Online disability hate crimes rise by more than 50% in a year, figures show

·3-min read

Hate-fuelled abuse of disabled people online has soared by more than 50% in the last year, according to police figures obtained by a charity.

There were 9,252 disability hate crimes reported to police across England and Wales in 2020/21 – up slightly from the previous year, according to the disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response.

This is the equivalent of 25 offences a day, but the charities warn that the problem is likely to be far greater due to underreporting.

Of these, 4,101 (44%) were classed as violent – involving assault or possession of weapons – up 4.4% from the previous 12 months.

And there were 981 disability hate crimes reported that occurred online – up 51.6% from 2019-20.

The data is taken from responses to Freedom of Information requests from 39 police forces.

Abi, from Yorkshire, had 50,000 followers on a social media platform when she was targeted by trolls.

The abuse was motivated by her having autism and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she said.

She said: “They revealed my real name and where I lived.

“The social media platform just told me to make my account private but took no action to identify the trolls or remove their hateful content.

“The police also just told me to unlink or deactivate my social profiles.”

There was also an 88.5% rise in the number of repeat offenders over the same period.

Leonard Cheshire said it was “perhaps little wonder” that repeat offender rates had risen, given that just 104 reported crimes were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or resulted in a charge in 2020-21.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

This is around 1% of the total reported.

Leonard Cheshire and United Response said: “Many disabled people we spoke to said they wouldn’t report their hate crime to the police, so our findings are likely to scarcely scratch the surface of the true scale of these horrific incidents.

“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.”

They added: “We also heard about the awful, long-term impact these crimes can have on individuals; leaving them isolated and frightened to leave their home. Clearly there needs to be disability specific support for victims.”

They said the Government’s promised disability awareness raising campaign should be an “opportunity to educate everyone, including young people and those in school, about disability hate crime”.

A Home Office spokesman said: “All forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable.

“The Government takes this issue very seriously, which is why we published the hate crime action plan which has improved the police response to all forms of hate crime.

“We are also working with disabled people and other disability stakeholders to develop a new Strategy which will be published in Autumn 2021.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt told the PA news agency he had not seen the figures, but that any significant rise in people being victimised due to having a disability is “something of course that we need to look at and deal with very, very seriously”.

He added: “I would certainly assure anybody that any hate crime is taken very seriously by policing and we will seek to do everything we can to minimise that victimisation.”

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