Hate crimes against people with disabilities are widespread and often involve extraordinary levels of sadism. The first step in combating these shameful incidents is an acknowledgment that they exist. They are often unacknowledged and unreported.
In Scotland a disabled man who has twice been the victim of serious assaults has urged other hate crime victims to be brave and go to the police.Stephen Cruickshank, 56, was tipped out of his wheelchair and kicked and spat on in separate terrifying attacks.The ex-pub boss admits he did not report the incidents because he was so traumatised.
Stephen suffers from spinal neuropathy and he struggles to walk, relying on his wheelchair to get around.
Last year a group of thugs tipped him out and ran off with his chair as he lay helpless on the pavement in Rutherglen, Glasgow.
In another incident, he had his walking sticks kicked away by a group of men who then kicked and spat on him while Christmas shopping.Workmen came to his rescue and urged him to contact police – but he refused and headed home.
Four years ago, Stephen got a severe kicking in Glasgow city centre as he struggled into town to buy Christmas presents for his wife Morven and daughter Hayley, now 10.“The attack was so vicious, I thought I’d never get up again.”
But now Stephen, who’s involved in a Police Scotland-backed scheme aimed at helping hate crime victims, says it’s time to take on the bullies.
Earlier this month it was revealed that there had been a 12 per cent increase in the number of reported crimes against the disabled.
But Stephen claims that many more incidents go unreported.
He reckons only one in five disability hate crimes are ever investigated by police. “The scandal here isn’t the increase, it’s the fact that so few of us report these crimes.
“I talk to so many disabled people across Scotland and there are lots of reasons why they don’t report crimes committed against them.
“People are scared of reprisals because often their abusers aren’t strangers.“Disabled people can be victimised by their friends, or even family members.”
Stephen now works at a Third Party Reporting initiative, which is backed by Police Scotland.
Helpers submit reports of hate crime to police on the victim’s behalf.
Stephen spends several days each week supporting other disabled people.
In the USA in February 2010, Jennifer Daugherty, a 30-year-old, mentally challenged woman from Greensburg, Pa., was brutally people pretending to be her good friends. Holding her hostage for days, the perpetrators allegedly tortured her, shaving her head, binding her with Christmas decorations, beating her with a towel rack and vacuum cleaner, feeding her detergent, urine and various medications and then forcing her to write a suicide note, before stabbing her to death.
The sadistic attack on Daugherty was anything but unique. Still, few Americans are aware of the special vulnerability of people with emotional, intellectual and physical disabilities to extraordinary violence.
Thirty-two states have hate crime statutes to protect people who have disabilities, but 18 states still do not.
Attacks on people with disabilities are often overlooked because many people are not aware of the extreme vulnerability to maltreatment that accompanies such disorders as cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, learning disabilities and mental illness — even though, according to anonymous victim accounts from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the 54 million Americans with disabilities experience serious violence at a rate nearly twice that of the general population. Their risk of being a victim of sexual assault is at least four times higher than that of people without disabilities. In 2008 alone, Americans with disabilities were victims of about 47,000 rapes, 79,000 robberies, 114,000 aggravated assaults and 476,000 simple assaults. Adding to the trauma of victimization, people with disabilities are much less likely than able-bodied victims to seek medical treatment for their injuries, often choosing, instead, to suffer in silence.
The project Children with disabilities: targeted violence and hostility is currently looking at hostility, including violence, towards children with disabilities across the EU. It seeks to identify the legal and policy framework, as well as determine how information about such hostility is being collected. In addition, the project will look for examples of promising practices of how some Member States are addressing the problem. A report and comparative studies will be published this year (2014)