The United Kingdom has had a tumultuous couple of years what with the referendum, a change in government, an election and all the fallout from the Brexit negotiations.
Regardless of your political affiliation or which side of the Brexit fence you came down on it’s hard not to have seen in the news that hate crime has skyrocketed.
Whether it’s the result of scapegoating, buried prejudices or misdirected frustrations at what seems like an increasingly troubled world, this simply cannot continue.
Hate crime against individuals with learning disabilities is sadly nothing new but only became recognised as a crime in 2003 although hasn’t seriously been enforced since 2007.
It is a sad reality that individuals with learning disabilities have been target for criminal behaviour for some time.
According to Mencap’s ‘Living in Fear’ survey, 88% of respondents with learning disabilities had experienced bullying or harassment. Of those 66% admitted that it happened on a regular basis. Damningly and 32% said that they experienced bullying daily.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales states that based on current figures hate crimes against individuals with learning disabilities reached 124,000 incidents.
Despite this and the fact that all forms of hate crime are treated equally under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, there seems to be something of a justice gap when it comes to individuals with disabilities. Just 3% of crimes get reported and only 1% results in a conviction.
Although the victims of hate crime, regardless of its motive, have to come forward to report it, this doesn’t change the fact that there is a pervasive and growing trend of bullying, harassment.
So what can we do in order to prevent hate crimes against individuals with learning disabilities?
Like it or not, humans have a regrettable habit of fearing what they don’t understand. Educating from an early age to understand differences are positive is the first and most critical step.
None of us are born prejudiced; we adopt the views of our role models and friendship circle so it’s important to be a positive voice for change.
It falls to us all to question what we are told and what we read and where we hear outmoded or prejudiced views to challenge them.
In our experience few prejudices stand up to scrutiny and crumble beneath the weight of well-reasoned debate. However, because these prejudices often come from a place of fear it’s not often that such a discussion occurs.
All we can do is try to open closed minds.
Although never put yourself at risk. Confronting someone who is aggressive or potentially violent doesn’t just put the person with disabilities at risk but you too.
At most attempt to deescalate the situation.
If you witness someone with learning disabilities (or anyone) being mistreated then you must report it to the authorities.
Perpetrators of crimes –regardless of what that crime is – rely on the silence of others. It also emboldens criminals as if they have gotten away with it once; they are more likely to do it again. There is also the matter of escalation.
In instances of abuse it always starts small – abusive language for example – but quickly escalates to physical abuse, theft and other crimes because the individual is getting away with it.
Thankfully regulations and processes exist to safeguard individuals in supported environments so any abuse is quickly identified and dealt with.
However, in the public domain that is far harder to spot. If in doubt report your concerns anyway. At the very least a visit from the Police might be enough to scare someone into normalising their behaviour.
Again, it’s very important not to put yourself in any danger. Plus you don’t want to get brought up on charges for breaking someone’s nose in the ensuing fracas.
The impact of hate crimes can be far reaching. In 2007 Fiona Pilkington took her own life and that of her daughter, Francesca Hardwick having endured 7 years of constant torment from local young people.
Although an extreme example, it highlights the trauma harassment and bullying can inflict on both the individual and their families, especially if they are living through it on a daily basis.
The Pilkington/Hardwick case was a tragedy and represented failures on the part of the local authority and the police to enforce the law. However it also demonstrates the value and importance of support services that can help people cope with their experiences, advocate for them when dealing with authorities.
Volunteering with Mencap, Mind or Scope are all great places to start if you want to support individuals with learning disabilities.
Encompass Dorset works with individuals with enduring mental health issues and learning disabilities in both supported accommodation and in their own homes and are open to people looking for volunteer opportunities.