Young, disabled, and at risk of crime

Written by: Colin Young, Senior Policy and Outcomes Officer, the ALLIANCE

Published: 27/09/2016

Colin writes on hate crime experienced by young, disabled people across Scotland.

Scotland’s main take-away from the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s updated report on hate crime in Britain, published earlier this month, is that young disabled people are more likely to be subject to any crime than their non-disabled counterparts. At the same time, young disabled people are more likely than disabled people in other age groups to be victims of crime. The report also found that young disabled people were more likely to be worried about being victim of crime than non-disabled people.

While the EHRC’s report gives a good overview of the headline statistics regarding disabled people’s experience of crime, it does not give a narrative of why young disabled people continue to be more likely victims than older disabled people and non-disabled people. That is why I wish to use this Viewpoint to consider the possible causes of this persistent unjust inequality. Firstly, a note on semantics; the term victim used throughout this piece refers to those subject to criminal treatment by perpetrators, it is not a character description of disabled people generally.

At the heart of this criminal treatment is inclusion, or lack thereof. Disabled children’s ostracisation from social settings usually occupied by their peers, including school, due to physical barriers, risk averse authority figures, or the lack of support mechanisms, contribute to a cultural narrative that could define young disabled adults as ‘other’. This can mean that when young disabled people engage in their communities as autonomous individuals, those around them may view them as vulnerable targets, easy to exploit. In their submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation of the UNCRPD action plan, Inclusion Scotland reiterated calls for “disability awareness and equality to be taught as part of the mainstream curriculum, as a preventative measure to educating young non-disabled people and children not to use words related to disability in disparaging ways to bully others, and who may even grow up to commit hate crimes against members of their community”.

Playing into this narrative, the media’s representation of disability has created reinforced perceptions of young disabled people in a host of negative contexts. Most recently, the media has systematically portrayed disabled people in accordance to the contribution they should make to society, or more specifically the likelihood that they are a drain on it. This, it is speculated, has been affected by the political atmosphere promoting tighter welfare rights and an ethos of individual responsibility for employment. The study by the University of Glasgow, ‘Bad news for disabled people’, reported on the increase of articles in the mainstream media that represent disabled people negatively. This had a direct impact upon the perception of disabled people in society. Therefore the report concludes, “We would further cite the use of pejorative language, the failure to explore the impact of the proposed cuts on disabled people’s quality of life, the reluctance to criticise government policy on these issues and the frequent representation of some disabled people as undeserving of benefits as potentially contributing to what could become a highly inflammatory situation”. Such a public message around disability could be responsible for a heightened sense of hostility towards disabled people in local communities, and thus have an impact on young disabled people’s anxieties towards being victim’s of crime.

Finally, focusing on hate crime in particular. It is regrettable that at present in Scotland there are no figures recorded on the number of disabled people experiencing hate crime. However, the report suggests that for overall crime the statistical difference of disabled people experiencing it is very similar across Scotland, England and Wales. Therefore it could be extrapolated that hate crime could affect a similar proportion of young disabled people in Scotland. Attributing the above causes to hate crime – criminal acts motivated by the victims protected characteristic – it paints a worrying picture that the rate persists. This would suggest that social attitudes towards young disabled people have not kept pace with perceptions of disability more generally.

However, the more pertinent issue to address is the difference in experience of hate crime between disabled and non-disabled young people. The fact that young disabled people are more likely to be targeted, and have more fear of being targeted, on the basis of their perceived impairment should be considered shameful within modern society. While we work to eradicate hate crime against disabled people altogether, we must work to close this gap.

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