The number of people with visible differences or disfigurements who say they have been victims of a hate crime has increased since 2019, according to “sobering” research published this week.
A visible difference in a third of people (33%) said they had experienced a hate crime, up from 28% of respondents in 2019, said the Changing Faces charity.
Hostile behavior impacted nearly half of respondents, with 49% citing negative interactions such as stares, comments and intimidation, a figure that is steadily increasing from 34% in 2019 and 43% in 2021.
The survey highlights the “shocking bias” experienced by people with visible differences, said Heather Blake, managing director of Changing Faces.
Commissioned by the charity, which supports the visible difference community, the Savanta survey used interviews with more than 1,000 people with a visible disability such as a mark, scar or other physical condition.
The research also found that nearly a quarter (23%) of respondents did not report the hate crime they experienced. An equal percentage (23%) said they believed it would not be taken seriously, while more than one in 10 (12%) said hate crimes were ‘just a part of life with a visible difference “.
Ms Blake said: “These are sobering numbers. We know that behind each of these statistics is a person who is directly affected by the shocking prejudice and, in some cases, the criminal actions of others. No one should be subjected to abuse or discrimination because of their appearance.
“First of all, we want anyone with a visible difference or disfigurement to know that we are here for them. This is not something you should just put up with. Let’s call it what it is, it’s hate and it’s wrong.
Respondents shared experiences that included customers refusing to be served by them and people on public transport avoiding sitting next to them.
Others spoke of verbal abuse shouted from passing cars, threats of violence in the street and even death threats made online.
Isobel Cameron, who was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, said people threw rocks at her home when she was younger and she remains eager to get out.
She said: “This abuse has made it difficult for me to go out in public. I was very aware of the looks I was getting from people and was always waiting to see if they would go any further.
“Sometimes they did. At 15, a grown woman was walking in front of my friend and I, and she kept turning to look at me. At first my friend didn’t seem to notice, but then the woman started yelling abuse at me, calling me “fish face”.
“I never know when looks will turn into something more, and that has had a lasting impact on me, sometimes making me anxious to get out, just in case something like this, or worse, happens again.”
Changing Faces volunteers have written to police across the UK asking for support when reporting hate crimes.
Actor and presenter Adam Pearson, who is a Changing Faces ambassador, has urged the police force to “do more”.
He said: “Hate crimes, whoever they target, are despicable and should not be tolerated.
“Seeing the steady increase of those with a visible difference or disfigurement experiencing hate crimes is scary. We can’t wait for tragedy to happen before we act.
“Police forces across the UK need to do more to encourage people with visible differences to report what is happening to them and reassure them that they will be taken seriously.”