It began with a group of young lads attempting to guide me in to a lamppost before laughing and running away. Not long afterwards, the situation grew worse, with groups of mainly younger males circling me, swearing, and in one harrowing case, telling me they were filming for YouTube as they urged me to “trip over the curb you blind bitch” and “fuck off back to blind land”.
Many other incidents happened before I broke down crying one day on my living room floor. But like 40% of hate crime victims, I still didn’t report it. I had no way of identifying the perpetrators, the people whose actions had persuaded me not to leave my house alone.
These people made me doubt everything about myself and my worth. I felt pathetic because I couldn’t defend myself or identify them, and it made me think about what would happen if I was physically attacked or even raped. I became a wreck, overwhelmed by dark thoughts.
I finally spoke to the police after the situation came to a head, one early Saturday evening. While walking through the Old Town high street with my fiance, who is also registered blind, a group of young men started laughing and swearing at us. As we walked past, one said they were going to take our money, while another shouted, “we’ll find out how much they can see”.
I honestly thought I was about to be physically attacked; I shouted for the group to leave me alone and asked: “Why are you doing this?” My fear was so intense that I lost control of my bladder.
Unaware of quite how scared and degraded I felt, my fiance used his mobile phone to attempt to film the individuals involved. But when we took this footage to the police, it was too shaky to provide more than a few small clues.
In the following days and weeks, as the abuse continued, I researched body-worn cameras, eventually securing the loan of some from Reveal Media and Taser International – who have provided the cameras currently on trial with 500 frontline response officers in the Metropolitan police. This kit was unavailable for me to purchase from TSR, Taser’s UK supplier, which was a shame because the protection they offered, and the security I felt, meant more to me than I can describe.
As a result, I was able to take footage to Hertfordshire police, who have been very supportive throughout. They identified some of the individuals involved, and after speaking to one of them, the abuse finally stopped.
Body-worn cameras gave me the confidence to leave my house alone and provided the proof that this behaviour was happening. Before I collected this evidence some people found it difficult to believe. I would highly recommend the use of body-cams to anyone suffering abuse on the street, while adding the obvious health warning that no one should put themselves in danger in an attempt to gather evidence.
The abuse and hate nearly destroyed me. But I decided to use the experience to educate people about the real human costs of disability hate crime. In 2012-13, 1,841 incidents were reported to police in England and Wales – a 5% increase on the previous year – but that is only a small reflection of the problem. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that there are, on average, 62,000 disability-motivated hate crimes each year. A third of the reported crimes (32%) involved violence.
Working with Stevenage borough council and Hertfordshire police, I have set up a Respect campaign, visiting schools and youth groups to tell my story, and spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter (#RespectCampaign). I’m determined to raise awareness, develop strategies to combat these crimes, and to get the message across that hate hurts.