Barbara McIntosh, Co-Director of the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities:
"During last week’s Learning Disability Week Mencap launched their new campaignStand By Me. Centred around raising awareness of hate crimes directed at people with learning disabilities, this campaign tackles a really important and topical issue. The brave and moving videos and testimonials on Mencap's website show just how great the effect of hate crime can be on those who experience it. What makes these crimes particularly harrowing are that they are experienced by some of the most vulnerable members of society and are often not identified as hate crime by the authorities, resulting in a lack of support and intervention for those who need it most.
We have all heard of the high profile cases in the media recently such as the devastating story of Fiona Pilkington, the mother of a learning disabled child who, after years of abuse by those in her community, chose to take her daughters and her own life rather than face the harassment any more. There are countless, similar stories where people with learning disabilities and their families are systematically victimised, bullied and harassed until they reach crisis point, or are killed at the hands of their abusers. Disability Now, Getting Away With Murder, shows just a few of the appalling cases where people with learning disabilities have been targeted by those in their own families or communities, by bullies, who had no respect for the lives of those they targeted and eventually died at their hands; often with those responsible getting only a few years sentence for their crimes. If these crimes had been prosecuted as Hate Crimes, the sentences would have been much more severe.
Any type of hate crime can have a real and significant impact on those who they target. Bullying and harassment can be very detrimental to the wellbeing of those who are trying to live a normal life in the communities. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, people with a learning disability are four times more likely to be a victim of hate crime, and twice as likely to be a victim of a violent attack, than someone without a learning disability. This targeting of our most vulnerable members of society must be addressed if we are to avoid hearing more stories like that of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter.
Esme Fairbairn have commissioned a research project to investigate these issues, to ascertain how those who have experienced bullying and harassment can be supported and how policy can be influenced to change attitudes towards these crimes in the future. We at the Foundation are delighted to have been asked by Esme Fairbairn to work alongside Lemos and Crane to research this issue and hope that the project can help overcome some of the issues that those who experience bullying and harassment face. The project aims to listen to those people with learning disabilities who have experienced bullying and harassment, find examples of community support that has worked in helping support people who have experienced bullying and harassment, develop models of support and prevention for practitioners, and develop recommendations which can influence policy at a national level.
By talking to people who have experienced this kind of abuse first hand we hope to be able to get a real understanding of why this is happening, where it is happening and how people can be better supported to ensure that innocent people are not pushed to crisis point because of the attitudes and victimisation of others. The project will run for three years with the results being published in 2014.
What do you think can help people with learning disabilities to be better supported to deal with hate crime, bullying and harassment? "
Tackling cruelty towards people with learning disabilities living in the community conference December 2012