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Guest blog: time for 'disability hate crime' to be an official offence?

(40 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 22-Mar-13 13:54:51

A 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 a guest post, Mumsnet blogger Sarah Lowden (who blogs over at Lowden Clear) argues that, however regrettable it is that we should need such a category, 'disability hate crime' should now become an official offence.

Read her post, and tell us what you think; if you blog about this issue, don't forget to link your URL on the thread.

SarahHillWheeler Mon 25-Mar-13 12:22:41

Amber, good points. I guess there are two ways of approaching it, extending specific hate crime legislation and also sentencing guidelines.

Trill, I think point is, yes, setting fire to anyone should be a crime. Is a crime. However, in case of a person with a disability, autism included, their vulnerability (for want of a better word) makes the crime more abhorrent.

In the recent Sheard case, he was not only targetted but the attack was carried out by people who had befriended him (loosely speaking). What the judge described as "horseplay" may have been "true" in some scenarios, friends larking around and going too far, making a big mistake, tragic consequences etc, which could justify a lower sentence.

In the current case, however, these people had picked on the victim, taken advantage of his vulnerability. He may not have reacted the way a "regular" person would have reacted but, taking account of his condition (which the attackers presumably knew about) that is not to say (as I think the judge reflected in this case) that he appeared to be enjoying it (sorry if I am misreporting there, haven't seen the transcript, but there does appear to be an element of this in the summary).

I think what I am saying is that special conditions should apply to reflect the horrible nature of these crimes, to ensure they are recognised and taken seriously and that proper protection is given to the vulnerable. There have, for example, been specific cases of abusers targetting and befriending disabled people - which in a sense is an abuse of trust meritting a harsher sentence.

KarenHL Sun 24-Mar-13 02:17:55

While it is true that nobody should be assaulted, or hurt by anyone else, regardless of gender/race/orientation/disability/anything else I've forgotten to include ... the fact remains that people with disabilities are often targeted by people who might think twice about attacking someone else who does not have a disability.

Speaking as a disabled person, we are often perceived to be vulnerable - I have been subjected to verbal attacks at work, and the physical attacks I was subjected to at school actually resulted in my having to visit the local GP & Hospital. At one point I needed a fortnight off school to recover from injuries - the parents reasoning was that everyone else bullied me, why should her son be the exception! Despite repeated pleas to the school, nothing was ever done (and the bullying continued). I suffered extra health problems for years as a result of that one incident (let alone the others I suffered through). Like good, dutiful parents, mine still sent me every day - into what was a living hell for me. Even now, as an adult, efforts are still made by the same people to intimidate me, for the same reasons (based on my disability). I can see why people don't report, as the law seems unwilling and helpless to do a thing.

The first thing we need to do, is educate parents - that this is not acceptable. One way to do that, is to allow judges to increase the sentences - 3 years for killing someone by torturing and then burning them is not a sufficient deterrent. We also need to educate children - via their parents, and via school (and school punishments too, where necessary) to stop this behaviour being accepted and seen as acceptable.

Leithlurker Sat 23-Mar-13 22:12:21

Amber: your personal interest is perhaps leading you in a different direction from that which disability/human rights activist take, for which I accept your apology if you accept mine!

I think the best way I can explain this is to talk about my neighbour Tom. Tom has the most severest form of physical disability that there can be. No communication non at all. No bodily control and no ability to swallow, absolutely everything done for him, apparently he would have no autonomy nor quality of his own life. This could be your experience or it might be that you have someone more able in your family. Yet despite all that Tom is the tenant of his HA home, all letters and all legal requirements are done not for him but in his name. He is given every consideration as a individual with an ability to make his own choices. Is he vulnerable? Hell yes, left by himself in a park all the worst things that you can think of could happen to him. That though is as a result of his impairment not as a result of his lack of power, his power to defend himself, his power to direct his life is limited by those around him and the structures that limit how he can interact not the other way round Given the proper support not only would he never be alone in the park, the initial reaction of anyone in the park would be to not feel pity but find a way both to communicate but also know their duty as citizens was to take Tom to a place of safety.

Do we say that females are "vulnerable to rape" because they are women and can dress and act as they choose. No We blame both the perpetrator as well as society. What will be the reaction should your child bring back their first love, will it be that they are being abused or led astray or will it be that they have a right to make their own decision which includes making their own mistakes?

This is the root of the problem, hate crime, all hate crime is about seeing the victim as the "other" both fair game and less valued by society so it is ok to do whatever to them because they are 2nd class/not as human/not distinct rational full human beings.

My turn to apologise, we are not on different sides, check out Kim's thread about the daily Mail and the trans teacher. Being vulnerable is not because someone is something, it is about what someone else thinks of them. Disability activists want to have the life that Tom has for everyone not that they have houses but that they are given and receive the right to be consulted, listened to, and have a say in what happens to them. In terms of drugs, homelessness, and alcohol these are separate and different impalement that could be on TOP of others would make them MORE vulnerable.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 21:49:33

'The murder of the goth girl in Liverpool' hmm

You mean Sophie Lancaster, who was beaten to death in Bacup? Trying to protect her boyfriend from a teenage gang who had knocked him unconscious?
She deserves to be remembered more accurately, and for those of us with children who may face similar prejudice, she is.
Murdered because she was different, by young men without remorse.

