Sue Graham is 42 years old and has a learning disability. At the start of June, she was crossing a bridge in a quiet part of Edinburgh on her way to catch a bus. 3 young boys, probably not older than 12, approached her from the other side of the bridge, they stopped in front of her and called her an offensive name. Sue didn’t know what to do. She said afterwards “I could have run away but they would have caught me. I just stood there.”
The older boy asked her for money. “After a minute, I just gave them everything I had and they went away,” Sue told us afterwards. She was distressed and had to walk 2 miles to the meeting – her bus fares were part of what was stolen.
Disability Hate Crimes are common for people with learning disabilities. So common that they are rarely reported and even less is done about them. Sue never reported her incident. “It wasn’t much money”, she said.
The middle of August sees the start of Police Scotland’s Tackling Hate Crime Awareness month. Each week will feature a different type of Hate Crime, starting with disability, then moving on to gender, race and sexual orientation. Police Scotland want to take this seriously and so they should! Figures published earlier this year show a 270% increase in the reporting of disability hate crime in the last year alone.
Disability hate crime has unfortunately been with us for a long time. The EHRC report, Hidden In Sight reports that in 2007, Laura Milne, a young woman with learning disabilities living in Aberdeen was murdered by 3 people. She was repeatedly slashed across the throat with a kitchen knife. One of her three attackers, Debbie Buchan had bullied her in school and then joined in another attack on Laura with a golf club. It is likely there were many more unrecorded incidents of bullying that Laura had to endure before her death but no one ever reported them.
Earlier this year, Katharine Quaramby, author of “Scapegoat, Why We Are Failing Disabled People” carried out a small survey of people who had been the subject of hate crime attacks. She found that a sizeable number were linked to accusations of the victims being scroungers or faking to get extra benefits. It may be that the focus on “benefit scroungers” in the media and by some politicians has contributed to the rise. Her study is too small to have many answers but it does indicate that we need to understand the motivation of why disability hate crimes are carried out so we can deal with it better.
The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland is working alongside other voluntary organisations and Police Scotland to find new ways of tackling disability hate crimes. These include Keep Safe spaces – shops and offices - where people feeling threatened on the street can go in to for shelter and training for Police call centres to improve their work with disabled people.
And we are also launching this week our new wristband – “Disability Hate Crime – See It, Report It – Call 101.” Available in yellow and black, they are free to all our member organisations.
We think it really important that more people call 101 to report these incidents. That’s what Sue should have done. No one thought when Laura was first bullied by Debbie Buchan that it would end only a few years later with Buchan joining in her killing. Reporting even the smallest disability hate crime is the first step to making sure this kind of attack never happens again.