Example 1: Studies on Disability-Related
Harassment

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization 

Equality and Human Rights Commission Great Britain
Web:  http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/

Established in 2007 by the British Government, the Equality and Human Rights Commission now promotes and monitors human rights across nine protected grounds. Under the Equality Act of 2006, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is charged “with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which (a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination, (b) there is respect for and protection of each individual’s human rights, (c) there is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, (d) each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society, and (e) there is mutual respect between groups based on understand and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.” Equality Act, 2006, c. 3, § 3 (Eng, Wales and Scot).

The Problem 

People with disabilities are often targets of harassment and violence and in many cases the violence results in death or serious injury. However, harassment and hate crimes against persons with disabilities are largely undocumented and as such and remain invisible to society. In cases where persons with disabilities are harassed to the point of serious injury, authorities have been often aware of earlier, less serious incidents of harassment but failed to take adequate precautions. Sometimes authorities disregard or disbelieve reports of violence against persons with disabilities or sometimes they fail to share information with other relevant organizations.  Often authorities seek to change the victim’s behavior rather than addressing the perpetrator’s behavior. Also, people with disabilities do not always report violence against them for many factors including social isolation. When harassment progresses to degrading and dehumanizing treatment, authorities often fail to classify this behavior as a hate crime as they would for other protected characteristics.

Actions Taken 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission conducted an inquiry into the everyday experiences of persons with disabilities who were subject to harassment.  The inquiry featured ten selected cases where persons with disabilities have died or been seriously injured as a result of disability-related harassment. The inquiry utilized the ten selected cases to illustrate the key features of disability-related harassment.  Each case involved an in depth examination to explore how and why disability-related harassment occurs.

The inquiry engaged with authorities involved with each of the cases leading to open dialogue about the breakdown in protection of the individual. After reviewing all of the materials and analyzing the common features, the inquiry developed seven core recommendations and 79 detailed recommendations. The Equality and Human Rights Commission then published the recommendations for public consultation through which they received 81 formal responses.  Based upon these, the Commission released a second report detailing 43 final recommendations under seven categories.

Results & Lessons Learned 

The inquiry and report are valuable on many levels.  The inquiry enabled authorities involved in cases of pervasive harassment to reflect on their role of protecting persons with disabilities and how this may best be accomplished. As well, the inquiry made public issues of disability-related harassment and the gross violations of rights that occur against persons with disabilities in Great Britain. Lastly, the inquiry and report develop positive recommendations that will be helpful in guiding further discussion and policy reform in the area of disability-related harassment.

The recommendations are categorize under the following seven categories:

1. Reporting, recording and recognition to counter that “underreporting of disability-related harassment was widespread; that disabled people often saw incidents as so commonplace as to be part of daily life and not ‘hate crimes’ and that those receiving reports of harassment were failing to ask about disability or see it as a potential motivation.”

2. Addressing gaps in legislation and policy to counter “disparity in sentencing guidelines for different groups and an insufficiently robust safeguarding referral process that means people are put at risk and criminal acts are not promptly referred to the police.”

3. Ensuring adequate support and advocacy to counter “gaps in provision of support services, not just at the reporting stage but throughout and beyond the process of accessing justice.”

4. Improved practice and shared learning to prevent “problems with sharing data, failure to recognize ‘incidents’ and a failure to pick up incidents at an early stage.”

5. Redress and accessing justice to counter that “very few cases of disability-related harassment go through the courts; and even when they do, sentencing does not always follow.”

6. Prevention, deterrence and understanding motivation to counter “a lack of investment in research into the motivation and profile of perpetrators” and the lack of “statutory requirement to conduct a serious case review for the murder of a disabled person.”

7. Transparency, accountability and involvement to counter “that the absence of data is a major problem to identifying, preventing and tackling disability-related harassment” and that it also “makes it harder for individuals and organizations at a local level to hold authorities to account for their performance.”

Additional Resources