Disability hate crime needs tackling

Recent statistics released by the Crown Office show that reported incidents of disability hate crime in Scotland are, shockingly, on the rise.

The majority of people who have learning disabilities will be bullied at some point in their lives. Picture: Toby Williams

There were 154 charges in 2013-14 directly relating to disability prejudice. It is, however, widely accepted that disability- related hate crime is significantly under-reported, and the actual figures are much higher. Behind every statistic lies an individual’s story, and ENABLE Scotland hears too many such stories from members who have learning disabilities and have experienced this kind of malicious behaviour.

Peter McMahon, of Easterhouse, Glasgow, is a member of ENABLE Scotland, and an ardent campaigner against the bullying and harassment of people who have learning disabilities.

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Peter, 44, has a learning disability and has been the victim of bullying, and therefore speaks from personal experience. As part of Peter’s efforts to try to ensure others needn’t suffer the same experiences as he has made three films about his life. These are his introductory words from his first film, where he talks about being victimised on public transport: -

“You’re getting cans of juice and water thrown at you, you’re getting bottles of water poured over you. I had an occasion with three girls – they made fun of me. The bus was full and nobody came to my defence. One of them pushed me up against the window and was shouting at me. Her two pals were instigators, watching it all. They were calling me all the loonies, spastics and mongols of the day, saying I had a face like an alien. So basically, it’s frightening because I’ll not open my mouth and say it’s annoying me.

“I just let them do what they want. I’m frightened to stand up to them in case they have a knife or something. It made me feel like I didn’t want to do anything for weeks and I ended up shutting myself in.”

Sadly, Peter’s experiences are not unique, and the majority of people who have learning disabilities will be bullied at some point in their lives.

Peter Scott, chief executive officer at ENABLE Scotland, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Scotland, and it must not be tolerated. We must work harder to understand and tackle the root causes of disability-related hate crime, and to change attitudes towards disability in our society.

“For this reason, and with the support of the Scottish Government, ENABLE Scotland is working with Strathclyde University to design a new resource for schools to educate children and young people about learning disability, and promote understanding of difference.”

ENABLE Scotland is also working with other organisations to develop a campaign, to be launched in November, to raise awareness of learning disability and encourage positive attitudes.

By working together, the aim is to support people who have learning disabilities to live free from fear of hate crime and bullying, and hopefully start to see reports of hate crime move in the opposite direction.

Peter’s first film My Life was released in 2009. Following its success, Peter made a sequel, My Life 2, which was shown to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament. This film also won high praise at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.

Peter uses his films to attempt to change attitudes. “I like to try and make things better,” he said. “I would like my films to be used as an educational tool.”

Peter approached First Bus to ask if they would use his films to raise awareness amongst bus drivers of bullying on public transport. The company now uses clips throughout the organisation as part of its staff training programmes.

His films are also used by ENABLE Scotland as part of the charity’s anti-bullying work.

Peter recently released his third film, which comprises a series of interviews with people talking about the action to take in the event of bullying. It will serve as a practical guide for those who have been affected by this all too common experience.

Peter was among those who made the pilgrimage recently to the Scottish Parliament to mark the 60th anniversary of ENABLE Scotland and take part in a debate about issues affecting people with learning disabilities.

Among the topics under discussion was the pressing need to tackle disability hate crime: an issue which is highlighted on a giant awareness poster featuring Peter in Glasgow’s Queen Street Station to co-incide with the Commonwealth Games.

• Peter Scott is chief executive officer of ENABLE Scotland www.enable.org.uk