Hate crimes against disabled people rose in West Yorkshire last year – with more than two reported each day on average.
Figures gathered ahead of Hate Crime Awareness Week by leading disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response show face-to-face hate crime still plagued many disabled people’s lives during lockdown, but online hate was also on the rise.
Few crimes lead to charges being brought, and the charities said many disabled people won’t report incidents, meaning numbers are likely to be even higher.
In West Yorkshire , 935 disability hate crimes were reported in 2020/21, up from 870 in 2019/20.
Of these, 485 were violent crimes – such as assaults and crimes involving weapons – up from 447 a year before.
There was also a rise in the number of online hate crimes reported to West Yorkshire Police – up from 74 to 87 in 2020/21.
Worryingly, the already low number of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) referrals or charges following a reported disability-related hate crime in the area dropped from eight in 2019/20 to seven in 2020/21.
Across England and Wales, 9,252 disability hate crimes were recorded in 2020/21, according to Freedom of Information releases by police forces – a small increase from 9,188 reported in 2019/20.
However, online disability hate crime soared by more than 50% – from 647 to 981 reports.
This latest police data shows a huge spike during a period when much of the population was forced to stay at home during national and regional lockdowns.
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The charities who gathered the data conducted in-depth consultations with a range of disabled people to find out more about individual experiences of disability hate crime.
Abi*, from Yorkshire said: “I had almost 50,000 followers on a social media platform when I was targeted by trolls that set up hate pages. The abuse was motivated by the fact that I have autism and am a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“They revealed my real name and where I lived. The social media platform just told me to make my account private but took no action to identify the trolls or remove their hateful content. The police also just told me to unlink or deactivate my social profiles.”
Almost half of the disability hate crimes reported nationally last year were violent crimes such as assaults or ones involving weapons (4,101 or 44%).
Sandra from Wales told the charities: “I fell outside my flat and was knocked unconscious. An older man, that I knew, came to my aid but when the paramedic came, they found him fondling me.
“He told the police something along the lines of ‘she’s disabled, who cares’, and ‘it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to her’. Even after this incident, he kept bothering me with verbal intimidation and abuse, with his daughter getting involved and threatening to ‘beat me up’.”
Just 1% of cases – 104 last year – were referred to the CPS or charged.
Cassie from London told the charities: “Disability hate crime is uniquely isolating. When a woman pushed me off a ramp and out of my wheelchair I had no idea what to do. I barely realised my experience was a disability hate crime, and when I did I had no idea where to turn to for support, if it was worth reporting to the police, and how the people in my life would react when I told them”.
Leonard Cheshire and United Response said many disabled people they spoke to said they wouldn’t report their hate crime to the police, so their findings are likely to scarcely scratch the surface of the true scale of these horrific incidents.
The charities said: “The stories we’ve heard suggest many police officers do not have a good understanding of disability. So we’re calling for a specialist disability liaison officer in every police force. We want the government to make disability hate crime easier to report too. We hope the upcoming Home Office Hate Crime Strategy will address just this.
“We also heard about the awful, long-term impact these crimes can have on individuals; leaving them isolated and frightened to leave their home. Clearly there needs to be disability specific support for victims.
“The government has a role to play in preventing hate crimes altogether. One of the most important steps in tackling hate crime is creating a more accepting society where differences are tolerated. The government’s National Disability Strategy promised a disability awareness raising campaign. That should be an opportunity to educate everyone, including young people and those in school, about disability hate crime.”
In the National Disability Strategy, the Government committed to publishing a new cross-government strategy to tackle the crime and disorder that undermines the quality of life for everyone, including disability hate crime
As part of that, the Home Office has committed to work with disabled people and other disability stakeholders.
The Law Commission’s recommendations from its comprehensive review of hate crime laws are also due later this year.
Alongside that the CPS will bring together a panel consisting of disabled people’s organisations, academics, partner agencies from government and the police, to advise on further improvements covering support to prosecutors and the Policy Statement on Disability Hate Crime and Other Crimes against Disabled People.
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