Summary of the research findings

Disabled people's experiences of targeted violence and hostility


The Commission carried out research into disabled people’s experiences of targeted violence in two phases:

  1. An extensive literature review of 73 items.  
  2. Qualitative interviews with 39 victims

In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 30 victims of targeted violence with learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions from England, Wales and Scotland. Representatives from 9 organisations and agencies with a role in tackling the issues around targeted violence of disabled people. were also interviewed

What was previously known on this topic

  • The evidence base on disabled people’s experience of targeted violence is extremely patchy, with a lack of robust national-level data.
  • Disabled people experience a range of physical, verbal and sexual targeted violence.
  • The impact of targeted violence is wide-ranging, and can even lead to death.
  • Disabled people under-report such incidents to the relevant criminal justice agencies.
  • There are a range of physical, procedural and attitudinal barriers to disabled people seeking redress to incidents of targeted violence.

What this report adds

This report synthesised the wider evidence base, generated new evidence to plug a number of evidence gaps, and advanced the knowledge base in a number of areas. It finds that:

  • Disabled people are at higher risk and experience greater levels of targeted violence in comparison to non-disabled people. Within the disabled population, people with learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions experience higher levels of targeted violence.
  • Disabled children and young people and disabled women, particularly those with learning disabilities, are particularly at risk.
  • The higher levels of risk and victimisation should be understood against the wider context of poverty and deprivation experienced by many disabled people. Geographic concentration coupled with multiple sets of ‘minoritised identities’ can compound risk.
  • A typology of eight key types of incidents is evident, including: physical incidents; verbal incidents; sexual incidents; targeted anti-social behaviour; damage to property/theft; school bullying; incidents perpetrated by statutory agency staff; and the more recent phenomenon of cyber bullying.
  • Ongoing ‘low-level’ incidents are widespread and may go undetected but may escalate at some point. These ‘low-level’ incidents are often ignored by criminal justice agencies even though they have high impact on disabled people.
  • ‘Hotspots’ for targeted violence include: ‘on the street’; in and around home-based settings (particularly in relation to social housing but also including private accommodation); in institutional settings; in schools, colleges and at work; and on public transport.
  • Perceptions of vulnerability and of threat can motivate acts of targeted violence against disabled people. Perpetrators may also perceive disabled people as being ‘lesser’ people, and may think that they can get away with their actions. There is a dearth of research with perpetrators.
  • Specific contexts interact with particular real and/or perceived characteristics of a person to compound perceptions of vulnerability and risk. The risk and actual experience of targeted violence are not pre-determined by any inherent characteristic of the victim and/or the perpetrator.
  • Disabled people restructure their lives to minimise real and perceived risk to themselves even if they have not experienced targeted violence personally. Coping mechanisms commonly involve acceptance or avoidance strategies. Disabled people are also conditioned by others to accept that these incidents are ‘part of everyday life’.
  • Disabled people have a tendency to report incidents to a third party rather than to the police. These third parties are under-studied. Health and social care agencies, housing associations, local authorities, civil justice agencies, voluntary bodies, and others can play an important preventative role.
  • The barriers to, and negative experience of, reporting to criminal justice agencies lead disabled people to feel that they are not being taken seriously. In some cases, they are treated as if they are perpetrators.
  • The relationship between the victim and the perpetrator can throw up significant challenges to a disabled person’s willingness and ability to report.
  • While there are legislative instruments that can help a disabled person seeking redress against the experience of targeted violence, these are insufficient in themselves to bring about change. The awareness and use of these instruments are also inconsistent. Disabled people themselves have low levels of awareness of their rights.
  • A number of legislative developments have further thrown up contradictions or ambivalence. The developments around the control of anti-social behaviour are found to have impacted disproportionately on disabled people in adverse ways. Adult protection legislation in Scotland is also problematic for disabled people due to the shift in the balance of power between disabled individuals and statutory agencies.
  • The No Secrets protection guidelines have led to confusion arising from the blurring of responsibilities between social care agencies and the criminal justice sector in monitoring crimes against vulnerable people.
  • The emphasis on help and protection underpinning much of existing policy and legislation should be replaced by a focus on justice and redress. A ‘pan-equality’ approach can also help further understanding of multiple identities and multiple discriminations.

Further information


To read more, download the reports:

Last Updated: 04 Feb 2015