Silent Witness highlights hidden problem of disability hate crime

Purple painted square and orange painted marks

Tonight’s episode of Silent Witness covers the subject of disability hate crime. This is something that’s widely experienced by people with disabilities across the UK.

In the episode, a road traffic accident leads the Silent Witness team to uncover widespread abuse and harassment occurring in a group of support services for people with learning disabilities.

For forensic scientist Clarissa Mullery, played by disabled actor Liz Carr, this case is particularly significant as she fights against the prejudice and discrimination experienced by the people living in those services.

Whilst this makes for powerful and poignant drama, the episode highlights an important issue that is not often seen on TV, and is certainly not widely known about by the general public. The reality is that harassment and abuse is a daily occurrence for thousands of people with disabilities throughout the UK. Indeed, recent findings indicate that one in four disabled people have experienced hate crime, including 90% of people with learning disabilities.

Disability hate crime is a criminal offence that is motivated by attitudes based on ignorance, hostility and prejudice concerning a person’s disability or perceived disability. It can take many forms, including physical attacks such as assault, damage to property, graffiti and arson; verbal abuse, insults and harassment, including bullying at school, college or in the workplace; and threats of attack, including sending offensive or threatening messages; abusive phone calls and intimidation are all examples of hate crimes.

Experiencing hate crime can be extremely frightening and upsetting. If you are worried about hate crime, it is important to talk to someone you trust, such as a friend, parent, carer, teacher or support worker. By reporting hate crime, you can get the help and support you need. You can also help to prevent it from happening to other people.

Report hate crime

Find out about Safe Places schemes in your local area – this is a scheme to support vulnerable and disabled people if they feel scared or at risk while they are out and about in community and need support right away.

There are a number of ways you can report hate crime, whether you have experienced it directly yourself or have seen it happen to other people:

  • Call the police on 101
  • Contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111
  • If you are in danger or feeling threatened, always call 999

An increasing number of hate crimes are being reported to the police with Home Office statistics showing a 44% year on year increase in recorded incidents. It is likely that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with many people not coming forward to report incidents to the police, and also some of the barriers that many people experience when it comes to reporting a crime. However, the evidence absolutely supports the importance of reporting concerns and that the police take it extremely seriously.

A disabled colleague I worked with told me about the taunts and verbal threats he used to experience from school children on his daily bus journey to work. For him, his daily commute became unbearably intimidating, frightening and distressing. He decided to take action as this was having a significant impact on his day to day working life. After reporting his concerns to the school and bus company, he decided to report it to the police. He also got involved in a local project to raise awareness of disability hate crime at local schools – this showed real strength and resilience but he was committed to being proactive in tackling the abuse he experienced.

For the many people that will have experienced disability hate crime, the Silent Witness episode will most certainly resonate with them. It will also serve as a powerful tool to raise awareness of this issue, for the first time for many people, along with the importance of reporting incidents of harassment and abuse.


What is safeguarding and what is abuse? Read Sense’s information and advice on what you should do if you’re concerned about the welfare of someone being cared for.

Jonathan Monk

Author: Jonathan Monk

Jonathan is the Head of Quality at Sense

1 thought on “Silent Witness highlights hidden problem of disability hate crime”

  1. What happens when the abusers are people no one would possibly believe could ever be perpetrators of disability hate crime? Or what if it’s the police discriminating against a disabled person because the person dares to say they have been abused by people in positions of trust?
    Spoiler alert
    The abused person has the choice between abuse and sleeping in a doorway and a year later still no justice.

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