A disabled woman who was pushed and threatened by men while in her wheelchair and separately abused online said disability-related hate crime is occurring more often “than anyone is ready to admit”.
Cassie Lovelock, 26, said two drunk men threatened to rape her and pushed her wheelchair along a street in north London in March, while onlookers did not help.
The PhD student at London School of Economics, who has a series of complex neurological conditions – one of which leaves her with temporary paralysis – said she did not immediately realise it was a hate crime.
She said she was told by police that when she reported the incident 10 days later ”there’s not much we can do”.
She told the PA news agency she has been left feeling like the police will not take her seriously if she reports an incident that is linked to her disability.
The 26-year-old from east London said: “There’s social sanctions to treating people badly, if you do it because of their race or their gender or their sexuality, but those social sanctions don’t exist for disability.
“I think it’s that stigma that firstly needs to change. For the police to really understand that it’s not acceptable to treat a disabled person badly, they first have to respect disabled people as equal to everyone else.
“Our oppression looks different to gender or ethnic/racial oppression. We are still trying to have a seat at the metaphorical table.”
The Home Office and National Police Chiefs’ Council have both said they take hate crime “very seriously”.
Asked about whether she feels the number of hate crimes reported to police reflects the reality, Ms Lovelock said: “There’s definitely more happening than anyone is ready to admit.”
Ms Lovelock said she has also experienced abuse online, with some “really awful” comments along the lines of: “I’m gonna find you and I’ll hurt you.”
While online dating, people have said things such as “I’ve never been with a cripple”, she said.
In July, a stranger tracked down her phone number and called her after she posted a blog about how her condition causes her to experience memory loss.
The person swore at her repeatedly and then said they would “get away with it” as she would not remember the conversation.
Ms Lovelock said the experience was “isolating” and she wants to be open like any other person without the prospect of harassment.
She said: “It really scares you and it makes you want to not be open about these things…being disabled you’re sort of inherently vulnerable by how society views you and how society treats you, whether your disability makes you physically vulnerable or otherwise.
“And then people take advantage of that and then you’re stuck in your house and you’re like, ‘What if they find where I live, how am I going to get away?’ – all of these things.
“Some people would say, ‘Oh ,you’re overthinking’, but then they already found your phone number – so are you?”
Her advice to anyone that thinks they have been the victim of a hate crime is: “If you think it’s a hate crime, it probably is.”
She is calling for society to “stop blaming disabled people” and to start addressing those who commit hate crimes, and for disability to be approached from a neutral ground rather than as an “absolute negative”.