There have been a stream of horrific cases where disabled people have been attacked, tortured, held hostage and killed ‘just’ for being disabled. They grab the headlines for a day or two and then vanish. Despite all these cases, there hasn’t been a ‘Stephen Lawrence’ moment for disabled people, where the mainstream is so shocked by a case that policy makers have to react. Luckily this level of violence is rare and not experienced by most disabled people.
But there’s the problem. Most abuse is more low grade, frequent and unchallenged. Katherine Quarmby calls this ‘background noise’ in her excellent study of disability hate crime “Scapegoat”. This background noise is the name calling, minor bullying, anti-social behaviour directed at disabled people. It occurs throughout our society, where ever disabled people go.
I’ve had conversations where non-disabled people have told me to be more ‘thick skinned’, to shrug off the comments. I can see where they are coming from but a line has to be drawn. All the serious hate crimes started out as name calling. When the violence started, in most cases, bystanders did nothing. Some even spectated or took pictures and video with their phones. This is all permitted by the background noise of low level abuse that helps de-humanise disabled people in the eyes of the public.
If we all stand up and take a zero tolerance approach to hate crime directed at us then we can change things.
- The background noise will get less
- Media companies will have to take our complaints seriously
- The police and local authorities will no longer be able to say “It doesn’t happen here as we have no record of it”
These changes will reduce the more serious offences as they will be seen as far more unacceptable and response and prevention will be better funded.
It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick and not every disabled person will be able to do it but that shouldn’t stop us. Those of us that have the capacity to report and follow up should hold the authorities to account. If we can’t feel safe in our homes, on public transport, while going out and on the internet, all the rights we have fought for will be compromised.
These are just my thoughts on the issue and I’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree or disagree.