Have you felt like you or someone else you know with a disability has been the victim of a hate crime? We will admit that this isn’t a subject that we knew much about before coming across a BBC article discussing the issue.
“Last year, Christine Lakinski – a woman in her 50s with learning and physical disabilities – had collapsed in the street near her home in Harlepool when she was set upon by a neighbour. She was covered in shaving foam, urinated upon and filmed on a mobile phone as she lay dying.”
This horrendous account started us thinking about the issue – if there is actually an issue with disabled hate crimes.
According to the same BBC article, there have been multiple deaths where the assailed was either physically or mentally disabled, or a combination of the two. The question asked seems to be – where does the title “hate crime” come into play?
If you are picking on someone who is different from you, is it a matter of “hate” or is it just a form of bullying? When someone is either physically or mentally hurt from the actions of another, does it matter what the label is? According to the law, there is a significant difference.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.” Hate itself is not a crimeÃ¢â‚¬’and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”
Interestingly enough, “federal statutes prevent the FBI from investigating crimes of bias motivated solely by … disability” as this is primarily the domain of the local law enforcement. Because hate crimes are often a blurry area, they tend to get prosecuted as arson, murder or intimidation. For disability specifically, the majority of crimes usually fall under Title 42 – Criminal Interference with Right to Fair Housing. This statute focuses on preventing intimidation, interference or injury in regards to a person’s housing rights.
This makes sense when you consider the amount of disabled people who are unable to care for themselves physically and are dependent on either paid or non-paid companions to assert their rights. But what about those who are harassed outside of a housing situation?
The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 labels a hate crime as an “offense motived by hatred or prejudice towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability. It is also a criminal offense in which immediately before, after or during the offense the perpetrator demonstrates hostility towards a person because of their actual or perceived disability.”
So what does all this mean? People with a disability are protected from hate crimes or anything that can be construed as a hate crime by our legal system. The difficulty is not just in the justice system’s definition, but in what the person who encountered the situation considers the harassment, intimidation or abuse to be.
In our research we found multiple accounts of those who both supported the idea of a disabled hate crime and those who thought it was too strong or too general of a term. Where this becomes important is when the definition is imperative to categorizing acts against the disabled as hate crimes in order to better protect them from abuse.
In the UK, surveyors found that the 68 recorded cases of disability hate crimes prosecuted between April and September 2007 fell far short of the number those surveyed had directly experienced. When it’s a matter of protecting and denouncing this sort of crime, it becomes vitally important to have them not only clearly defined, but to have a precedent to follow that will help prevent future occurrences.
Call it “harassment” or call it a hate crime; any degree of abuse towards a disabled person should be confronted immediately for what it is. And hopefully, with a greater awareness of this issue, more people will be willing to protect those who are physically or mentally unable to protect themselves.