Plans to stamp out hate crime
PUBLISHED: 14:00 07 July 2011
HATE crime must be stamped out to prevent vulnerable North Somerset residents from feeling 'frightened' about going out in their own community, say charity bosses.
The police, NHS bodies, council and many agencies from across the district are getting behind Mencap, a national charity which works on behalf of families and people with a learning disability.
The organisation is leading a three-year campaign, called Stand by Me, which aims to improve support for people with learning difficulties when they are victims of crime, particularly hate crimes.
It was initiated during Learning Disabilities Week, when an information stand was set up at Weston’s Sovereign Shopping Centre on June 24 to educate the public.
One young Weston woman with a learning disability said: “I don’t like going out much at night because people make fun of me.
“They make faces and call me names like stupid and retard and other horrible names.
“This makes me feel frightened and upset.
“How would people feel if they were treated the way I’m treated? It’s not my fault I have Down’s syndrome.”
A petition is currently circulating businesses in Weston to encourage support and can also be found in the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Wadham Street.
Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy co-ordinator, David Congton, said: “Recently, three men who tortured a 17-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome walked away with a sentence of just 80 hours community service.
“And in another high-profile case, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter after the police failed to stop the abuse they were subjected to by local youths.”
As part of the campaign a form has now been developed for people to fill out when they have been victims of hate crime and this can be found at www.LD4U.org.uk
Michelle Burnett, general manager of North Somerset People First, an independent organisation which is part-funded by the council, said: “The campaign helps support people with learning difficulties to speak up for themselves and be aware of their rights.
“People accept bullying and hate crime as they can experience this routinely as part of their life.
“They need help and support to understand that it’s wrong and they don’t need to tolerate it.
“If people do report it the police will deal with it as a crime and people can also report it to someone who supports them, like a social worker or our organisation.
“They can also fill out an anonymous form as it is really important that people are helped to speak out when they are victims.”
Michelle said some business owners can be dismissive of people with learning difficulties and some have even been asked to leave the premises as they do not ‘fit in’.
The Community Team for People with a Learning Disability and Avon and Somerset police also launched the Safe Haven scheme on June 24.
It is hoped many businesses will display a Safe Haven logo in their window, letting people know they can go in if they need some help and support.
The idea is that people can find somewhere safe if something goes wrong, if they are lost or confused or in trouble, which will make them feel safe and more confident.
North Somerset Council’s planning and development manager, Alison Stone, said: “There have been a lot of high-profile cases in the media about the treatment of some people with learning disabilities and it is just shocking.
“Hate crime can be dehumanising and we are here to campaign against this, to change people’s perceptions and to make a difference.
“It’s also about the general public changing their perceptions and being more thoughtful, helpful and understanding of people around them with learning disabilities.”
Alison also stressed it is important for the police and courts to take it seriously.
She added: “We are really pleased by the police’s response to this campaign in North Somerset and we are working in partnership with them to increase hate crime reporting.”
We asked people with learning disabilities what they thought of the new campaign:
Ruth Kiazim, aged 46, of Weston, said: “If people sign the petition it will help create awareness and will help people with learning disabilities feel more confident.
“It’s important to stop the bullying as I have seen it happen and it’s not nice.
“Some people say they haven’t been bullied as they are just used to it and they don’t think it’s bullying when it is.”
Andrew Willan, aged 37, of Weston, said: “I have had my flat broken into and had someone in the street take money off me.
“A man also tried to make me buy his coat when I didn’t want to.
“But I feel now like I can report these things as I am more confident now thanks to the help I have had.
“The campaign is a good thing and I hope people take an interest in it.”
Michelle Owers, aged 44, of Weston, said: “I have had people call me names in the past, horrible, nasty names.
“I was black and blue from where a girl had hurt me at college and when I reported it nothing was done so my mum got involved.
“Now I feel more confident, but there are times I feel frightened to go out, like at night, on public transport or in a pub as drunken people can be scary and unpredictable.
“I don’t really go out at night that much and if I do I am on the telephone constantly to my dad.
“With the new Safe Haven scheme this will give me and others more confidence about going into town, as there will be more areas we can feel safe.
“The Lounge Cafe & Bistro on Weston seafront is a great example of a friendly and helpful restaurant which makes us feel at ease, and I hope that more places will eventually become like that.”