Society is ‘in denial’ about extent of hate crime


The government, criminal justice system and even religious leaders must show leadership and finally take action over disability hate crime, according to activists who attended the launch of a groundbreaking new book.

In Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, published by Portobello Books, the journalist Katharine Quarmby has written the first “history of disability hate crime”.

She investigates some of the most shocking hate crimes of the last few years, interviews many leading figures in the disability movement, and traces the history of society’s discomfort with disabled people, as well as putting the crimes into the context of the wider discrimination and prejudice faced by disabled people.

Quarmby told the launch event – hosted by the Department of Health – said there had been a total lack of political leadership on the issue of disability hate crime, and added: “I have not heard it from our prime minister or our chancellor or our justice ministers… and I think that is wrong.”

She also said she believed religious leaders should apologise for the role that many world religions had played over the centuries in suggesting that disabled people were not equal to non-disabled people.

And she called for funding for research into what makes people commit disability hate crimes.

Quarmby said that judges must “bear an awful lot of responsibility” for the failure of the courts to recognise disability hate crime, while fellow campaigner Stephen Brookes told the event that only four of the 38 magistrates he had spoken to were even aware of section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act, which allows courts to increase sentences for disability hate crimes.

Liz Sayce, RADAR’s chief executive, said the book’s publication was a “landmark” in the movement to ensure disability hate crime was “highlighted and taken seriously and acted upon”.

Mike Smith, a commissioner with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and chair of its disability committee – who has played a leading role in its inquiry into disability-related harassment – said the book was “brilliant”.

He said he had been struck by the reaction of members of the public to media coverage of Quarmby’s book, which he said showed “a general collective denial that this stuff can be happening” and is as widespread as Quarmby shows, rather than being just a few isolated cases.

He added: “This whole collective denial – they are just not listening to the evidence.”

Richard Rieser, coordinator of Disability History Month, who has been campaigning on the issue of the bullying of disabled children for 20 years, said the book was “fantastic”.

He criticised the government’s failure to meet its obligations to combat disability hate crime under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Dr Tom Shakespeare, a leading disabled academic and now working with the World Health Organization (WHO), said he could not imagine a more important book would be published this year.

He said Scapegoat provided the evidence of disability hate crime that could persuade policy-makers to “do something about it”.

He said it was crucial to force the issue onto the agenda of governments, but that without such evidence it is was “difficult to get governments to act”.

Shakespeare said WHO will this autumn be publishing a review of all of the published evidence about the prevalence of violence and abuse of disabled people across the world.

7 June 2011