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I have been an Independent Advisor to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for many years now, a voluntary role, one which gives me the opportunity to guide, advise, challenge as well as saying it as it is! To be what’s called a ‘Critical friend’.
I am well known for my persistence and determination that the police ‘get it right’ on disability hate crime, recognise it, record it appropriately, investigate and assist us to access the full justice of the law.
Due to my persistence, eventually, I was given the opportunity to lead on Disability hate crime work as Independent Chair in partnership with the MPS.
From the outset of my efforts, nearly 20 years now, I knew the statistics around hostility did not reflect the experiences of Deaf and disabled people. These inadequate statistics are often used as a barrier for us to access help or funding to do work in our organisations. If there is hardly any evidence of DHC, say funders, why would we want to do projects on it? Why would the police or other agencies want to waste time on an issue they believed did not exist, as there was no evidence?
There is disbelief, even after the extensive pieces of research, reports and inquiries, how can anyone target a Deaf or disabled person? This disbelief has caused decades of delays in addressing our experiences.
Yet Deaf and disabled people in our own organisations, as campaigners, advocates and victims have initiated groundbreaking work, reports and campaigns, we are the ‘experts by experience’.
My campaigning efforts within our own organisations in London, and nationally, have been about ensuring all understand what DHC is, getting reports to the police and then ensuring the policies and protocols work so we have equality of access to justice.
The reality is we do not have equality in law around hate crime, YET!
Anyone can incite hostility against us online, in the media and elsewhere and we are not included in the law meant to address this. Why? Because there is not enough ‘evidence’ that this happens towards us say government ministers.
Sentences can be increased if anyone experiences hostility due to perceived difference or identity, yet for Deaf and disabled people the increases, if they are applied, which often they are not, are not the same or equal to those who experience other types of hate crime.
An unacceptable inequality which must be challenged and changed.
I am determined for this to change and I'm working as a Trustee of Inclusion London to initiate a campaign to change the hate crime law.
To even get access to what rights we do have in law, we must get all police officers and other agencies to record DHC as they should, as a criminal act or ‘incident’. Even though its not a crime in law, it still needs recording as such to capture our experiences, to see if there is repeat victimisation, or any preventative work that can be done to prevent escalation.
So the DHC Matters initiative emerged and developed out of my concerns to capture all the many reports I knew Deaf and disabled people were making to the police as well as recommendations in so many reports and the EHRC inquiry.
Initially I advised the MPS and MOPAC that any crime or incident against a Deaf or disabled person should be recorded as DHC, this was included in the MOPAC hate crime strategy and the GLA research called Hidden Hate, I felt that by doing this our experiences would be better captured.
As Independent Chair of the MPS DHC working group, working in partnership we decided to initially do a pilot on this. So in Croydon and Greenwich we tried recording any incident against us as DHC till evidenced it was not, for a month.
We did see improvements, but not enough; we learnt there were other reasons for reports not getting onto the correct crime reporting systems in the MPS. Many were being captured as ASB or via Safeguarding processes, but these did not then initiate the process to capture and address DHC in full. Which means if a case got to court enhanced sentences cannot be used.
So the DHC Matters initiative developed into an awareness raising campaign for all police officers as well as detailed guidance on how they should capture DHC reports on the MPS internal crime report systems.
In previous years over an eight week period in February and March the police have only recorded 20 disability hate crimes in London. In the eight weeks since starting the DHC Matters pilot we have recorded 177 reports of DHC, ten times the amount captured in similar periods of time. A huge difference.
This is encouraging but I know, as well as many of you, that even this significant increase does not reflect the true scope of hostility against us. We have much more to do, much of which needs to be in partnership with Deaf and disabled peoples organisations.
We have done a survey for victims as well as held focus groups to discuss in detail what victims think should be changed, this as well as the many recommendations in reports we now have on DHC influence the work we do.
In the Working Group we will be scrutinising regularly how the initiative is going in all boroughs, dip sampling cases, arranging Mystery Shopping type exercises, with Deaf and disabled people, to see how local police, call centres and others are capturing reports, gathering the learning from all this to initiate more work.
Making a lasting and consistent difference is my goal. It’s no good if I leave as an advisor, or for officers to move on and the work stops. It has to be integrated into everyday practice for all police services.
Third party reporting, multi agency work in boroughs, advocacy, support for victims through the justice system, can only be successful if Deaf and disabled people, victims and our own organisations get involved in this work.
It’s where I started, as Chair of a DDPO in Greenwich, GAD, setting up the first every Third Party Reporting site in a DDPO nationally, an advocacy project specifically for victims of DHC, awareness training for police locally and other organisations.
Yet the barriers we face are more to do with systems and procedures that cause our experiences to be lost, as though they do not matter!
The full impact on individuals and our communities is also not captured and we lose confidence in those who should be helping us most, due to processes and delays that lead to inaction and lack of justice.
This is beginning to change through this work and other initiatives, but we need all here and so many more, to challenge those who do not recognise DHC for what it is, to understand that ‘perceived vulnerability’ or ‘perceived difference’ is never an excuse for hostility and abuse, that harassment, verbal or physical attacks, torture and murders of Deaf and disabled people are not acceptable in this society and that language used about our experiences needs to come from us, not the police or other justice professionals.
If anyone else was targeted due to their identity, around race, faith, sexuality for instance, this would be regarded as hate crime. Yet for Deaf and disabled people its others who decide we are ‘vulnerable’ or ‘taken advantage’ off, or an ‘easier target’ due to our impairments. Yet our identity is that we are Deaf and disabled people and we are quite clear that some will deliberately target us because of this.
We are not ‘vulnerable’ people, we can be in ‘vulnerable situations’ the same as any other person, it’s not about just ‘safeguarding’ we expect legal justice! we do not accept ever ‘mercy killing’ as an excuse for murder, we do not perceive abuse, bullying, harassment of Deaf and disabled people as anything other then hate crime what ever setting its in, from the school playground to, day centres, residential care, in our homes, in community settings, our work or on the streets, its Disability Hate Crime!
Until we get all agencies realising they have a responsibility to record and report such cases to the police we will always experience injustice.
So I ask all here to ensure you record it, report to the police, for the police to investigate it properly, stop it, and help us to access the equality of justice we deserve.
‘Nothing about us without us’ - this is our call to you all, for when we, the victims, the ones who know what we experience lead on such work we can truly make a difference that will last and change the way society treats us, change the way you work. We, Deaf and disabled people, are the experts and its through such ‘experts’ that this initiative has come about!