The Unspoken Many: When Disability Hate Crime Lurks in the Shadows for Too Long


Erin Kelly, a writer with Cerebral Palsy, speaks about the tragic rise of disability hate crimes.

When I first stumbled upon this video, I thought I heard the reporter wrong. I paused for a few minutes before playing it again—and again.

I played it a third time—and this time, it evoked every single negative emotion I could possibly feel.

The video highlights the final scene in “Paul’s Story” – the short film (see trailer below) about disability hate crime that’s taking the New England territories by storm. Paul, played by native James Elsworthy, sits numbingly against the wall as his neighbors pound on his windows, throwing what looks to be lit matches or candles into his home while screaming, “We’re going to burn you!”

I tried to calm myself down, at least enough to start writing this story, but then— I read the headline: “Disability hate crime spreads.” It added a layer of stupidity on top of shock and shame.

I didn’t know what disability hate crime was—let alone the fact that it’s as widespread as it is—prior to watching that video and skimming through the article that went with it.

These disgusting, cowardly acts are an organized form of crime that’s risen by 25 percent in England and Wales—the breeding grounds for such atrocities—over the past two years.

However, the insanity doesn’t stop there. As far as the US is concerned, this type of crime has been lurking in the streets since the story of America was written. It spread like a disease throughout the twentieth century, and is once again showing its face—making thousands of disabled individuals feel vulnerable and powerless.

In 2007, 79 cases of disability hate crime were reported in the US – a 0.44 percent increase from those reported in 2003. That number has skyrocketed since—and is still on a steady rise. In fact, a 2012 article published by The Guardian reported that this form of crime is at its highest rate since its first reported offense over a decade ago.

My shock turned to anger when I read that, currently, there are no hard and fast laws in place against disability hate crime, which increases the need to bring it to the forefront—exactly what police as well as victims are hoping “Paul’s Story” will do.

Moreover, that video mentions James Elsworthy himself has a learning disability—a piece of the puzzle that, in my opinion, makes this situation go from important to urgent.

As I was doing research for this story, I found the sad truth lying at the heart of this now global tragedy—very few are willing to speak out against disability hate crime, much less put the scars it causes on display.

The scope of this is an extremely bitter pill to swallow. I think there’s a point where crime isn’t “crime” anymore—and this definitely crosses that line. To be physically and emotionally abused for something you can’t control or change about yourself is not only low, but it’s inhumane.

Sadly, it’s no more shattering than the story of the eight year old disabled boy whose parents sold him in a case of human trafficking—both of which highlight how it’s not uncommon for perpetrators to physically abuse their victims, leaving them beaten, broken, or even dead.

It all boils down to the reason why so many disabled individuals are targeted in the first place: their inability to fight back.

As a person—as a woman with Cerebral Palsy, that puts a huge red flag up in my mind. To think that I could be a target somewhere down the line is unfathomable—and in a very real sense, unacceptable.

It puts my world into perspective even more—so much so that I felt I had a responsibility to not only write about this, but also try to do the topic some justice.

It speaks volumes about the black hole of society. Even worse, crime like this is becoming the norm.

With so many questions left to answer, I think one remains clear—if it’s taken this long to shed the tiniest bit of light on such an unthinkable tragedy, how long will it take for it to stop?

It’s up to us to make our voices heard. It’s time to open our eyes and look out for our fellow man.

Paul’s Story Trailer from William Jessop on Vimeo.

See More in Social Justice

–Photo: PatandtheBat/Flickr

About Erin Kelly

Erin M. Kelly is the Social Justice Editor at The Good Men Project. She is also a columnist and writer with Cerebral Palsy who wants to be recognized for her work rather than her disability. She’s a 2009 graduate of Penn State Altoona, where she majored in Letters, Arts and Sciences. During her senior year, she was hired as a columnist for The Altoona Mirror, the daily newspaper in Altoona, PA. Her column entitled, “The View From Here,” runs monthly and addresses in a light-hearted, humorous manner the challenges she faces daily. She is also the editor of "To Cope and to Prevail", memoir of Penn State Altoona professor Dr. Ilse-Rose Warg. Find Erin on Twitter @WriterWheels.


  1. RachelKati says:

    Erin, as women we are all targets for all the reasons you mentioned. I hate to think that one little difference between you and I makes you an even bigger one.

  2. Erin Kelly says:

    Thank you! I can’t remember a single topic/issue that moved me the way this one did. I don’t expect my story on this to spark a movement of ay sort, but I do, however, hope it opens some eyes. This is one of the checkpoints of a laundy list of issues in our society that sady, is far from being resolved – and if I ever have the opportunity to voice my opinion on it again (in any capacity or on any platform) I’ll gladly take it.

  3. Hi Erin

    Did you read this article?

    What if all persons with disables got organized and had cards like this .
    And each time one felt threatened they picked up their mobile phone/ cell phone and send out a cry for help. Those closes can come at once..

    Because the number of disable in our society is high. It is the largest minority in the world. We are all over the place,all the time.

    I have neighbors with intellectual handicap. When they have problems they call me and I come, when needed I contact lawyers.
    Those who bother them,exploit them or threatened them has never reappeared. But new ones try,it will never end.

  4. Hi Erin Kelly

    Great article. Thank you.

    Now the question is what can we all do to stop this?

    The most vulnerable is always the target. Those who like to harm others look for vulnerable victims,and they always find some.

    As a cat lover I was surprised when a women friend of mine said:” I prefer my dog. He will fight for me,and die for me “. Your cat can not not do that.

    But later I understood her better. She is severely crippled by arthritis and always felt insecure.
    How insecure she feels is impossible for me to even grasp,even if I try ,since my body is healthy and I can run fast and even put up a fight.

    My vulnerably is more emotional psychological.

    Hate crimes of all kinds is terrible,but the insecurity you must feel Erin is special.
    What can we do?
    Yes we must look out for our fellow man and woman. Behavior like what you describe is totally unacceptable. We all have a responsibly to act,and stop it whenever we see it.

    And we must also prevent it by the way we organize our society ,how we raise the young,how we design our environment and houses,and create safe life for everybody.

    Thank you for raising awareness!

  5. Dean Marcaurelle says:

    Great (but upsetting) article. Great job . Your friend, DEAN

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