Tackling the threat: hate crimes against disabled people

Action is needed to deal with hate crimes against disabled people, says Peter Lewis.

We are lucky to live in a safe, just and tolerant country. But hate crimes – based on racism, homophobia or anti-Semitism – are toxic. They ruin lives, create fear in communities and undermine people’s trust in their society and its institutions. At the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) we work with all strands of hate crime. However, disability hate crime requires a new, considered approach as it often goes unreported.
A statistic provided by the police gives a telling insight: one allegation of race hate crime in four is brought to their attention, compared with just one disability hate crime in 30. However, it isn’t just the figures that mean a new and different approach is required. The hostility present in disability hate crimes often manifests itself in less overt ways than other hate crimes. Perpetrators may ‘befriend’ the victim but show their contempt for them by stealing their money, knowing or suspecting that the victim may be desperate for company, and won’t report the matter. 
The legal ground for a successful prosecution is complex. For a prosecution of hostility on the basis of disability to be successful there must be evidence that the offence was motivated by hostility, or that there was hostility towards an individual at the time of the offence taking place (immediately before or after this time). 
For example, a man taking money from pensioners with walking aids may not exhibit any overt hostility but again, shows their contempt for the victims by exploiting their frailty and lack of mobility.  
It is important that hostility is not confused with a person being vulnerable. For example, a man on his own taking cash from a cash dispenser at 2am with his back to the street could be considered vulnerable to an opportunistic thief. With disability hate crime, although vulnerability can be an aggravating factor, there needs to be evidence that an individual was targeted because of their disability.
Prosecuting these cases requires extra vigilance to ensure the disability is properly identified and evidence of hostility is not missed. Unless the issue of hate crime is properly raised and openly addressed, not only will justice not be done, but for victims it certainly won’t be seen to be done. The public – including physio staff whose patients could be affected – needs to know that the CPS sees disability hate crime as being totally unacceptable. By making applications in open court, publishing data on how often we do it, and promoting successful cases, we can drive up confidence in our ability to deal with these types of cases fully and properly.
The work, set out in our new disability hate crime action plan, will help us to do all this, and so improve performance and help protect those who may fall victim to these toxic crimes. 
Peter Lewis chief executive, CPS

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