Continuing to raise our voices against hate

According to recent Home Office figures, 8% of recorded hate crimes are disability hate crimes. I believe the actual number of this sort of hate crime to be much higher.

Six months ago I was speaking to a group of people with learning disabilities and I asked them how many of them had experienced a disability hate crime. In a room of 21 people, 21 hands went up.

I was staggered that every single person in that room that day felt that they had been targeted because they were disabled. And when I asked the inevitable question of how many of them reported their experience to the police, only one person had.

Unfortunately, I believe this is indicative of the wider problem – disability hate crime is hugely underreported and occurs much more often than we realise. It’s happening across Dorset, every single day.

We need to understand why this is the case. When I dug a little deeper as to why people in the group weren’t reporting incidents where they were targeted because of their disability, a common response was that they didn’t think it was worth reporting. It was so commonplace that they didn’t see the point in reporting it.

Do we really live in a society where it is acceptable to abuse a disabled person, or abuse any person because of a characteristic that is fundamental to who they are? Of course not, but it would appear that the message that such behaviour is totally unacceptable is getting lost.

Earlier this month, I joined my police and crime commissioner colleagues in uniting to say #No2Hate and to call on people to condemn the scourge on society that is hate crime. The campaign was part of National Hate Crime Awareness Week (13 - 20 October), an opportunity for everyone to come together, educate each other and raise their voices against hate.

I am pleased that the Home Office is also continuing to raise awareness as part of their updated Hate Crime Action Plan. The Home Office has launched a national campaign to raise awareness of hate crime and educate the public as to what it is. A hate crime is any crime where someone feels they have been targeted because of their disability, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender identity.

The awareness campaign is one of a number of new measures introduced as part of the action plan. I welcome the new commitments that will help tackle the root causes of hate crime. This includes the £1.5 million of new funding for initiatives working with young people to challenge prejudice, promote positive discussions and encourage reporting. In addition, it is extending the Places of Worship scheme for another year amongst other measures.

There are some signs of progress though. The figures released by the Home Office show a 17% increase in recorded hate crime nationally. Of those recorded, 76% are race hate crimes. Although, we don’t want to see more victims of crime, the overall increase and proportion of race hate crime suggests that more people are recognising race hate crime and feel more confident in reporting it to the police.

But there is still work to be done around other forms of hate crime, such as disability hate crime. We therefore need to continue to challenge the mindset of those who think it is acceptable to target people because of who they are and we need to keep sending a strong message that this behaviour is abhorrent.

I also want to tackle the perception, shared by the group I met with, that disability hate crime is not worth reporting. I want to delve a little deeper as to the reasons it is so underreported and better understand the relationship between our disabled communities and the police. This is something I will be looking into in the next few months.

Martyn Underhill

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