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Dimensions calls for urgent reform to target online hate and abuse

Today, Tuesday 6th February, Dimensions is giving evidence to the House of Commons Petitions Select Committee into online abuse and the experience of disabled people.

Commenting on the inquiry, Andie Gbedemah says:

“People with learning disabilities and autism are all too often the targets of hate, abuse and exploitation online.

“Current protective measures encourage people to avoid potentially risky or harmful situations online. This fosters an environment where people may hide their disability, restrict online activity, or steer clear of social media to avoid attracting abuse.

“People with autism and learning disabilities have a right to feel safe online, and to freely participate in our digital environments. We need to change the online behaviour of abusers, not victims.

“Dimensions have been actively campaigning against learning disability and autism hate crime through our #ImWithSam campaign, and for years we’ve been waiting for the government to act on recommendations* to reform our hate crime laws.

“There is currently a gap between what is considered a criminal act in person, and what is deemed criminal online. This sends a dangerous message that online abuse is less serious and harmful than offline abuse.

“Today, we’re calling for an urgent reform to law to close this gap, and a wider review of hate crime legislation, to protect people from abuse and to send a zero-tolerance message to perpetrators of hate.

“In the long-term, the greatest impact will come from changing the attitudes of people who carry out online abuse. A reform to law is a vital step in making that a reality.”

*Law Commission Report of 2014 – Hate Crime: Should Current Offences be Extended?

This is Patrick’s story

Patrick was accessing Facebook independently. This resulted in him sending friend requests to people he did not know, looking to make friends online.

On one occasion, Patrick’s support workers discovered that he was video chatting with a group of girls.

The girls were asking inappropriate questions of a sexual nature, asking him to dance on screen and asking him to send them revealing images.

In this instance, the gentleman misunderstood and fortunately sent images that weren’t sexual in nature.

The risks of this encounter were twofold – Patrick would have been sexually exploited, leading to harm and upset for him.

He may also have been open to accusations from the group that he had harassed them.

This is not uncommon in disability hate crime, where victims are goaded or coerced by perpetrators, such that they are treated as the offender.

Listen to Mark’s BBC Radio Sussex interview

Dimensions colleagues Campaigns Advisor, Mark Brooks and Public Affairs Officer, Andie Gbedemah, were also on BBC radio Sussex this morning (skip to 1.12.45 for the interview) talking about Mark’s experience of online hate crime.

Find out more about hate crime and I’m With Sam.