Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?

By Stevens, Bethany | Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview
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Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?

Stevens, Bethany, Journal of Psychiatry & Law

Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?, by Mark Sherry (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 160pp., $59.95.

Mark Sherry's book Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabied People? is the first of its kind to deeply analyze the hate crimes against disabled people. Despite the reality that the majority of news featuring disabled people often involves acts of violence exacted upon disabled people, crimes against disabled people are often not deemed criminal or classified as issues of abuse or maltreatment. Sherry goes against this oppressive trend by working to reframe the understanding of violence against disabled people through acknowledging dimensions of disability hatred.

Sherry offers a painstaking review of hate crime data from the United States and the United Kingdom to illuminate the global nature of this problem. He spent 10 years of his life working on this book and it shows. It is rich in factual accounts of hate crimes using primary sources garnered through court cases and the Freedom of Information Act, as well as interviews with judicial and police officials. He compiles stories of these egregious crimes in a way that makes the book a very difficult read because the details of the crimes are so disturbingly gory.

But this book marks a timely analysis of a persistent problem that is finally getting recognition in different nations around the world. In 2009, disability became a protected category in the United States through the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Similarly, Scotland, Wales and England have recently added disability as a protected class to existing hate crimes legislation. These legislative acts signal awareness of the widespread nature of this problem, as well as trigger efforts to accurately quantify the occurrences of disability hate crimes.

The purpose of Sherry's book is to paint a picture of the unique elements of disability hate crimes through vivid accounts of hate crimes and rigorous analysis of statistics documenting these crimes in the United States and the United Kingdom. In doing so, Sherry adds a significant contribution to the fields of disability studies, sociology, and legal studies. In his introduction Sherry describes these crimes in detail to make clear the unique elements of disability hate crimes. He explains that disability hate crimes require two elements to be satisfied: "first it must be a criminal act [e.g. theft or arson]; and second it must be motivated in whole or in part by the victim's perceived disability status" (p. 18). To demonstrate how disability status motivates crime, researchers must gather unique evidentiary support, such as the theft or destruction of disability assistive devices (p. 7), repeated victimization (p. 8), the verbal reference to impairment during the commission of the crimes (p. 9.), and/or the presence of multiple perpetrators attacking a single victim (p. 19).

Strikingly, the majority of the hate speech deployed during the commission of these crimes references historically medicalized labels of disabled people (p. 34), and much of the hate discourse reeks of eugenic philosophy. The intensity of vestiges of eugenics in disability hate is taken up at length in Chapter 2, where Sherry analyzes numerous disability hate Websites. His use of large block quotes of the hate speech material proves to be a challenging affective experience for the reader. Many of the hate sites claim disabled people would be better off dead - advocating for infanticide, abortion, and homicide (p. 36). Additionally, these sites repeatedly claim that disabled people economically drain governments and therefore represent an unpatriotic group of people who should be separated from the worthy people (p. 35). As the threads of hate speech show, the contours of disability hate crimes are ideologically reliant on the medical model of disability - i.e. the disabled body is the problem, not society.

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Disability Hate Crimes: Does Anyone Really Hate Disabled People?


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