I know I’m a bit late to Learning Disability Week – which runs from the 20th June for.. well, a week but it remains a campaign and a group I have a great attachment to coming from years working with adults with learning disabilities before I qualified as a social worker.
The ‘theme’ if it can be called that, is a new campaign, called Stand by Me, which is being run by Mencap to challenge and hopefully phase out hate crime which is targeted towards people with learning disabilities.
Apart from, I hope, creating more of a stigma towards those who might seek out and target people with learning disabilities there is a focus on the ways in which crimes which are committed are dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system.
Mencap share some chilling but sadly unsurprising real life stories from people who have suffered from hate crime.
While accepting this is slightly different, I have had difficulties trying to pursue prosecutions for people who have dementia and who are the victims of crime and abusive situations due to the way that the systems are currently set up. I hope there is more attention paid to ways that these processes can be improved for everyone.
Hate crime is an offence which is committed against someone on the basis of their membership of a certain ‘group’ in society be that on by their race, class, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity and good old Wikipedia, gives an alternate definition of ‘bias-motivated crime’.
To call something a crime indicates that (obviously) there is a criminal act that has been committed for example, a physical assault but I think the discrimination and the effect of actions of hate towards those who have learning disabilities have significant effects on the way our society perceives some members of our society.
For example, name-calling. Verbal and emotional bullying. Laughing and pointing. This might not count as a ‘crime’ but as long as it is acceptable, it may lead to criminal acts. Those who talk about criticism of the use of certain words being ‘PC correctness gone mad’ would do well to remember that with disrespectful thoughts come disrespectful words and disrespectful and flippant words lead to disrespectful thoughts.
The more we create divides between ‘us’ and ‘them’ the more vulnerable we are to dehumanising ‘them’ and it turns to just a step away from the acceptable or non-intervention in a ‘hate crime’.
So for me, it is a very important campaign but must not just be restricted to those who commit criminal offences against people with learning disabilities. It must also be targeted at those of us who use flippant and insulting language to describe people with learning disabilities.
Someone who describes their phone as being ‘retarded’ because it doesn’t work (yes, that’s a real life example from someone who should know a lot better), that’s the first step towards dehumanisation and degradation of people with learning disabilities and yes, I was accused of ‘political correctness gone mad’ when I challenged this but I maintain and always will that the connection between language and respect are inherent.
So targeting hate crime isn’t just about systems and criminal offences although that is absolutely essential to target. It is about the people around us, the words we use and the respect we afford to other human beings. When we treat people with disabilities as ‘different’ or ‘others’ and dismiss them and their needs, we allow hate crime to flourish.