Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Let’s support people with learning disabilities and autistic people to report hate crime

Dr Mark Brookes MBE, Campaign Advisor, Dimensions

As Hate Crime Awareness Week came and went last week, so too did a familiar lack of public attention placed on the underreporting of hate crime against people with learning disabilities and autism. While over half of people with learning disabilities or autism have experienced hate crime in the past year, only 48% of victims reported their experience to the police. Many of those who suffer hate crime don’t report it for fear of how the police will respond. A new, free police training programme aims to change all that.

90% of people with autism or learning disabilities will experience hate crime during their lifetime, and, as somebody who has experienced this first-hand, I know well how these experiences can affect a person, how they can destroy a life. Online abuse, verbal attacks, physical assaults – none of these are trivial, and none of them should be ignored. In a survey produced by Dimensions, one of the country’s largest not-for-profit organisations supporting people with learning disabilities and autism, 82% of respondents revealed they had been verbally abused in person, while over a third had experienced this online.

A further 44% said that they had been threatened, hurt, or coerced into doing things, and 34% said that they had been the victims of sexual abuse. Freedom of Information Requests made by United Response and Leonard Cheshire from 35 police forces also revealed that hate crimes involving violence were 27% higher in 2021/22 than the previous year, with online hate crimes up by 20%. Yet, despite these startling numbers, there has been little action to help people with learning disabilities and autism to share their experiences with those in a position to effect change.

One way to address this is through collaboration with police forces. This year, Dimensions, in consultation with Avon and Somerset Constabulary, have developed an e-learning resource  for front line police officers to support them in responding to learning disability and autism hate crime. The resource builds on the delivery of a six-year campaign and national training with police forces nationwide and was created in consultation with the Avon and Somerset Police, aimed at helping police officers to understand what barriers might exist for people in reporting a hate crime and increase the chances of gaining a conviction.

Police force training makes up one step forward in a broader journey to challenge hate crime and support victims. A comprehensive plan to tackle the underreporting of hate crime and its causes must be supported with targeted strategies, including the integration of teacher training and tailored lesson plans into primary and secondary education, and clear proposals addressed to those national bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service who are best placed to improve investigation protocols within the criminal justice system. Both of these approaches, which also form part of Dimensions’ #ImWithSam campaign, provide those in positions of power with the necessary tools to competently support victims and increase levels of reporting.

Our experiences and awareness of hate crime allow us to pass insights onto those groups best placed to implement institutionalised improvement. Organisations with the power to bring about change for victims of hate crime are invited to work alongside Dimensions, so that we may help people with learning disabilities and autism to come forward and have their voices heard.


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