Figures released last week showing that the number of disability hate crimes reported to the police has increased in the past year are something of a double-edged sword; it is good that more crimes are being reported, but does it indicate that incidence is rising too?
Statistics released by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) showed that more than 2,000 disability hate crimes were reported to the police in 2011, a rise of about a third on the previous year.
It is not often that a rise in any type of crime by a third in a year is to be welcomed, but, given that it is widely accepted that disability hate crime has been massively under-reported, it is, perhaps perversely, heartening to see that the numbers of crimes being reported has increased by such a significant amount.
Assuming that the rise is, at least in part, down to better reporting, it would seem that the messages about the importance of reporting hate crime, such as in Mencap’s Stand by me campaign, are making a difference. As the Disability Hate Crime Network noted, it could also mean that people with disabilities are now more confident that – if they do report a crime – they will get a fair hearing and justice.
It could also indicate that the police are taking disability hate crime more seriously and recording it more often as such, rather than, say, antisocial behaviour.
This is welcome, and hopefully the trend of increased reporting will continue – there is no reason to believe it won’t. But it has to be recognised that ACPO’s figures represent the tip of a large iceberg – incidences of disability hate crime are still much more widespread than the official figures show.
There have been several surveys in recent years that have found that the majority of people with learning disabilities have experienced a hate crime – as many as 9 in 10, according to Mencap. Additionally, a survey by Scope in July found that nearly half of all people with disabilities believe attitudes towards them have worsened in the past year; and that 64% had experienced aggression, hostility or name calling.
This is where my worry lies. If attitudes towards people with disabilities are hardening, it is not unreasonable to imagine that incidences of disability hate crime will rise as a result. How much of ACPO’s reported rise in crime is down to that is impossible to say.
Whatever the truth may be, it’s still the case that much more work needs to be done, not only in encouraging people with disabilities to report hate crimes, but also in stopping them from happening in the first place.