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Disability hate crime

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Title: Disability hate crime  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Ableism, Hate crime laws in the United States, Bias against left-handed people, Gerontophobia, Linguistic discrimination
Collection: Abuse, Crime by Type, Disability in Law, Hate Crime
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Disability hate crime

Disability hate crime is hate crime arising from the hostility of the perpetrator towards the disability, or perceived disability, of the victim, or because of their perceived connection to disability. It is often viewed politically as a logical extreme of ableism (sometimes known in the UK by the disputed word "disablism"), carried through into criminal acts against the person. This phenomenon can take many forms, from verbal abuse and intimidatory behaviour to vandalism, assault, or even murder. Disability hate crimes may be one-off incidents, or systematic abuse that may continue over periods of weeks, months or even years.

Disability hate crime may occur between strangers who have never met, between acquaintances or within the family. The two key requirements for an act to be called a "disability hate crime" are that it is motivated in part or whole by prejudice against someone because of disability; and second, that the act is actually a crime.[1]


  • Recognition 1
  • Legal status 2
  • Crime recording 3
  • Vulnerability 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Disability hate crime is currently one of the least recognised forms of hate crime. Sir Ken Macdonald, QC, the then Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales stated in a speech to the Bar Council in October 2008 that "I am on record as saying that it is my sense that disability hate crime is very widespread. I have said that it is my view that at the lower end of the spectrum there is a vast amount not being picked up. I have also expressed the view that the more serious disability hate crimes are not always being prosecuted as they should be. This is a scar on the conscience of criminal justice. And all bodies and all institutions involved in the delivery of justice, including my own, share the responsibility." [2]

Legal status

In the United States, the Matthew Shepard Act, expanded the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived disability.[3]

In the UK, disability hate crime is regarded as an aggravating factor under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, allowing a heavier tariff to be used in sentencing than the crime might draw without the hate elements. Section 146 states that the sentencing provisions apply if:

(a) that, at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrated towards the victim of the offence hostility based on—
(i) the sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation) of the victim, or
(ii) a disability (or presumed disability) of the victim, or
(b) that the offence is motivated (wholly or partly)—
(i) by hostility towards persons who are of a particular sexual orientation, or
(ii) by hostility towards persons who have a disability or a particular disability.^ Sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003[4]

The test in Section 146 is deliberately one for evidence of 'hostility' rather than 'hatred' as the seriousness of the offence was considered to justify the application of a less-strict test.

Crime recording

The historical failure of police forces, prosecutors and some social care organizations to treat Disability Hate Crime as a serious issue, an echo of previous failures over other forms of hate crime, particularly racial and LGBT-focused hate crimes, has led to chronic under-reporting. This under-reporting is both pre-emptive, through a widespread belief within the disabled community that they will not be treated seriously by law enforcement, and post-facto, where police forces investigate the crime as non hate-based and record it as such.

The UK Crown Prosecution Service's Annual Hate Crime Report,[5] shows that 11,624 cases of racial or religious hate crime were prosecuted in England and Wales in 2009 with 10,690 leading to successful convictions. By contrast only 363 prosecutions and 299 convictions were for Disability Hate Crimes.

The UK charity Scope has conducted research into the prevalence and experience of Disability hate crime, summarizing their findings and those of other disability groups in the report Getting Away With Murder [6] Katharine Quarmby, who wrote the report and was the first British journalist to investigate disability hate crime, has also written a book on the matter.[7]


Prosecution of disability hate crimes has faced problems caused by the predominant perception of disabled people as inherently 'vulnerable'. This is a multi-faceted issue. Unthinking application of the 'vulnerable' label to a disabled person is itself a form of infantilization, a widely recognised form of ableism in which disabled people are regarded, or disregarded, as childlike rather than as functioning adults with their own opinions. Secondly the use of the 'vulnerable' label frequently represents a failure to distinguish between the victim of the crime and the situation they found themselves facing. The CPS has found it necessary to issue guidance to its prosecutors reminding them that 'vulnerable' should only be used as a description of a person within the precise legal meaning of, for instance, section 16 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999[8] Further to this, perceptions of 'vulnerability' can also lead to the perception that the victim is responsible for the crime, through reckless behaviour, rather than the perpetrator. For example a disabled person may be perceived as being engaged in risky behaviour by being out alone after dark. The parallels between this pattern of blame-shifting on to the victim and earlier manifestations of similar behaviour in the prosecution of rape and other sexual crimes, are readily apparent.

On the other hand, it has also been suggested that the vulnerability of victims is a key factor in all crimes - and it has been applied to widely different scenarios including people working late at night, people who are security guards that handle a lot of money, and so on.[9] This means that the issue of "vulnerability" is more complex than some advocates have argued - it is a factor in all crimes, and it is important to adopt a contextual/situational perspective, that does necessarily regard disability itself as a form of vulnerability.

See also


  1. ^ Mark Sherry (2010) "Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?" Ashgate, London
  2. ^
  3. ^ Obama Signs Defense Policy Bill That Includes 'Hate Crime' Legislation
  4. ^ Sections 145 and 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Quarmby, Katharine. "Scapegoat: Why we are failing disabled people." Portobello, 2011.
  8. ^ Guidance on the distinction between vulnerability and hostility in the context of crimes committed against disabled people
  9. ^ Mark Sherry (2010) Disability Hate Crimes: Does anyone really hate disabled people? Ashgate, London
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