EdgarAllanPond Sat 23-Mar-13 21:26:41

i see Trills point.

abuse is stupid.
violence is wrong.

the 'isms' that may motivate these things don't actually make them more stupid/wrong. the murder of the goth girl in Liverpool defies easy 'ism' definition, but was still equally as stupid or wrong as a disabilist / racist crime.

the supposed reason for heavier sentencing is as a deterrrent for further/organised crimes of the same nature, however i think it is the wider societal disapprobation that actually serves as the deterrent.

CouthySaysEatChoccyEggs Sat 23-Mar-13 20:47:00

Most people would have realised things were getting 'out of hand' long before this got to it's end point of someone throwing lighter fluid over a vulnerable boy and setting him alight, and would have removed themselves from the situation.

But he didn't. Which just goes to show that he WAS vulnerable, and not able to know when to leave the situation. Which not only left him AT higher risk of being attacked in the first place, but also at higher risk of an assault being WORSE than if he wasn't vulnerable.

We have higher sentencing and a separate offence for assaults and crimes against children - some people with disabilities ARE as vulnerable as children. They may be 6 foot tall, and not LOOK as vulnerable - but they can be. And charging them with an additional charge of crime specifically against someone with disabilities, and the sentencing too, should reflect that.

CouthySaysEatChoccyEggs Sat 23-Mar-13 20:41:26

I've been targeted for disability hate crimes by my neighbour - she was jealous of the fact that I got DLA, and she went as far as vandalising my electricity meter that I need to run essential medical equipment.

Would the police charge her?

Nope. It was just a 'neighbour dispute that got out of hand'.

Never mind the fact that it was motivated by issues surrounding my disabilities.

Never mind the fact that my seizure bed alarm wouldn't work without electricity, which would mean nobody would be alerted to the fact that I was having a nocturnal seizure, or that I would be unable to run my DS2's nebuliser.

It IS downplayed.

And the fact is, someone like the poor boy in the case Amber is trying to talk about, or even my DD, just ISN'T aware when they are in danger, ISN'T able to understand when people are laughing AT them rather than with them, it DOES make them more vulnerable to attacks, and sentencing for crimes against people without that understanding SHOULD reflect that!

sickofsocalledexperts Sat 23-Mar-13 20:15:13

This poor boy burned to death, before that Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter hounded to death, the poor learning disabled man tortured to death by people he thought were his pals....enough is enough, hate crime for reason of disability should be outlawed as is hate crime due to race, gender, religion etc.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 20:01:13

Take a minute to think.

hazeyjane Sat 23-Mar-13 19:21:57

I think vulnerability is important in a case like the manslaughter of Steven Simpson, and many others. As a post pointed out above, one of the defences made was that Steven joined in the 'horseplay', laughing along. The fact that he was a vulnerable individual, who clearly didn't understand that he was being bullied and tormented by these people seems to have been completely ignored.

I have a cousin who has a learning disability, when we were teenagers, a group of wankers used to get him to steal stuff from the local co-op, for them. They thought it was hilarious, he had no concept that what he was doing was wrong, and thought they were his mates. Until he was arrested for shoplifting.

AmberLeaf Sat 23-Mar-13 17:31:07

People with disabilities do not become automaticy vulnerable by default

Not suggesting they all do automatically. But it depends on what the disabity is.

Unless they happen also to be living on the streets, or addicted to crack, or some other additional factor they are not vulnerable

Sorry but that is nonsense.

Some people are more vulnerable because of their disabiity. If you don't feel you are then that's great. But some are.

To measure vulnerability on whether someone is homeless or on crack is the biggest crock of shit I've read in a long time.

If I have misunderstood your point then I offer profuse apologies.

Leithlurker Sat 23-Mar-13 16:16:21

Can we please stop it with the vulnerable thing. People are targeted or the crime is aggravated by the fact that they have some kind of physical impairment, or learning disability, or mental health issue. Unless they happen also to be living on the streets, or addicted to crack, or some other additional factor they are not vulnerable. People with disabilities do not become automaticy vulnerable by default.

What the hate crime legislation does is recognises that by virtue of the person's impairment or health issue they have been targeted. OR that the offence was made was in terms of robbing someone with out the ability to either fight back or flee, or physically harming someone with no ability to comprehend that the were in any danger much less capable of giving offence to someone else.

