3. First encounters with the criminal justice system: reporting, recording and investigating crimes.

3.1 Introduction

The initial steps of engagement with the criminal justice system, for a victim following a crime, involve the reporting and recording of that crime. In Ireland, this process can involve several agencies including the Gardaí, victim support organisations and social services/care-giving networks, and families of the victims. The updated Victims Charter 2010 produced by the Victims of Crime Office under the Department of Justice and Law Reform contains commitments from the Crime Victims Helpline and the Gardaí, amongst other agencies. For example, the Gardaí state their commitment to 1) responding quickly to, and investigating, a complaint, 2) providing the contact details of the station handling the case as well as a PULSE incident number which is referenced to the case, and 3) keeping the victim informed as the case proceeds. There has however been little discussion of, or research on, victims with disabilities' experiences of reporting and recording crime in Ireland. Literature emanating from the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain provides some insights into the experience, including the barriers and challenges people with disabilities face in their initial attempts at seeking redress for abuse through the criminal justice system. These include:

• the under-reporting of crime;

• perceptions of victims with disabilities held by police, including the identification of disability, and by extension, the recognition of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (VIWs);

• issues of perceived capacity of people with disabilities to act as 'reliable' reporters of crime, particularly in light of the emphasis on the orality of criminal proceedings;

• levels of referral to, and availability of, support services for victims of crime with disabilities.

As the first point of contact with the criminal justice system, it is clear that the police, or, Gardaí, play a very significant role in shaping the way in which an alleged offence is handled, and whether it proceeds to trial. It is perhaps for this reason that many of the initiatives that have been developed internationally to improve the access of people with disabilities to justice, focus on facilitating a better understanding of disability on the part of the police, and creating more effective communication between police and people with disabilities as victims of crime. We highlight some of these initiatives towards the end of the chapter.

3.2 Under-reporting of crimes and abuse by people with disabilities

A discussion of the reporting and recording of crime by people with disabilities cannot be set in context without referring to the under-reporting of crime, which is a prevalent phenomenon among the mainstream victim population in Ireland and internationally. According to a survey of crime victims conducted for Ireland's Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime, "slightly more than 1 in 5 respondents did not report the crime to the Gardaí" (Kilcommins et al, 2010: 31). According to the same report, decisions on whether or not to report a crime were influenced by factors such as victims' perceptions regarding the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and whether criminal proceedings were likely to be successful, as well as how far they expected their claims to be taken seriously.

The reasons for the under-reporting of crime that pertain to the mainstream victim population are arguably compounded for people with disabilities, and whilst rates of under-reporting are difficult to calculate, international literature acknowledges significant under-reporting of crime amongst the disabled population (Guidry Tyiska, 1998; Sharp, 2001; van den Bergh and Hoekman, 2006; Lewin, 2007; Petersilia, 2001). As an example, a study of abuse and harassment amongst people with learning disabilities in the UK conducted by Mencap titled Living in Fear found that only 17% of participants who had experienced some form of abuse reported it to the police (Mencap, 1999). Meanwhile, in a survey of hate crime amongst people with disabilities in Scotland, just under half of those who had experienced feeling frightened or who had been attacked, reported it to the police. Of those who did report in the latter study, "three-quarters...said that whilst the police had taken details of the incident, they were generally unable to stop the attackers" (Disability Rights Commission and Capability Scotland, 2004: 27).

Such a statement bears witness to people with disabilities' concerns about engaging with the criminal justice system, and the perceived effectiveness of the police in dealing with their reports of crime and victimisation. A number of authors have proposed reasons for the particularly low rates of reporting of crimes amongst people with disabilities (Petersilia, 2001; Lewin, 2007; Hoong Sin et al. 2009, Hayes, 2004; Joyce, 2003). These include:

• lack of knowledge about how to report a crime, and lack of access to support in doing so;

• communication difficulties, and lack of physical access to police premises;

• fear of the consequences of reporting and of authority;

• uncertainty about whether an incident should be defined and reported as a crime in the first place.

The dependence of many people with disabilities on carers or service providers, whether in the community or in residential institutions, is a further significant variable in the picture of reporting and under-reporting of crime against people with disabilities. For example, in the case of people with intellectual disabilities, Petersilia (2001) suggests that people may be financially or emotionally dependent on the person who has perpetrated a crime or abuse against them, therefore leading them not to report the abuse or victimisation.

Studies also show that people with disabilities are often more likely to report a crime to a third party than directly to the police, leaving the judgement about whether to engage law enforcement agencies in the hands of carers, service providers and families. The danger of this, however, is that third parties may choose to do nothing. The Mencap (1999: 11) study noted that some 54% of people with learning disabilities who report abuse do so to staff members, but for over half of this group, the abuse continued after reporting. As Lewin (2007: 170) suggests, one possible reason for the lack of reporting in this context is the perception that "abuse in residential settings or when the perpetrator is close to the victim is looked upon as a private or family matter". This is also highlighted in an extensive study commissioned by Australia's Office of the Public Advocate which found that many institutional crimes against people with intellectual disabilities are not reported due to peer pressure amongst staff not to report, uncertainty amongst staff about what types of incidents should be reported to the police and which should be dealt with internally, and concerns from staff that they did not want to put the person with learning disabilities through the stress of dealing with the criminal justice system (Johnson et al., 1988).

