Online disability hate crimes soar 33%

Staggering 33% increase in recorded online hate crime against disabled people between 2016/17 and 2017/18, but charity warns this could be tip of the iceberg.

  • While an increase in reports could indicate a rise in incidents, it may also represent proactive police forces and more survivors willing to speak up about online hate crime
  • Charity Leonard Cheshire calls for more support for survivors of online disability hate crime across the UK and for tech giants to up their game

Online disability hate crime has soared, with recorded incidents up by almost a third (33%) in the last year.

These shocking new findings come from charity Leonard Cheshire, following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all police forces across England and Wales.

Almost three quarters (32) of all forces responded, providing a broad picture of how common these crimes are becoming. Increases could be because forces have been proactive in increasing the confidence of survivors to report their experiences.   

Janine Howard, who experienced online disability hate crime and was supported by Leonard Cheshire’s hate crime advocacy services said:

‘People I don’t know take my photograph when I am out and about, they post it on social media for others to comment on.

‘The comments are nasty, hurtful and leave me feeling frightened and angry. There is no escaping this online abuse if I want to use social media. It’s horrible to know that my family might see this abuse online.’

The charity discovered Norfolk and Suffolk saw the biggest increases in recorded crimes, with incidents up from four to 23 and two to 20 respectively for those police forces between 2016/17 and 2017/18. Surrey also saw a significant rise, with records up from eight to 25. Though Kent did not report such a large increase, it had the most crimes reported in 2017/18, with 30 on record.

Leonard Cheshire is also warning that incidents picked up by police may just be the tip of the iceberg. 

The charity’s chief executive Neil Heslop said:

‘Police are increasingly recording online offences, but we know it remains an under reported area and that disabled people may have reservations about speaking out.

‘We suspect many crimes remain under the radar, with survivors never getting support and perpetrators facing no consequences.

‘These offences can have a devastating impact on the lives of survivors. We know from our work with disabled people that hate crime causes long-term fear, anxiety and in some cases, isolation.

‘Advocacy services that support disability hate crime survivors, like the one our charity provides in Northern Ireland, are a lifeline and enable us to work closely with police and upskill them in this area. Such services should be rolled out across the UK.’

Terence McCorry, Leonard Cheshire disability hate crime advocate said:

‘There are many reasons a disabled person might not report a crime to the police. They may not think the incident is worth bothering police for or they may have had a bad experience reporting issues in the past.

‘They may lack confidence in speaking out and traditional reporting methods, such as the phone, may not be accessible for their disability. 

‘I advocate for those who experience disability hate crime and work closely with police. In fact, a big part of my role is building better relationships between the police and survivors of hate crime.

‘The officers I work with are passionate about disabled people feeling able to speak to them and I truly believe the advocacy work Leonard Cheshire does is helping everyone learn to take online hate crime more seriously.’

Leonard Cheshire is now calling for global media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook to take online disability hate crime more seriously and protect all users. The charity is backing MP’s recommendations for Government and social media companies to directly consult disabled people on digital strategy and hate crime law so that the internet becomes a less threatening and more inclusive place for everybody.

The charity also surveyed disabled people on their experiences of online disability hate crime and found 70% of those who had experienced it had done so through Facebook or Facebook messenger app.

The next most common medium was email, with 22% of those who have experienced online disability hate crime reporting it having happened there. For 35% of those who experienced online disability hate crime, it came from a stranger whose name they could see, whilst 34% suffered it from someone who was anonymous. Concerningly, 36% told nobody at all about the incident.

The charity is hoping its latest findings will cause everyone to take online hate crime more seriously, given the consequences it has on survivors.

As one survey respondent from the UK told Leonard Cheshire, anonymously:

‘The online abuse affected my mental and emotional health, I was unable to sleep properly for months. Experiences like this make me worried for younger people with disabilities who may be more susceptible.’

Media enquiries

For further information, regional data and interview requests, please contact Claire Farrell on or call 020 3242 0389.

Notes to editors

  • Freedom of information request

Leonard Cheshire wrote to police forces in England and Wales to enquire about disability hate crime online between 2016/17 and 2017/18. A total of 32 out of 43 police forces responded. These forces recorded a total of 313 disability hate crimes in 2017-18, compared to 235 offences the previous year.

