New National Autistic Society statistics on hate crime against people with autism (NAS) provided shocking, but sadly not surprising, news this week. And they show how much still needs to be done to address this problem.
The NAS survey found that only 6% of respondents had not experienced any abuse or bullying. Meanwhile, 81% of respondents said they had experienced verbal abuse, while 47% reported that they had been victims of a physical assault.
Depressingly, 65% said they had experienced disability hate crime on more than 10 occasions – which demonstrates how it often becomes a serial issue.
The NAS’ survey was of about 800 people, but, if the findings reflect wider experience, and you think about how many people in the UK have autism and/or a learning disability then the total number affected by disability hate crime could be huge.
The figures also echo other recent surveys on this issue. Mencap has reported in the past that 9 in 10 people with learning disabilities had experienced disability hate crime.
Statistics released by the Association of Chief Police Officers 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. But that is generally thought to be the tip of the iceberg: the NAS found that 73% of respondents didn’t report the incident to the police. Of those that did, 54% said it wasn’t recorded as a hate crime and 40% said the police did not act on their report.
These figures will not come as a shock to anyone with a learning disability – or a family member – because they will have, in all probability, experienced abuse at first-hand. But for those who do not know someone with a learning disability, they may well be a surprise, certainly in terms of how widespread this form of abuse appears to be.
So, what can be done about this continuing problem? While the police are making strides in tackling disability hate crime – some forces have introduced a card to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to report such crime, for instance – it is clear that more needs to be done to encourage people to come forward.
In addition, the police need to do more to help people with autism/learning disabilities when they do report crime: officers need to be educated more about what autism and learning disabilities are, what effect disability hate crime can have on its victims, and that people with learning disabilities can be credible witnesses, for instance.
But that will only address part of the problem. Much more needs to be done to tackle those who commit disability hate crimes, in the first place.
This is a larger problem, and will require changing society’s attitudes to people with autism and/or learning disabilities so that abuse against them is seen to be as unacceptable as racism or homophobia. Without that fundamental change, other measures to tackle the problem will only have a limited effect.