Young disabled stay silent over hate crimes

Two in three physically or verbally abused, while 80 per cent lack faith in police to act

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The Independent Online

Young disabled people are failing to report hate crimes to the police because they fear they will not be taken seriously.

Nearly two in three young disabled people say they have been victims of disability hate crimes, such as being verbally or physically abused or suffering threatening behaviour, a survey by the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign found. The research, by the campaign's Trailblazers, a 400-strong group of disabled 18-to-30-year-olds, raises concerns that nationally hundreds of attacks on disabled people are going unreported.

Only four out of 10 victims of disability hate crimes reported the incident to the authorities, the survey found.

Reported disability hate crimes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been increasing, rising by 20 per cent between 2009 and 2010, from 1,294 to 1,569 incidents.

The group's new report, Under Investigation, found that up to 80 per cent of young disabled people believe that the police do not take disability hate crimes seriously enough. The charity is now urging police authorities to review their handling of disability-motivated hate crime. Over the past year, the UK's leading disability charities have voiced increasing concern over the escalation of disability-motivated hate crime. Today the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, and the Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, Liz Sayce, will launch guidance on tackling disability hate crime.

The Trailblazers' survey reveals that 62 per cent of young disabled people have been taunted or verbally abused because they are disabled

Meanwhile, eight out of 10 young disabled people who completed the survey think the police do not take disability hate crime seriously enough.

Young disabled people reported their reluctance to report incidents of verbal abuse, spitting and confrontational behaviour, due to the belief that their local police force would fail to take action or that the incident was not "significant enough" to warrant police time.

The charity is now calling for a nationwide initiative between forces to crack down on disability-motivated crime by building links with local disabled groups, providing alternative ways for reporting abuse, and reviewing approaches to recording and tackling incidents.

Bobby Ancil, Project Manager of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign Trailblazers, said: "It's disturbing that in 2012 young disabled people are still facing these kinds of offences.

"Many of those who tell us about incidents of unprovoked abuse and threatening behaviour have no idea that they have been victims of a 'hate crime' in the eyes of the law.

"People feel that attacks have to be sustained and physical for the police to take them seriously, and that sadly, day to day intimidation and verbal abuse must just be tolerated."

Case study: 'I often faced such aggression'

Becky Oughton, 35, from Lancaster, has limb-girdle muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. She was violently attacked in a nightclub

She said: "I was attacked a while ago and decided not to report it to police as I had no faith they would do anything about it. One evening, I was approached by a stranger who claimed to know me. She and her friends encircled me.

"She started claiming loudly that she had been to school with me and that I wasn't disabled then. Aside from this being utterly untrue, like most muscle-wasting conditions, mine is progressive – I could walk as a teenager but my disability is getting worse the older I get. She lunged at me and grabbed my hair, and tried to pull me out of my wheelchair by it.

"At the time, I didn't think there was any point in reporting it. I faced this kind of aggression so regularly that it didn't seem to be worth bringing it up. However, Lancashire Police has done a lot of outreach work since then. I'm now confident that the next time it happens, people in authority will take it seriously. If the police don't tolerate disability-motivated abuse, then nor do you."