Almost half of adults with learning disabilities and autism had been victimised in the community


The British Crime Survey suggests that 9 out of ten disabled people have been the victims of disability hate crime, but Mencap’s Don’t Stand By report suggested that only around 3% of incidents are recorded by the police as hate crimes with only 1% leading to convictions.

The researchers in this three-year project set out to look at

  • How many people with autism and learning disabilities were victimised
  • The characteristics of victims and what happens to them
  • Who the perpetrators are
  • What barriers exist to reporting incidents and getting support
  • What impact experiences and fears of victimisation has on wellbeing
  • What the police find difficult in responding to reports


What they did was employ a mixed methods approach to gathering data, with four main strands

1.    They carried out a review of calls made to the National Autistic Society and Autism London helplines related to victimisation experiences.
2.    They ran seven focus groups with 31 people with learning disabilities and autism and four groups of 33 family and paid carers.
3.    They ran a survey exploring victimisation experiences of people with learning disabilities and autism, which garnered 255 responses
4.    They also carried out in depth interviews with 27 individuals, who volunteered, or who were invited to be involved by Kent Police



46% of sample reported victimisation experiences

What they found was

46% of the whole sample reported victimisation experiences. They also found that people with victimisation experiences were more likely to be:

  • younger
  • those with mental health difficulties
  • people with lower support needs

Whereas people without experiences were more likely to be in receipt of 24 hour support from staff

Nearly two thirds said it was teenagers who were the perpetrators and over half said the perpetrator as was known to them, (a friend, family member or neighbour)

As found in the Mencap investigation, nearly a fifth of victims had told no one. Only 38% had reported what had happened to the police.

Over 70% of those who had contact with the police were very or quite happy with the contact and said the police had stopped or tried to stop the bad things happening again.

16% of those who reported victimisation experiences said that life had changed for the worse as a result of those experiences.

Carers and families

Carers and families also reported significant impacts of victimisation experiences of people they supported. Those impacts were sometimes direct, in that carers themselves were also subject to victimisation, or indirect, in that they they had to manage and respond to the victimisation of the people they supported. Family carers reported being never “off duty” and living in fear of the phone ringing.

The police


Police face challenges in supporting victims, but most victims felt helped when issues reported

The police also identified a number of challenges in identifying and responding to disability hate crime including

  • Communication issues with people who have autism and learning disabilities
  • Getting  evidence to investigate and prosecute and the time required for officers

The authors conclude that although most people with learning disabilities and autism live in the community with no experience of hate crime or victimization, there were significant numbers who had been victimised, with many people living in fear of victimization.

The most common response to such victimisation was that people changed their lives in some way to avoid the reoccurrence of incidents and that the impact on victims and their families or supporters can be severe and long lasting

They identify a number of issues impacting on practice, including:

  • No clear, unambiguous definition of disability hate crime
  • Low levels of knowledge and experience of learning disability and Autism for police officers, in particular around questioning and taking statements
  • A reporting system that does not reliably capture level of vulnerability or whether or not people have a learning disability or autism
  • Under-reporting – as people do not think what they are experiencing is serious enough to involve the police or believe it to be ‘what people with learning disability have to go through’
  • Lack of preventative or proactive strategies
  • Lack of vision and leadership


As a result of their findings, the authors make a number of recommendations including:

At a national level they recommend

  • A refresh of the government hate crime action plan with specific expectations and timescales for simplifying hate crime definition, replacing the use of the word “hate”.
  • The College of Policing should support the development of knowledge and skills in working with people with learning disability and autism
  • The Department of Health should produce guidance for GPs around identifying physical and psychological effects of crime and harassment
Introduce a Charter on how agencies will respond to incidents

Report recommends introduction of Response Charter and Common Referral System

At the local level, they suggest that Community Safety Partnerships work with Health and Wellbeing Boards and the third sector to:

  • Introduce a Charter on how agencies will respond to incidents
  • Support nominated lead officers to help raise awareness, training and disseminate best practice
  • Develop a common referral system to police, housing, social and health care and Victim Support.
  • Offer post incident and crisis support for victims
  • Facilitate multi-agency panels to review cases, support and disposal options.


Beadle Brown, J., Guest, C, Richardson, L., Malovic, A., Bradshaw, J and Himmerich, J. (2013) Living in Fear: Better Outcomes for people with  learning disabilities and autism, Canterbury: Tizard Centre, University of Kent.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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