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Guest Blog: Yes, we do need a specific offence of 'disability hate crime'

Sarah Lowden PooleA review published yesterday found that crimes against disabled people are going unrecorded, partly because 'disability hate crime' is not yet officially a standalone offence. In this post, Mumsnet blogger Sarah Lowden Poole responds to the findings.

Read her post and let us know what you think on the Talk thread.

 

How do I react to yesterday’s report that victims of disability hate crime are being let down by the criminal justice system, because of failures to classify attacks on disabled people as hate crimes?

Well, as a parent, I am saddened that we live in a society that needs to legislate for something called a ‘hate crime’ at all – and the notion that we may need a separate designation of ‘disability hate crime’ depresses me greatly.  But we do need it – and it needs to enforced.  Every crime that is predicated on the disability of the victim must be logged and noted, so that the true extent is visible. If we can’t see it going on, how on earth can we stop it?

Like every right minded person I have been shocked and sickened by cases like that of Fiona Pilkington (below, left) who killed herself and her disabled daughter, Francesca, after suffering years of torment.  It makes me angry that they were so badly let down by society in general and the police in particular. 

Fiona PilkingtonBut as the mother of a disabled child it also makes me frightened. You see I have no choice but to trust you – Society - with the safety and happiness of my baby. 

Mummy Tiger Mode afflicts us all once in a while - and since my youngest child was born the ‘defense of my young’ reflex has never been more highly attuned. She is blind, and therefore needs extra help to navigate and learn about her world: patience and kindness are more necessary than ever. 

There will come a time, however, when I cannot always be there – in fact she will not even want me there. I will, one day, have to let go and trust to the kindness of strangers. My only hope is that others will help her, and not abuse my trust. 

As parents it is our perpetual condition to worry – the nightly news is a series of horror stories seemingly intended to scare us witless – the missing child, the accidental drowning, the school bus crash – these are the stories with which we terrify ourselves. Random attacks are frightening because of their randomness – but the idea that one’s own child could be targeted for attack because they are less able to defend themselves is horrifying. 

A hate crime is a crime – first and foremost. As far as sentencing for the perpetrators goes, it is not particularly necessary to have a defined term in order for the sentence to reflect the unpleasant nature of the act. Judges in sentencing are required to take into account the circumstances surrounding an attack. A vicious assault on a vulnerable person must always disgust - and so will always lead to harsher sentences being passed down from the bench. As far as I can tell, therefore, the primary reason for designating these sorts of attacks as hate crimes is to indicate the abhorrence in which we hold them: to show that we, as a civilized culture, will not tolerate such cruelties. 

"The primary reason for designating these sorts of attacks as hate crimes is to indicate the abhorrence in which we hold them: to show that we, as a civilized culture, will not tolerate such cruelties."

It sends a broader message to society, which sometimes needs to be told that, by its acceptance of unthinking unkindness and by its minor casual cruelties, it allows - and in fact creates - the climate necessary for more serious abuse to flourish.  

Just as it was the casual anti-Semitism of the past that allowed the atrocities of history, and the casual homophobia that has allowed gay-bashings to continue, so society’s unthinking dismissal of the disabled allows a culture of thoughtless cruelty to exist. Our cultural terms of mockery have evolved from ‘being a bit of a spaz’ to ‘looking a bit special’ -  but the dismissal of the person behind the disability is still at the heart of the issue, and a civilized culture is judged by its treatment of its vulnerable members.

So hate crime has been dignified with its own category, to shout out loud that it is not acceptable on any level to persecute or torment a person on the grounds of their difference from a perceived norm. This should not have to be said but, unfortunately, it’s clearly not yet self-evident. 

Personally, I would rather that we, as a society, could just concentrate on being more consciously kind - rejecting discrimination where we find it, and being a little braver about standing up to bullying whenever we see it. 

But we don’t live in that world yet – and till we do, we need to use every means at our disposal to signify our determination to stamp out this kind of abuse. So yes, we do need disability hate crime as an 'official' criminal offence – but we must remember that it’s no good having it, unless we use it. 

Sarah Lowden Poole shares her opinions on anything and everything on her blog LowdenClear. She also documents her (often hilarious) attempts to become a domestic goddess over on Chronicles of a Domestic Disaster. Both equally insightful reading.

 

Last updated: 16-Apr-2013 at 12:05 PM