Mind reveals alarming levels of disability hate crime
Posted Thursday 29 November 2007
71 per cent victimised in community in last 2 years
64 per cent dissatisfied with authorities' response to crime reports
Today Mind publishes a shocking new report Another assault (1) exposing the extreme levels of harassment and victimisation experienced by people with mental health problems in the community. Mind's new research reveals that 71 per cent of respondents with mental health problems had been the victim of a crime in the last two years, with just 19 per cent feeling safe all of the time in their own homes. In a further blow, victims' reports of these crimes are frequently not taken seriously by the very authorities that should be there to help them.
People with mental health problems are 11 times more likely to be victimised than society as a whole (2). Mind found the following shocking levels of victimisation that compared worryingly with the British Crime Survey (BCS) of national figures over one year (3):
- 71 per cent of respondents had been victimised in the last two years (compared to 24.4 per cent in the BCS)
- 22 per cent had been physically assaulted (compared to 3.6 per cent in the BCS)
- 27 per cent had been sexually harassed and 10 per cent sexually assaulted (BCS figures of sexual violence are too low to be recorded separately)
- 22 per cent reported being physically assaulted (compared to 3.6 per cent being the victim of violence in the BCS)
- 41 per cent were the victims of ongoing bullying
- 26 per cent had their homes targeted
- Nearly 90 per cent of respondents living in local authority housing had been victimised.
Victims were called names, followed, pestered, chased, and had things thrown at them. Others were spat at, received prank calls and hate mail. Some received death threats. One support worker told Mind about a client who had been harassed in all of the ways we enquired about, culminating in his murder.
"The police officer said that the client was probably imagining it or trying to get attention." "I'm not seen as a credible witness."
- 64 per cent of victims of crime and harassment were dissatisfied with the response of the authorities to reporting the incident
- 60 per cent of victims said appropriate authorities did not take them seriously
- 36 per cent of those who didn't report a crime felt police wouldn't believe them
- Many cases are dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service before they get to court without any consultation with the victim or support being offered
- Mental health history is often used by defence lawyers in cross examination to discredit victims, despite being irrelevant to the case
Poor relationships between people with mental distress and the police were the most frequently cited barrier to justice. Respondents said that disclosing a mental health diagnosis resulted in a hardening of police attitudes, and a loss of sympathy. People felt reporting crimes was pointless as the authorities would do nothing about it.
In February this year, 'disability hate crime' sentencing provision was introduced enabling courts to increase sentences for any offence aggravated by hostility towards a person's mental health. With so many service users being brushed aside when they try and report harassment, police officers may not always identify a case as disability hate crime nor collect sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that hate and discrimination was the motivation.
Mental distress affects 1 in 4 people and will only very rarely prevent people from knowing when they have been a crime victim or being able to give good evidence in court. The situation in courts is worsened by the fact that anyone receiving treatment for a mental health problem including a minor depressive illness is not eligible to sit on a jury.
Minds calls for:
- The British Crime Survey to start recording crimes against people with mental health problems. We need to know the scale of the problem, so we can measure how well the justice system is responding to diverse groups
- All frontline police, CPS recruits and legal professionals should receive mental health awareness training, delivered by people with mental distress
- Tighter rules around the use of mental health histories in court. Psychiatric experts should be independent, rather than acting for the defence or prosecution
- Sentencing that reflects the need to challenge discrimination against people with mental health problems
- Third party reporting schemes available around the country, so people are empowered to report a crime (4).
Today Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: "Time and again we hear stories of people with mental health problems being discriminated against, but what we have uncovered here is evidence of bullying, harassment and victimisation on an alarming scale. People with mental distress feel unsafe in their own communities, unsafe in their own homes and have even come to expect harassment as part of living with mental distress. Victimisation of any group of people on this scale is unacceptable, and we need the Government to show that disability hate crime will not be tolerated."
"In an added blow, people with mental health problems are having to fight for justice when crimes are committed against them, as all too often, criminal justice agencies simply don't believe them. There is a huge education exercise to be done so that victims are treated seriously, and not automatically written off by the authorities who are meant to support them."
(1) Mind (2007) Another assault
(2) Levin (2005) People with mental illness more often crime victims. Psychiatric news, Volume 40, No. 17, pp16.
(3) Home Office Statistical Bulletin: Crime in England and Wales 2006/07, 4th Edition. Edited by Sian Nicholas, Chris Kershaw and Alison Walker, July 2007
(4) Third party reporting schemes give victims an alternative place, other than police stations, to report crimes against them. They provide victims with information and advice, work to improve police relations and help people with mental health problems get equal access to justice.