On Wednesday I attended, with interest, a focus group looking at improving the services to victims of Disability Hate Crime. The session was organised by the Birmingham Disability Resource Centre and run by a representative from the Inspectorate of Constabulary and a solicitor from the Crown Prosecution Service.
The two gentlemen are holding these sessions around the country as part of a national review of the response to disability hate crime, in order to identify ways of providing improved levels of service to victims by the police, probation and CPS.
After reading the Trailblazers’ report on Disability Hate Crime, I was really interested to attend the forum and hear, first-hand, the experiences of disabled people in my community. The following few points had a significant impact:
1. The forum kicked off with a clear request that the social model of disability be applied to the findings in the forums and used to shape the recommendations as a result. Otherwise, it was felt that this could be missed opportunity for real change and unwittingly nurture institutionalised barriers and damaging attitudes against disabled people.
2. One gentleman explained how, after reporting a particularly frightening offence, he was horrified to see the police car present outside his house and feared for the consequences if the perpetrators saw this. This act of inconsideration, as he perceived it, compounded his distress and lack of faith in the current system.
3. The level of ‘specialism’ in disability hate crime varies according to policy and resources from force to force. So there is no obligation to have one police officer or small team trained and experienced to liaise with disabled victims from ‘day one’ and offer specialist consistent support.
4. Some attendees wanted to see 3rd party reporting centres given more responsibility and trained to be an independent intermediary between disabled victims and the police. It was suggested that this would offer greater reassurance to disabled people and encourage reporting, particularly if these 3rd parties are run by disabled people themselves. Others disagreed and felt that it was important to be able to deal with the police directly (and train these police officers more) in order to demonstrate how seriously society and the criminal justice system takes these alleged offences.
5. Interestingly there seemed to be even more frustration felt by disabled people who had been on the ‘wrong side of the law’ themselves and felt that their reports of hate crime were taken even less seriously by the police.
6. There was some confusion expressed as to the definition of a “hate crime”: is it a period of harassment; or a crime against you, motivated by hostility to your disability; or does it include a verbal assault by a stranger in the street? This level of uncertainty among the victims is likely to have an effect on the level and quality of reporting.
7. One delegate felt that a positive initiative would be to routinely undertake ‘victim impact assessments’ at the initial reporting stage in order to identify the effects, feelings, risks and potential consequences for the alleged victim. She felt this ‘personalised approach’ might reduce mistakes, reassure disabled people going through the process and encourage other victims to come forward as a result of the positive messages.
The two representatives capturing the views of disabled people around the country will soon face the unenviable task of reporting the findings and recommending changes and initiatives to improve current practices. It was unclear whether this report will be internal or published publicly. Naturally I hope the latter in order to send out a clear message that hate crime of this nature will not be tolerated in our society.
written by – Sarah Rennie is a wheelchair user, has SMA and runs a disability and access consultancy company, Rennie Consulting. www.rennieconsulting.co.uk