For the majority of people with learning disabilities, it seems that bullying and harassment are just a part of everyday life.
As far back as 2000, Mencap’s ‘Living in Fear’ report found that 90% of respondents with a learning disability experienced harassment and bullying, with 32% saying that it took place on a daily or weekly basis.
There is little to suggest this has improved significantly in the past decade. Tragic cases such as those of Fiona Pilkington and David Askew may have grabbed the headlines in recent years, but they are only the tip of a large iceberg.
While much disability hate crime is at a lower level than those cases, this is not to say it is less important that it is properly tackled. It may be ‘just a bit of name-calling’ to some, but it is still a disability hate crime and still needs to be given the same attention as other hate crimes.
But this currently isn’t the case; the number of prosecutions for disability hate crime continues to be lower than for other types of hate crime. In 2009-10, according to Crown Prosecution Service figures, there were just 1,200 cases prosecuted compared to almost 50,000 racial and religious hatred prosecutions.
With this in mind, some might argue that ‘Stand By Me’, the campaign to tackle disability hate crime that Mencap will launch during Learning Disability Week (June 20-26), is long overdue.
Stand By Me’s aim is to challenge the police, the criminal justice system and the courts to take the lead in ending hate crime against people with a learning disability within a generation, according to the charity.
This is already starting to happen. In March, director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC said that prosecuting disability hate crime is the “next frontier” for the criminal justice system.
But for disability hate crime to be truly tackled requires a change in attitude from society in general.
Much like the anti-stigma campaigns run in mental health, such as Time to Change, it will require long-term sustained effort to start making an appreciable difference. So Stand By Me, with its three-year remit, needs to be simply the start which is built on over the next decade.
The message to everyone needs to be that it is unacceptable to victimise people simply because they have learning disabilities. Just as it is unacceptable to victimise people because of their race, colour or sexual orientation.
This will take time and effort – over many years – to achieve, but it is an issue that can be ignored no longer.