It took me 10 years to realise I’d been a victim of hate crime

I just couldn’t understand why people hated me for simply existing. 

It took me 10 years to realise I’d been a victim of hate crime
Jade at a bowling alley
I had no idea that disability hate crime is illegal (Picture: Jade Owen)

Hearing my phone ping, I clicked on my social media post – and instantly felt sick to my stomach. 

‘You probably don’t even have cerebral palsy – you’re just faking it!’ the comment read. The post came from a stranger. I could feel a wave of sadness engulfing me. 

This post was just the most recent after years of hurtful, harmful slurs that I had received – just because of my condition. 

Before this comment, one student in my year at school had threatened to throw me out of my wheelchair and said I should kill myself – that people like me didn’t belong in this world. 

At the time, I had no idea about disability hate crime, or that this is illegal and can be reported to the police. 

But more people should know – and I know if I’m ever subject to this vile behaviour again, I will certainly be reporting it. 

I’ve had cerebral palsy from birth. I was born prematurely and there was a lack of oxygen to my brain. The condition affects my legs and my whole right side and restricts my mobility, coordination and muscle movements. I use a wheelchair to get around.

Jade is sitting in a wheelchair, with casts on both her legs, with long blonde hair, smiling to camera
I’ve had cerebral palsy from birth (Picture: Jade Owen)

I’d always been teased at school because of my condition. But when I went to secondary school and became a teenager, the abuse got more frequent. My classmates would deliberately use offensive slurs, like ‘sp*z’ or ‘r****d’. 

At the same time as the verbal abuse, people regularly took away things like my lunch and my homework. 

Eventually I did report all this to the teachers but nothing was done about it. They told me to knuckle down and get good grades. And once the bullies in my year knew I’d reported the incidents, more people joined in and things got worse. 

While I’m naturally talkative and breezy, I felt so intimidated and physically afraid, that I became silent and withdrawn. I went into my shell and I stayed there. 

Even when I went home, the abuse and offensive slurs continued online.

‘Don’t be friends with Jade,’ people would comment. ‘You might catch what she’s got.’ 

I tried to explain that you can’t possibly catch cerebral palsy. Still, they carried on. 

My other close friend was also a disabled person who was verbally abused. Apart from when I spoke to her, I felt completely lonely and isolated. 

At times I couldn’t think straight. 

Jade has blonde hair, laughing to camera, wearing a white dress and standing using a walking frame.
The abuse and offensive slurs continued online (Picture: Jade Owen)

I started to think maybe it was actually my fault and I’d find myself wondering if I was a horrible person. I just couldn’t understand why people hated me for simply existing. 

I used to sing songs in my head to block out the abuse. But I dreaded going to school, or looking at anything online. My mental health got worse and worse. I had to leave school and try homeschooling instead

My parents were very worried about me, but they were supportive and wanted to do what was right for me.

I loved music and drama and I’d really wanted to get GCSEs at school, especially in these subjects. While I’m proud of my achievements after leaving school – I did get music and drama qualifications at college – I still feel like school life was taken away from me. 

The online abuse flared up again when I wrote on Facebook and Instagram about going to America for treatment in 2018. I was having Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) – a surgical procedure in which a nerve is cut to reduce muscle spasms and tension in the legs. 

People hurled insults relating to my condition, or accused me of faking cerebral palsy. They had no idea what life is like for me, day to day, but they were happy to post abusive comments relating to my disability. The online abuse lasted until about 2020. 

Later in 2020, I was out when I saw police officers giving leaflets and information about hate crime. It was then I realised, for the first time, that the vile abuse and threats I received were disability hate crimes. 

Jade us in the garden, has long red hair, black rimmed glasses and is smiling - her eyes are closed from the sun.
I was accused of faking cerebral palsy (Picture: Jade Owen)

I felt relieved that I wasn’t going mad. I suppose I also felt vindicated. Things made a lot more sense. It made me realise I wasn’t alone. But mainly it made me think about how, when I felt better, I could help others. 

So today I want to encourage people to speak out. For anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable going to the police, it’s also possible to record the matter with organisations like Victim Support. 

I want to learn more about what’s happening right now and change things for the future. I am keen to highlight recent research on disability hate crime and support clear calls to action. 

That’s why I’m backing the hate crime awareness campaign from Leonard Cheshire and United Response. The research from the two charities indicated that few victims received justice. 

For example, in 2022/23, the percentage of disability hate crimes leading to a charge or a summons to court remained incredibly low – just 1.9% across the UK and 1.2% for England and Wales. This is not enough.

The UK Government shelved plans to publish a hate crime strategy in favour of a broader crime strategy.

Jade sitting at a pub table, wearing black framed glasses, long brown hair and smiling to camera
There is a clear risk that hate crime will be brushed under the carpet (Picture: Jade Owen)

 Leonard Cheshire and United Response say this is the wrong move, and I agree. Specific and targeted action to tackle hate crime is not only possible, it is essential. Without it, there is a clear risk that hate crime will be barely mentioned – or as it was for me – ignored and brushed under the carpet.  

I strongly agree that police forces must receive funding to employ at least one dedicated Disability Liaison Officer (DLO), who is trained in disability awareness and engagement with disabled people. 

What’s more, the education system must teach pupils about the rights of disabled people. It should help pupils to recognise the discrimination and abuse disabled people can face; it should help them understand why this is unacceptable. 

When I was at school, there was nothing like this in Personal and Social Education (PSE) or General Studies. If there had been, it would have helped me and many others like me.

It would have made my fellow pupils aware that the abuse I received was not normal. It could have reduced the abuse or stopped them doing it.  

Allyship is vital. People who experience hate crime want others to help them if it’s safe. At a time when they feel so alone, like I did, a show of support means so much. 

I want to help make sure people don’t have to live through the ordeals I endured at school and afterwards. Politicians and policymakers must do more to stamp out all hate crime, including disability hate crime. 

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