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Responding purposefully to perceptions of difference

An image taken from the video which describes the #ImWithSam campaign against Hate Crime.

During more than four decades working with people with learning disabilities I have had the privilege to meet many determined and resilient individuals – people on a quest to gain their rightful place as equal citizens in their neighbourhoods, as well as to contribute and participate constructively to society as a whole. This has not always been easy to accomplish and has, for some, come at a price. Choice Support has played its part in ensuring that these voices are heard and responded to, and has pioneered tirelessly to promote people’s rights.

I was reminded recently of how far our journey has progressed when I attended the House of Lords launch of #ImWithSam. Instigated by Dimensions and supported by many organisations including Choice Support, this is a new campaign to combat hate crime against people with learning disabilities.

Hate crimes undermine the confidence of people with learning disabilities and interfere directly with their right to live peacefully within their local communities. In fact, they challenge the essence of our basic human rights to be treated with dignity and respect, and the opportunity to be afforded the freedom to make choices and to fulfil our ambitions and personal life goals.

Drawing on a survey of 320 people with learning disabilities and autism, #ImWithSam says that 73% of people in these groups have reported at least one experience of hate crime, with 53% reporting the occurrence within the last year. In fact, the most recent Home Office statistics show that there has been a 25% year on year increase in reported hate crime, which may in part provide evidence that people are now becoming more aware of the need to report such unacceptable practices. These challenges have resulted in people having a fear of being left alone with strangers or of being alone at home, having their self-esteem compromised and having less confidence to leave their home. Some people have also responded by feeling angry with those who have challenged their right to live independently in their local communities, and this in turn has had emotional consequences for them.

The consequences of these challenges extend also to friends and family, who report that they have often felt powerless to intervene to resolve the problems that people with learning disabilities and autism face.

"I was targeted for gang rape because I'm autistic and easy to trick..."

I was very moved to hear stories presented by people who had experienced (and endured) a series of hate-related encounters that had resulted in them becoming even more determined to exert their right to live peaceful and fulfilled lives as citizens. However, for others this was just not possible to realise in the absence of assertive intervention from family, friends, social services, voluntary support groups, the police and national policy makers.

ImwithSamstoryphoto

This girl's story is featured in the #ImWithSam campaign.  You can watch the video and read more here.

 

 

 

 

The House of Lords event was attended by a number of Lords and MPs who together pledged their commitment to changing the law to make all hate against people with learning disabilities (including online abuse) illegal. Such aims, whilst laudable, will also require the government to work closely with the police and Crown Prosecution Service to improve the ways in which they investigate reported incidents, and to work with the Home Office to improve resources and training for police officers to ensure they can respond appropriately.

I learned also that the current way in which data is collected and analysed by the Home Office and its associated agencies fails to distinguish between people with learning disabilities, autism and others, which makes it very difficult to identify patterns and trends in crime that apply to these groups of citizens.

Of equal importance is the need to raise awareness of the effect that hate crimes and discriminatory practices have for people with learning disabilities and autism. This will require a concerted effort by the Department of Education to better support curricula activities within primary and secondary schools to include positive messages around difference and to teach younger people of the effects and consequences that their sometimes (but not always) inadvertent behaviours, taunts and negative challenges may have on people who present with ‘differences’.

In addition the Department of Health has been called upon to develop accessible guidance to assist families and support workers to identify, manage and respond purposefully (and assertively) to cases of hate crime. This is particularly important since we know that 48% of all learning disabled victims tend not to report their experiences of hate crime. Furthermore many tend to ignore the early warning signs of name calling and deliberate exclusion from social activities and groups. For all of these reasons trusted people have an obligation to remain vigilant for signs of taunting, negative behaviours and to take positive action to respond, and where appropriate to report such activities to the police for further consideration and intervention.

Perhaps one of the most challenging areas of hate crime for me related to personal testimonies from people with learning disabilities and autism about their negative experiences of ‘mate crime’. In my opinion this just has to be one of the worst forms of hate crime. It relies on so-called able minded people pretending to befriend a more vulnerable person with the pretence that they value their friendship and then continuing to entice the person to gain their trust with the explicit aim of exploiting them for either personal gain or for criminal and antisocial intent. The result of such a blatant infringement of trust can result in the criminalisation of the more vulnerable person, and at the very least can leave them feeling used, distraught, emotionally damaged and socially isolated.

My engagement with this subject provoked a range of emotions but in particular convinced me of the need to share these matters with a wider audience and to assert our combined efforts to act together to contribute purposefully to combating hate (and mate) crime. Certainly to do nothing is just unacceptable and makes us complicit with those members of society that seek to subjugate people with learning disabilities and autism to unacceptable forms of bullying and intimidating behaviour and exclusion from their rightful place in society. #ImWithSam is an excellent example of how collective action, supported by concerted effort and purposeful leadership across a range of public service agencies and government departments can combine to confront and seek to remove the negative effects of hate crime.

Professor David Sines PhD CBE

Choice Support Patron

You can watch the #ImWithSam video and read more here.

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