Online abuse of those with disabilities increases more than 50 percent during lockdown

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Kerry Thompson was just 24 when she was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy.

Now 42, the lifestyle and disability blogger from Milton Keynes uses her online forums to raise awareness and campaign for disability rights.

But when she goes online, she says she is sometimes faced with horrific abuse.

"I've been told that I should have been aborted. I've been told that I'm a drain on society, so just die quickly," Kerry explained.

She said that although she also gets "hundreds" of positive messages too, she finds herself fixating on the negative ones, which can become "mentally draining".

"It's not necessary. You know, I'm human, I'm exactly the same as everybody else. The only difference is, I've got a set of four wheels that make me independent," she added.

According to Freedom of Information data requested from 39 police forces in England and Wales by charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response, there were 9,200 disability hate crimes reported to police in 2020-21, both online and in person.

Of those, 44% were classed as "violent", involving assault or possession of weapons, up 4.4% from the previous 12 months.

But with lockdowns forcing people to stay at home for much of the year, it was in online abuse that the biggest increase was seen with 981 cases, up 52% on 2019-20.

However, the charities suspect the number of reports doesn't truly reflect the scale of the incidents, as many people are hesitant to go to the police, fearing they won't be taken seriously.

And with just 104 reported crimes referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or resulting in a charge in 2020-21, they say it is little wonder the number of repeat offenders was up 88.5% on the previous year.

A spokesperson for Leonard Cheshire and United Response said: "The stories we've heard suggest many police officers do not have a good understanding of disability.

"So we're calling for a specialist disability liaison officer in every police force. We want the government to make disability hate crime easier to report too."

Lionel Idan, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London South and CPS Hate Crime Lead, said: "Hate crime against disabled people is truly abhorrent and has a significant detrimental impact on victims and the wider community.

"The CPS has an enormous amount of sympathy and concern for all victims of disability hate crime, and always takes such offending very seriously.

"We continue to work closely with the police to improve outcomes for victims and to engage with our communities to build greater confidence and reassurance."

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