Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Victims of hate crimes in Wales 'hesitant to report'

From BBC News. In the picture, Simon Green presented a documentary about the abuse disabled people suffer on a daily basis.

More needs to be done to encourage the victims of hate crime to come forward, say equality campaigners.

Figures revealed to BBC Wales show that the number of recorded hate crimes and conviction rates in Wales is at a five-year high.

Criminology expert Matthew Williams is leading a study into the true scale of hate crime in Wales.

He said most victims are reluctant to report crimes even if they suffer discrimination daily.

Earlier this year the Crown Prosecution Service issued new guidelines to prosecutors which it says will help increase the number of cases brought to court.

It is particularly keen to clamp down on disability hate crime following high profile cases like those of Fiona Pilkington and David Askew.

Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter, Francecca Hardwick, 18, after years of abuse from a gang in Barwell, Leicestershire.

An inquest into her death heard she had contacted police more than 30 times about abuse claims, making her last report of intimidation by a gang of youths on the day she died.

Dr Williams, senior lecturer in criminology at the Cardiff Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, is the academic partner on a joint three-year study with the Cardiff and Vale Equality and Human Rights network.

He said figures revealed to the BBC showing recorded hate crimes had doubled in five years were just the tip of the iceberg.

Sylvia Daly, 68, and Maggie Redding, 71, have been in a relationship 30 years and in a civil partnership since 2007.

They moved from their sheltered housing unit in the Gwent force area after what they claim was a concerted hate campaign by other residents.

They now live in Kent in England.

Maggie said: "It started with very small things and it took us a while to realise it was homophobic, but then it escalated.

"I would call it a silent campaign of abuse - people started by avoiding us and refusing to speak to us and then there were little things like plant pots being smashed.

"Later we were subjected to verbal abuse and intimidated

"We put up with it for a year and then we left Wales altogether.

"It has taken us a long time to get over it- the whole thing left us very depressed and anxious.

"It was like playground bullying and it made us feel ashamed."

Sylvia said: "Homophobic prejudice is very difficult to define.

"You do make allowances for people but when you are subject to it, it is hard to pin down.

"What I would say to anyone experiencing this is go to the police, no matter how small you think the incident is and they will be supportive.

"Consistent low-level bullying like that which takes place over a period of time can have a real effect."

"None of these figures surprise me and while they are encouraging, I think this is a societal change which could take decades to improve.

"There's no reliable data on instances of hate crime in Wales - the British Crime survey touches on it but those minorities being targeted are not represented.

"Previous data on reported crimes reveals that about 80% of all hate crime goes unreported.

"What needs to be tackled is this day to day low level sustained discrimination - otherwise we will see more catastrophic outcomes like the Fiona Pilkington case."

His view is shared by Simon Green, a wheelchair user from Bridgend, who earlier this year presented a BBC Wales Week in Week Out documentary on disability hate crime.

He wants to see legislation changed so that there are specific charges for disability and homophobic hate crimes, as there are for racially motivated crimes.

He said: "People are having their lives destroyed on a daily basis and dying because of it.

"When I was first in a wheelchair I expected I might be treated a bit differently but I didn't expect that I would get tipped out of my chair and abused on a regular basis."

He admitted many victims do not realise that a hate crime has been committed and that they have a legitimate right to report it.

He said: "If I reported every single incident, I would be phoning the police every time I go out.

"I would like to see more education being done in schools to teach young people about equality and awareness."

The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently unveiled its Not just another statistic research which attempts to uncover what it is like for minorities to be on the receiving end of prejudice daily.

Wales director Kate Bennett said they were currently concentrating on disability hate crime in particular.

"Our Disability Formal Harassment Inquiry is investigating where this sort of harassment takes place and what the hotspots are.

"Attitudes are changing - the cases of Fiona Pilkington and Simon Green's documentary have been crucial.

"But hate and crime are both strong words and so people often don't think they apply to them as they don't think a crime has been committed.

"We have seen figures from the police which suggest that in the last couple of months the reporting of hate crime has shot up.

"What we want to see is more incidents identified before they start building up.

"Sadly incidents are incredibly common - the Valleys Racial Equality Council has said that every ethnic minority person in the valleys is subjected to harassment every week."

The police forces in Wales have been working with groups representing those most likely to fall victim to hate crime to improve training among officers.

In the Gwent force, 14 officers and support staff have been trained as part of its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGB&T) liaison service.

Det Sgt Wendy Keepin was instrumental in setting the service up.

She told BBC Wales: "I think there is a perception among some people that their experience would not be taken seriously if they reported it and that's inaccurate.

"It's no secret that homophobic crimes and incidents are heavily under-reported - some people don't want to come out publicly and feel coming forward to report a crime will identify them.

"We can understand that but we want them to know we will deal with their complaints in total confidentiality.

"Our trained team is sympathetic and understand their needs so all cases are referred to get support and advice- we hope the way we are dealing with these victims will encourage more to come forward."

Stonewall Cymru, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, has been working closely with the police forces and CPS in Wales.

Jenny Porter, community liaison officer for the charity, said: "Really these are tip of the iceberg figures, many more people experience homophobic hate crime than report.

"Our survey found that one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual people had fallen victim to a homophobic hate crime or incident in the last three years but seven in 10 of those had not reported that experience to anyone.

"From a victim perspective whether they report it or not, the incident still has a major impact on their lives."

There had been a 25% increase of LGBT people using victim support services since Stonewall Cymru began a concerted campaign in January, she added.