I took off for a quick trip to Norway last week, at the kind invitation of the Norwegian Network on Disability, to talk about my journalism uncovering disability hate crime way back in 2007 – though of course it’s an ongoing project – with the help of many activists, journalists and a few senior police officers who believed that disabled people were getting a very raw deal from the British legal system.
I don’t think I could have done that job without the help of two disabled feminists, Ruth Bashall and Anne Novis, whose understanding of gender based violence had underpinned their own grasp of disability hate crime. My own journey too started with the women’s movement, with the understanding that wherever you have an imbalance of power someone will abuse it (you can see that dynamic in care homes right now – read Goffman if you really need to understand the theory behind it). What the women’s movement did, brilliantly, was link activism and evidence to practice – and change how the legal system treated women affected by domestic violence and rape, to name but two gendered crimes. What we did with disability hate crime was shot through with the same anger and the same understanding that you have to have your evidence – your ducks in a row – before you can get change. Ruth and Anne had some of that evidence – my job as a journalist, along with my great friend, John Pring, at Disability Now, and a team of young disabled journalists, was to marshall so much that there had to be action and change.
Now, in Norway, in 2014, journalists and activists are asking – how do they go about creating that same process of change? As Berit Vegheim, a prominent disabled activist told me, she is coming across the very same disbelief that I encountered in 2007 – every time she finds a disability hate crime in Norway in her research, the police find an excuse as to why it was treated as something else (their hate crime law dates from just last year) – youthful high spirits, or motiveless malice – anything but disability hostility. (Katherine Runswick-Cole, from Manchester Metropolitan University also gave a presentation on disability in the time of austerity in the UK – I wish I had been able to stay for that.) There is a real unwillingness to accept that some people dislike and fear disabled people. But they do. Now Norwegian journalists and disabled people are putting together their own project to map disability hate crime there. I wish them all the best. I wish it wasn’t necessary. But I’m glad they have the laws, and really glad that the British experience is of some use. After all we all love a good Scandi thriller when it’s fictional – but it’s not so fun to star in one, unwillingly, as the victim.