As a disabled woman, I have suffered various forms of abuse since my spinal injury in 2003. From careless and cruel micro-aggressions on social media – ‘what IS wrong with your smashed up face, revolting body etc?’ – to more threatening acts, including threats of sexual violence.
To give one perhaps extreme yet very honest example, I suffered harassment from a stalker for a number of years. The abuse started online, the content of messages started out as unkind and disturbing – threatening to remove me from my chair to be ‘romantic’ with me – but soon became terrifying and disturbing, telling me he would come to my home, run me over with his car or ‘skin’ me.
While the abuse directed towards me may seem unusual, unfortunately statistics show that I am not alone. Disability hate crime is on the rise.
Leonard Cheshire – a charity that helps reduce the barriers to independent living, learning, and working for people with disabilities – disclosed last week that overall recorded disability hate crime is up by 22%, from 4,111 crimes in 2017/18 to 5,015 in 2018/19. More than half (51%) of these cases in 2018/19 involved violence and almost all (92%) of forces reported increasing levels of violence against disabled people.
Violent hate crimes against disabled people were significantly up across forces in England and Wales, and this could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Whether being trolled on the internet or facing verbal or physical threats whilst trying to go about our daily lives, hate crime takes many forms and while we may presume we live in a comparatively inclusive and tolerant society these figures indicate there is a sad and desperate ignorance in our country.
I bet if you speak to any disabled person in the UK they will be able to give you an example of a time when they have been made to feel uncomfortable at best or at worse, been mocked or insulted. Perhaps they have even had to remove themselves entirely from a situation or maybe they suffered harassment in crippling silence. It’s happening all around us, especially online where the hatred unchecked proliferates.
Leonard Cheshire also warns that with many survivors feeling unable to come forward, many more hate crimes remain unreported.
So what do we do?
In my case, I called the police and thankfully, they listened. I confess I did stress repeatedly that given my situation – a woman who can’t run away from danger or fight back – I felt vulnerable, which, if you know me, pained me to say. I don’t want to feel vulnerable but the truth is, when it comes to hate crime, we can all be victims no matter how strong we believe ourselves to be.
It is time to fight back, but without putting ourselves in further danger. Because the responsibility doesn’t just lie with us – the disabled people who have suffered the abuse – it requires a collective effort to look after one another and protect each other from harm. If you have suffered, I implore you to reach out to family, friends and charities to help. It’s imperative we report the crimes being committed against us, no matter how big or small.
And if you see abuse happening don’t just stand by and watch, check to see if the person in question needs support.
There is so much work to be done to change attitudes towards disabled people and there is no quick overnight solution, but whilst we are all working hard to change perceptions we must do what we can to protect one another from harm.
Please spread the word and encourage victims of disability hate crime to report it to their friends or family or call the police if it is safe to do so. You can also report it online.
Learn more about their work and donate to Leonard Cheshire here.