Aubrey Taylor had a long night. Taylor, who is a person with dwarfism, was working with his friend to prepare for a New York City art exhibition, and they decided to grab food at the nearby deli.
It was a “really exciting moment for both of us”, Taylor said, as the gallery show entirely featured artists who identify as little people. As they waited for their food late that October evening, however, this excitement was marred by what Taylor alleges was a hate crime based upon dwarfism.
Taylor, who is now renewing his call for an investigation, claims that authorities failed to take action when he went to them early this year. The response might reflect a broader trend: advocates contend that people with disabilities struggle to be taken seriously by law enforcement officials, which is exacerbated by barriers to access in reporting accusations.
“Out of nowhere, I feel hands groping and touching around my private areas – like my genitals and my butt,” said Taylor, 26, of this alleged encounter. “I turned around, and I see this woman – just inches away from my face – crouched down. ‘Oh, you’re so adorable. You’re still adorable. Look at you!”
Taylor, who is less than 4ft tall, started to record video on his cellphone of the moments following this alleged incident. In this video shared on TikTok, the woman appears to say, “Forgive me for this. You think I’m being disrespectful. I just give you love,” though she does not admit to touching Taylor’s private parts.
“How is that love?” Taylor responds, to her reply: “I’m from Ukraine and I’m hurt and I just want to give love to you.” After Taylor’s friend says, “We don’t want to be spanked by a stranger,” the woman, who is of average height, replies, “Are you excited by this whole conversation?”
“I was not excited about you coming up and smacking me on the bottom,” he said. The woman put her hand up and walked away; Taylor said, “I’m sorry that you do not want to have a conversation as an adult about that.”
As the women are leaving the deli, they appear to be recording their encounter on their cellphones. “So you come up and assault someone and take video of it,” Taylor said. “You’re making up because you are wild,” the woman retorts.
There is an exchange about whether each side is unhinged. Taylor and his friend say that for their safety and that of others, they need to “educate” themselves. The woman claimed Taylor’s account was false but later declined to speak, saying in a text, “It is not true what Aubrey is saying. It is a lie and I refuse to be a part of it. I wish him very best and at this point I am not going to be involved with any of this madness.”
While Taylor has always received unwanted attention because of his height – people “think that they can come up and touch us without consent and just get away with it,” he said – this alleged incident was different.
There was what Taylor described as the sexual nature of this alleged touching. The fact that he knew the woman’s name – unlike virtually every other incident in the past – as a viewer of Taylor’s TikTok post about this helped identify her, enabling him to take action.
So Taylor went to authorities, seeking justice not just for himself but others who identify as part of the little person community, he said.
People are not taken seriously when they report being victimized based on the perception that they are people with one or more disabilities.
Marc Fliedner, of Disability Rights New York
It went nowhere. He alleges that he was bounced between law enforcement agencies, with both the Manhattan district attorney’s Office and New York police department failing to investigate.
Taylor’s alleged situation is probably not an isolated incident: disability rights advocates say that authorities often drop the ball on hate crime investigations involving acts against persons with disabilities – as well as crimes against them in general. Dwarfism is “a recognized condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act”, according to Little People of America, an advocacy organization.
“Disability is a class protected by the New York state hate crimes statute. Nevertheless, people are not taken seriously when they report being victimized based on the perception that they are people with one or more disabilities,” said Marc Fliedner, of Disability Rights New York. Fliedner, director of the Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, previously worked as a hate crimes prosecutor.
“Our analysis establishes that communication barriers that stem from disabilities result in inaccurate recorded reports to law enforcement. This illustrates how important it is that law enforcement agencies do better with fundamental concepts of accessibility. Sadly, when hate crime reports are not taken seriously, and people feel that reporting is useless, this leads to underreporting.”
In New York City, which has a population of more than 8 million, prosecutors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens currently have no pending hate crimes cases involving attacks on persons based on their disabilities. The US Census Bureau has said that nearly 13% of residents have a disability; the US Centers for Disease Control says that 25% of adults live with a disability.
The New York police department hate crimes data portal does not cite any recent bias offenses based on disability; the Bronx district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The Staten Island district attorney did recently secure several disability-based hate crime convictions of people who stole money from people with disabilities.
Andrew Stengel, Taylor’s attorney, contacted prosecutors early this winter, believing that Taylor’s ordeal was a hate crime. At a maximum, Stengel thought, Taylor was a victim of a hate crime and at a minimum, a sex crime, or both: “Ultimately, the DA’s office decided not to act, which was disappointing to both Aubrey and me.”
Taylor was told to call the NYPD, and he did. “I had been told that I had to live there in order to, I had to physically come down to file a report. If something happens, they couldn’t do it over the phone,” said Taylor, who lives in Arizona. “But then I was told that there was a form.
“It was just really confusing, and I was looking at the form like, is this the right one and she’s like, ‘maybe’.”
Asked for comment, the NYPD said: “The NYPD takes sexual assault and rape cases extremely seriously, and urges anyone who has been a victim to file a police report so we can perform a comprehensive investigation, and offer support and services to survivors.”
Responding to Taylor’s allegation of law enforcement inaction, a spokesperson for Manhattan’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, said: “DA Bragg and the Manhattan DA’s Office are deeply committed to supporting disabled survivors. In this case, with an alleged defendant residing out of state, we advised the victim’s attorney of the steps necessary to move this case forward and we stand at the ready to assist if they choose to do so.”
Stengel disagreed with that characterization and felt that prosecutors simply passed the buck. “In no way did the DA’s office support this disabled survivor, Aubrey Taylor,” he said.