, the most serious offence. But what about the mother and daughter who took their own lives due to continuous bullying? The learning disabled man murdered by a man who had befriended him? The high proportion of people with learning disabilities or autism who will not leave the house through fear?

It is widely acknowledged that hate crime escalates quickly, often having tragic consequences for the targeted individual.  Dimensions believes tackling all degrees of hate crime will have the effect of reducing more serious offences and outcomes and any act of abuse or hate should be reported.

2.3 Hate begins at a young age

Children have always been bullied for being different. The seeds of hate are sown at an early age at home and in the classroom. It is particularly important to tackle this through effective primary and secondary school education that helps children celebrate, not scorn, difference.

2.4 Learning disability and autism hate crime is under reported

48% of victims we spoke to told us  they did not report the hate crime.  People with learning disabilities and autism confront multiple barriers when it comes to reporting a crime.

Society tells people with learning disabilities or autism to ‘just ignore’ name calling and deliberate exclusion from social circles.  This means that they often have a high bar for unacceptable behaviour. Some might be unaware that a crime has taken place and their disability makes them the particular targets of hostility from physical and financial predators.

Many don’t have the language to name and report crime, particularly including the signs and symbols to talk about sexual abuse. Many learning disabled or autistic people are afraid of the unknown – and police stations can be intimidating places.

Few police officers are trained to communicate appropriately with a person with learning disabilities or autism and individuals with a learning disability or autism may be scared of not being listened to, not being believed, of being ignored or ridiculed. For many, after all, that is a substantial part of their life experience.

Many of these issues are clearly illustrated in Laura Crane and Katie Maras’ research,  Experiences of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Policing in England and Wales: Surveying Police and the Autism Community.

Police training, reporting procedures, and station environments must be invested in accordingly.

Excellent innovations such as 3rd party reporting centres (such as Citizens Advice Bureau or the local People First office) need to be more widely promoted; few people are aware of them.

For all these reasons, trusted people – whether family, friends, paid support or others – have a critical role to play. But for professional and family carers alike it can be enormously difficult to spot the signs of crime, to talk about it, deal with the consequences and to report it appropriately. A freely available national training and support programme would be a good start.

2.5 Learning disability and autism hate crime is under prosecuted.

All hate crime – whether on the grounds of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation – should be treated equally under the law.

But section 146 – the freedom for a judge to double a sentence if motivated by hate – has never been invoked for a learning disability or autism hate crime. There is no effective approach to investigating disability hate crime that stands up in court.

Equally worryingly, when the CPS investigated why cases involving learning disabled or autistic victims rarely get to court, they found that the reliability and credibility of the victim was often an issue.

It is unacceptable in a modern democracy that a person’s learning disability or autism prevents them from getting justice. Investigation protocols, including training of police and other caseworkers, in situations where there is a learning disabled or autistic victim must be urgently reviewed.

An education system that fails to give people with learning disabilities the language skills needed to be a credible witness is a further underlying problem.

2.6 Government must invest in change

The police and CPS have done a lot of work to help tackle disability hate crime, including awareness and attitude change programmes in schools, public workshops, more accessible police stations and the True Vision project.

Disability hate crime had dropped off the radar in recent years, but is receiving increasing attention again. Dimensions welcomes this renewed focus and believes investment from government in the above initiatives, and more, is necessary to raise awareness and change attitudes.

3.   To make things better, we advocate:

3.1 Separation of disability hate statistics into learning disability / autism, and other disabilities

3.2 Change in the law to make disability hate a crime online

3.3 The Department of Education to adapt resources to better support all primary and secondary schools with positive messages around difference.

3.4  Manufacturers to incorporate greater learning disability sensitivity into toys, games and other children’s entertainment.

3.5  The Department of Health to develop simple guidance to help families and support workers identify and manage cases of hate crime.

3.6 The Crown Prosecution Service to improve investigation protocols within the criminal justice system in situations where there is a learning disabled victim.

3.7 The Home Office to improve resources and training for police officers and others to help them when receiving a report of hate crime from a person with a learning disability or autism, including self-advocates to provide specialist victim support.

3.8 Evaluation of the effectiveness of new coercive behaviour legislation on people with learning disabilities or autism, leading to specific change recommendations and/or a green paper recommendation on stronger legislation to protect vulnerable from mate crime.

4.   What we’re doing about learning disability and autism hate crime

Dimensions supports people with learning disabilities to learn strategies for avoiding and dealing with situations where they may be threatened by hate crime. When someone we support is affected by hate crime, we work with the appropriate authorities to protect the person.

Working with the CPS and other experts, we will be developing training for our staff, family members and people we support to reduce their own vulnerability to hate crime, to identify and manage it.

We are currently helping the CPS to review its approach to learning disability and autism hate crime, through delivery of a set of workshops and facilitated conversations. We have responded to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into hate crime, with recommendations to government.

Through #ImWithSam we will campaign for change with our 16 campaign partners.

We will engage government, the public and private sector to raise awareness of learning disability and autism hate crime and we will work to see changes in training, resourcing and guidance so that there is a zero tolerance policy towards learning disability and autism hate crime.

5.   How you can help

This policy is a draft. We want to hear from you. What’s your story? How do you recommend improving things? Get in touch hatecrime@dimensions-uk.org

6.   Have you been affected by hate crime?

Hate crimes and incidents hurt; they can be confusing and frightening. By reporting them when they happen to you, you may be able to prevent these incidents from happening to someone else. You will also help the police understand the extent of hate crime in your local area so they can better respond to it.

Reporting makes a difference – to you, your friends, and your life. In an emergency, call 999. You can also phone your local police, or report it online. Or you can download an easyread reporting form.

Agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Stop Hate UK can report it for you, if you tell them. If you have a support worker, tell them. They will support you to report it.

6.1  What about online material?

Most hateful or violent website content is not illegal but you can still take the steps below to try to get it removed. And remember, Dimensions has an easyread guide to Staying safe on the internet.

Report it to the website administrator – use the “contact us” button on the website

Report it to the hosting company – you can find them on the ‘Who is hosting this?’ website.

Report it to the police