22 July, 2014

Hate crimes against people with disabilities

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Category: Disabilities, hate crime, Opinion
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Disability_symbols_16Written by Jemma from UK.

On the 22nd July, as we remember the victims of the Oslo attacks and Utøya massacre in 2011, our thoughts will wander to the victims of hate crime that occur each and every day, in every European country. Whilst this will not detract from the importance of this anniversary, it will bring to the forefront of our minds the wider impact of such an event. For a European Day for the Victims of Hate Crime will not just be for the victims and their member groups that are widely and often discussed, but also for those that do not receive the same attention, or do not report their victimisation. Hate crimes are severely underreported and disability hate crime in particular, is one such example of an area of victimisation that does not, at present, have a European platform of recognition, awareness and understanding.

Compared to racial and religiously motivated hate crime, disability hate crime is a relatively new concept in the world of academia and policy making, with only 14 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe recording this in their hate crime statistics. Furthermore, much of the literature and campaigns surrounding hate crime are only brief in their discussions on disability as a motivating factor, if indeed they mention disability at all. However, the impact on victims of disability hate crime can be just as damaging, if not more so, than other victims of hate crime and should be recognised on this European Day.

Whilst this blog will only provide a very brief insight into the victimisation of people with disabilities, it will highlight some of the key issues that surround this problem. It can be argued that the societal attitude towards disability is, partly, to blame for this damaging impact. To start, the use of a negative prefix (“dis”) suggests that disability, whether that be a physical or learning disability, is a negative thing. As a result, this labelling of individuals places the focus on their perceived limitations and inabilities, instead of their abilities and strengths. This process separates such individuals from the ‘able’ society and can lead to law enforcement agencies, and those from related sectors, viewing disability as a hindrance to the effective gathering of information, or evidence. There is a lack of understanding and knowledge surrounding disability that also presents an issue of poor recognition of an individual’s disability, particularly a learning disability. As a result, the service that the individual receives from an organisation may not be appropriate, or they may not even receive a particular service. Such practices can dissuade a victim of disability hate crime to report their victimisation, reducing their trust and confidence in the criminal justice agencies. “No-one will believe me” or “No-one will be able to help me” are common perceptions of people with disabilities, often leading to individuals accepting their victimisation as everyday life. As with other forms of hate crime, motivations behind the victimisation are due to one’s identity, and in this case disability, so are therefore likely to occur repeatedly. In some cases, this can cause the individual to become reclusive, withdrawn and change their daily routine in order to avoid further victimisation. In essence, a marginalised group is already on the receiving end of further discrimination and a lack of focus and attention on this area from campaign groups, literature and policy makers only furthers this negative feeling.

The identified problems of negative perceptions of the police, intimidation from the perpetrators and the tendency to accept the victimisation as part of everyday life are no doubt shared by other victims of hate crime, yet specific discussions on disability hate crime across Europe are limited.  In the UK, the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francecca Hardwick in 2007 increased the political and academic attention on this issue. Yet it should not take further (avoidable) deaths of other individuals, in other countries, for this to be recognised on the European platform.

Remember, that the victim of a hate crime is not just the direct victim, but also the group and wider society that the individual is a part of. So when we think about the attack on human rights and equality that the events of 22 July 2011 had, we must think about the impact that disability hate crime has on its victims. Although we may not see it and we may not hear it, it is happening and it is a regular occurrence for many people with disabilities. The first step in taking action is to recognise the problem to start with, and a European Day for Victims of Hate Crime would help, in part, to do just that.

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