  • Avon & Somerset — 16/17 9, 17/18 7
  • Bedfordshire  — 16/17 13, 17/18 7
  • BTP — N/A
  • Cambridgeshire — 16/17 1, 17/18 0
  • Cheshire  — Didn't respond
  • City of London — Didn't respond
  • Cleveland — 16/17 2, 17/18 2
  • Cumbria — Didn't respond
  • Derbyshire  — 16/17 1, 17/18 0
  • Devon & Cornwall — 16/17 8, 17/18 16
  • Dorset — 16/17 1, 17/18 1
  • Durham — 16/17 0, 17/18 3
  • Dyfed Powys    16/18 0 17/18 4
  • Essex    16/17 15, 17/18 19
  • Gloucesterhire    16/17 2 17/18 8
  • Greater Manchester    16/17 30, 17/18 20
  • Gwent — Did not respond
  • Hampshire  — Did not respond  
  • Herts — 16/17 15, 17/18 11
  • Humberside —16/17 10,  17/18 8
  • Kent — 16/17 19, 17/18 30
  • Lancashire — OHC 16/17 2, 17/18 5
  • Leicestershire — 16/17 5, 17/18 5
  • Lincolnshire — 16/17 0, 17/18 4
  • Merseyside — 16/17 27,  17/18 21
  • Met — 16/17 4, 17/18 0
  • Norfolk/Suffolk  —16/17 6,  17/18 43
  • North Wales —16/17 1,  17/18 2
  • North Yorkshire — Did not respond
  • Northants — Did not respond 
  • Northumbria  —16/17 13, 17/18 20
  • Nottinghamshire — 16/17 8,  17/18 9 
  • Port of Dover — N/A
  • South Wales —16/17 5, 17/18 2
  • South Yorkshire —16/17 6,  17/18 10
  • Staffordshire — 16/17 11, 17/18 12
  • Surrey — 16/17 8, 17/18 25
  • Sussex — Did not respond
  • Thames Valley — OHC 16/17 1, 17/18 5
  • Warwickshire  — 16/17 0, 17/18 2
  • West Mercia  — 16/17 7, 17/18 5
  • West Midlands — 16/17 6, 17/18 7
  • West Yorkshire  — Did not respond


  • About Leonard Cheshire advocacy services

The service we provide in Northern Ireland revolves around a person-centred approach to survivors, which is very important as many survivors of online disability hate crime have had poor experiences in the past when reporting crime.

Through listening, providing information and signposting the survivor to appropriate support agencies, the advocate aims to increase the survivor’s confidence. This has helped increase the confidence of disabled people who experience these crimes to come forward and report them. 

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  • Disability Horizons survey

Online community magazine Disability Horizons, in partnership with Leonard Cheshire, surveyed 250 people online during March 2019. This data is not representative of a wider population, nor is it weighted. It is not limited to UK respondents.

  • Leonard Cheshire 2018 research into disability hate crime

A survey of disabled adults by ComRes on behalf of Leonard Cheshire showed that 15% of disabled adults who have been a victim of crime in the UK say it was motivated by their disability.* 

Just under 1 in 3 (29%) disabled people say they have experienced hostile behaviour motivated by their disability. Almost 1 in 10 (9%) say this was either online or via a messaging app (e.g. Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc.)

A similar proportion (28%) of disabled people say concern about hostile behaviour has prevented them going out in their local area. 

*ComRes interviewed online 1,647 disabled adults in the UK, aged between 18 and 65, from 29 June to 26 July 2018. Data were weighed by age, gender and region to be nationally representative of disabled adults of working age in the UK. Data tables can be found at:

  • Background info on hate crime

The definition of hate crime according to the Home Office: 

Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’

This common definition was agreed in 2007 by the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Prison Service (now the National Offender Management Service) and other agencies that make up the criminal justice system. There are five centrally monitored strands of hate crime: 

  • race or ethnicity;
  • religion or beliefs;
  • sexual orientation;
  • disability; and
  • transgender identity.