Harming someone just because they are gay is enough, to be considered hate crime as it is always to be considered as a factor, same with race. As someone who has been targeted and as someone who has been assaulted I was glad that the police recognised and indeed wanted to assure themselves that my impairment was not part of the reason for the assault. In this case it was not it was a drunk bloke being drunk. The causes of crime are as important as the crime it's self. So if all crime were just prosecuted under the existing laws we would have very little evidence of large numbers in our society who seem to be on the receiving end of violence for no other reason than who or what they are. This in it's self provides evidence for the larger picture of inequality and disadvantage that exists. No one would have a problem with the statistics that show women being more disadvantaged that men, and the inclusion of dv, sexual assault, stalking etc being used as part of that argument, as it speaks to the wider society view of women. Disabled hate crime is exactly the same.

AmberLeaf Sat 23-Mar-13 15:43:37

Fair enough, I don't think you are wrong to question it at all.

I think that this change would be a good one, but that there are also other things that can be done alongside it, but that if there is something solid by way of a law, then that would back up calls for zero tolerance on 'low level' disabilism.

Trills Sat 23-Mar-13 14:46:23

You're right Amber - two versions of "vulnerable".

I don't really understand opposition to this really, clearly change is needed.

I'm not disagreeing with that at all, I'm just questioning whether the change that is being called for is the correct one and whether it will have the desired effect. Maybe it is and it will.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 14:40:05

Would you do away with the terminology of 'hate crime' altogether Trills?
So there'd be no race hate or homophobic crimes, just crimes?
Have you thought why black people and gay people have fought so hard for that labelling to exist as a separate criteria?

AmberLeaf Sat 23-Mar-13 14:35:28

the list of things that count as "hate crimes" are not all things that would make you more vulnerable. They are characteristics that people might choose to pick on you for

They may make you more vulnerable to attack though, things like your race or sexuality due to others prejudices.

The thing with victims of disabled hate crime, is they are vulnerable to attack because of their disability, but they are in many cases vulnerable anyway because of their disability- like Steven Simpson was. he would have been vulnerable even in every day life, never mind in a situation where some bastard was abusing him.

I don't really understand opposition to this really, clearly change is needed.

If what stands currently was enough, people like Fiona Pilkington wouldn't have been driven to suicide, her perpetrators would have been charged and she would have been protected.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 14:21:31

But you need the detail and the distinctions to make an unbreakable case, to collect specific evidence. Otherwise you might just as well say 'Everyone be nice to each other and if you aren't, we'll get cross'
This wasn't categorised as a hate crime, the judge said it was horseplay that got out of hand. You know, like an episode of Jackass. Equal responsibility for all there, victim included.
It should have been classed as a hate crime.

Trills Sat 23-Mar-13 14:11:00

Having read some more I still don't feel that we necessarily need a new law to say that "disability hate crime" is a special thing.

I think we need better training of judges and police officers and everyone else involved in the system to recognise and correctly deal with "hate crime" in general, no matter what the motivation is.

Trills Sat 23-Mar-13 14:08:05

cornyvin the list of things that count as "hate crimes" are not all things that would make you more vulnerable. They are characteristics that people might choose to pick on you for.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 13:11:53

The killers were 16, 17 and 21. They did it for entertainment.

cornyvin Sat 23-Mar-13 13:11:20

it wouldn't have happened if he 'had ginger hair, or because he was really tall, or because he supported the wrong football team' because those things would not have made him vulnerable.

TheNebulousBoojum Sat 23-Mar-13 13:10:15

This is just a possible scenario, a guess if you like, based on my experiences.

The guests were taunting and mocking Steven, he was laughing probably because he thought he was being included and they liked him. His inability to understand the situation meant that he didn't realise when things got out of hand. Having someone vulnerable to 'play' with often incites bullies to go further, they wrote homophobic messages on his body, they baited him for entertainment and then they sprayed flammable liquid directly on him, and then Sheard set fire to him and so the situation ended in horrific burns and death.
It's not the first time something like this has happened, Brent Martin died for similar reasons. August 23, 2007 5 Years ago.

After the sentencing
' Macrae, editor of Disability Now magazine, published by the disability charity Scope, said: "We are pleased that William Hughes, Marcus Miller and Stephen Bonallie have received such long sentences.

"But we are disappointed that the judge did not mention the fact that Mr Martin was clearly targeted because he was disabled and that his horrific murder was aggravated by hatred towards his impairment.

"Murders motivated by homophobia and racism often attract far stiffer sentences. All such horrific crimes must be treated equally by the criminal justice system."

AmberLeaf Sat 23-Mar-13 12:52:15

I don't understand your last post Trills.

What was not on the list?

The Judge in the case of Steven Simpson didn't take things into account that were there for all to see.

There are laws in place to protect everybody

There should be laws in place that take into account the fact that some members of society are attacked/abused more than others due to their vulnerabilities

There needs to be laws to protect those that have no voice and can't stand up for themselves.

Trills Sat 23-Mar-13 12:25:36

The trouble with having a list of "a crime is extra bad if you do it for these reasons" is that some people (like the judge in question, apparently) will take it to mean that if something is not on the list then it somehow makes the crime less serious. How do we deal with that?

Trills Sat 23-Mar-13 12:20:41

tabulahrasa that makes a bit more sense.

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