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Disability hate crime

This advice applies to Scotland

If someone has been violent or hostile towards you because you’re disabled or has presumed you are disabled, you have been the victim of a hate incident or hate crime.

Disability hate incidents can happen anywhere. Sometimes you may know the person who attacked you. Sometimes hate incidents are carried out by strangers.

What is a disability hate incident

Something is a disability hate incident if the victim or anyone else thinks it was carried out because of hostility or prejudice against disabled people and there was malice and ill-will directed at you.

This means that if you believe something is a hate incident, it should be recorded as such by the person you are reporting it to.

Can you be the victim of a disability hate incident even though you’re not disabled

You can be the victim of a disability hate incident if someone believes you’re disabled even though you’re not and behaves with malice and ill-will towards you and demonstrates prejudice about disability in their behaviour.

You can also be the victim of a disability hate incident because of your association with someone who is disabled, for example, if someone targets you because you have a disabled child or you are caring for a disabled person.

What type of incidents can be a disability hate incident

Disability hate incidents can take many forms including:

  • verbal and physical abuse
  • teasing
  • bullying
  • threatening behaviour
  • online abuse
  • threatening or insulting texts
  • damage to property

It can be a one-off incident or part of an ongoing campaign of harassment or intimidation.

Sometimes a carer, a neighbour, a teacher or someone you consider a friend could be the perpetrator of a hate incident. It is not only strangers that behave in this way. It is often even more upsetting when someone you know behaves with malice and ill-will towards you relating to your disability.

When is a disability hate incident also a criminal offence

There are no specific disability hate crimes. Any criminal offence can be classed as a disability hate crime, if the offender targeted you or attacked you because of their hostility or prejudice against disabled people. Within the behaviour there must be some evidence that there was malice or ill-will towards you because of a disability.

When something is classed as a disability hate crime, a court can impose a tougher sentence on the offender from the law in the Offences (Aggravation by Prejudice) (Scotland) Act 2009.

Remember that the incident you have suffered may still be a crime, for example a breach of the peace or an assault, even if it’s difficult to show it was motivated by prejudice of disability.

What is meant by a disabled person

The definition is set out in section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. It says you’re disabled if:

  • you have a physical or mental impairment
  • your impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities

If you're unsure, you can check if you're disabled under the Equality Act.

What can you do about a disability hate incident or crime

If you’ve experienced a disability hate incident or crime you can report it to the police. 

You can also report a hate incident or crime even if it wasn’t directed at you. For example, you could be a friend, neighbour, family member, support worker or simply a passer-by. This is called third party reporting and you can report the matter directly to the police on their website.

If you’re being repeatedly harassed by the same person or group of people, it’s best to report all the hate incidents you experience to help the police get the full picture.

When reporting the incident or crime you should say you think it was motivated by hostility or prejudice based on disability.

You can report a hate crime on the Police Scotland website.

If you need help and support with reporting the incident or crime, you can contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Incidents at work

If you’ve experienced acts of hostility or harassment because of disability at work, you may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010.

If you're unsure, check if your problem at work is discrimination.

Incidents at or near home

Many disability hate incidents happen near the victim’s home. For example, you may be repeatedly harassed or intimidated by neighbours or local youths. People may be throwing things in your garden or damaging your property. Sometimes, disputes with neighbours escalate into verbal or physical abuse.

You can report these incidents to the police. There are also other things you can do to stop these acts.

You can get your local authority or landlord to take action under their antisocial behaviour powers. You can also take civil court action to get compensation and an order to stop the perpetrator continuing with the behaviour under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Find out more about antisocial behaviour.

Incidents at or near school

When bullying is motivated by hostility or prejudice relating to disability it can be a hate incident. Bullying in itself is not a criminal offence. If it is serious enough, it could also be a hate crime. Bullying includes cyber bullying.

If you’ve experienced bullying, the school should deal with it under their behaviour policy. They should also co-operate with the police and social work department if these other agencies get involved.

If the school fails to deal with the bullying, you may have a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010. You may also be able to challenge the schools failure to act under their public sector equality duty. 

Find more about how to deal with problems at school.

Next steps

How to report a hate incident or hate crime

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UAT (Release)