The latter point is connected to the wider issue of the construction of people with disabilities as 'vulnerable', and the failure to recognise abuse perpetrated against them as a criminal offence. There is a balance to be struck between rights and protection, but the overwhelming construction of people with disabilities as vulnerable suggests that intimidation or harassment often become seen as a 'natural consequence' of having an impairment. Quarmby and Scott (2008) in their report on disability hate crime in the UK, note how this construction has an impact in contributing to arguments that people with disabilities should not live independently, and has led some people with disabilities to not report incidences of hate crime for fear of intervention from police and/or social services, in which they may have to cede any independence that they already have (see also Hoong Sin, 2009).

Perceptions, attitudes, and practical issues regarding lack of clarity in reporting procedures, all have a role to play in the under-reporting of crime and abuse as it affects people with disabilities.

3.3 The experience of reporting a crime

Reporting, recording and investigating a crime are complex processes. Victims of crime must first be able to convince police that an incident has happened; if it is taken seriously by the officer(s) in question, the crime may be recorded, an interview undertaken, and a statement made. Decisions are then made by the police or Gardaí about whether to investigate the case further and, in conjunction with the relevant prosecution service, whether to bring the case to trial. There are few studies that track people with disabilities as they move through the criminal justice system. However, it is clear that people with disabilities who encounter the system can experience significant disadvantage at the different stages in the reporting process. For example, Quarmby and Scott's (2008) report Getting Away with Murder, demonstrates how people with disabilities' reports of abuse were not listened to, or taken seriously by police in the UK. Other studies have pointed to the very low proportion of cases involving people with intellectual disabilities which are taken to court and prosecuted (Brown et al., 1995; Mencap, 1997). A study undertaken by UK charity Mencap entitled Barriers to Justice (1997) estimated that there were some 1,400 suspected cases of sexual abuse against people with learning disabilities a year, but only a quarter were investigated by the police and less than 1% were prosecuted successfully. The aforementioned study on disability hate crime in the UK also found that successful outcomes of prosecutions were less likely for 'disablist incidents' compared to hate crime involving racism or homophobia (Quarmby and Scott, 2008).

In the Irish context, what limited research exists on this area pertains to people with mental illness and intellectual disability in cases categorised as rape. In a survey of 'rape' case files received by the DPP between 2000 and 2004, Hanly et al. (2009) found that 13.1% (78) of their sample involved a complainant with a history of mental illness. Of these 78 cases, only two were prosecuted. Analysis has also recently been conducted by the DPP's Prosecution Policy Unit in cases initially categorised as 'rape' between 2005 and 2007. In relation to files received by the DPP from the Gardaí in 2005, the analysis found that 3.7% (11) cases involved complainants with a history of psychiatric illness, none of which were prosecuted (Law Reform Commission, 2011; Hamilton, 2011). 5.8% (17) of cases involved someone with a learning disability, and of these cases, only four were prosecuted, whilst another was withdrawn by the complainant (Hamilton, 2011).

The reasons for the gap between reporting and prosecution as they are discussed in international literature appear to be multiple, but it is clear that first encounters with the police have a significant influence on how, if at all, a case proceeds (McAfee et al., 2001). Keilty and Connelly's (2010: 282) research on the experiences of women with an intellectual disability in Australia making statements to police regarding sexual assault provide helpful insights in this regard. They found that a lack of confidence by the police in the courts to deliver acceptable outcomes, a desire to protect female victims from the excessive trauma of the court experience, as well as the belief that protection of the victim from future assault is more important than prosecuting the suspect, all led to police not completing statements or proceeding to prosecution. They argue that such interventions by the police at the stage of making a statement have adverse implications: "Reticence to put forward cases filters the number of cases proceeding to trial, thus limiting the extent to which courts are exposed to and are forced to cater for witnesses with intellectual disability" (Keilty and Connelly, 2010: 282).

While we explore some of these barriers regarding police perceptions in more detail in the next section, one significant factor which influences the way in which justice is delivered in countries such as Ireland, UK, the US, Australia and Canada, and has the potential to disadvantage people with disabilities, relates to the common law system. Common law systems, unlike the inquisitorial systems which characterise many European countries, are adversarial in nature, relying heavily on the giving of oral evidence which can be challenged in court through cross-examination. The 'principle of orality' and the confrontational nature of the common law system has been shown to be extremely stressful, and no more so than for those witnesses deemed to be vulnerable (Burton et al., 2006). Research has shown that "sometimes the police tested the resolve of...witnesses...by being as brutal to the victims in the police station as defence lawyers were likely to be in court" (Burton et al., 2006: 1). People with disabilities are likely to face extreme challenges in such a process, where the requirement to 'perform' in giving evidence is central to the process of prosecution. It is for this reason that many countries have introduced special measures for vulnerable witnesses which are laid out in chapter 4.

3.3.1 The influence of police perceptions and attitudes

Given their role as the gatekeepers to the criminal justice system, the attitudes and dispositions of police towards people with disabilities who are victims of crime have a significant bearing on those victims' experiences of seeking legal redress. McLeod et al's (2010b: 5) study of the court process for people with intellectual disabilities and mental illness in England note that victims' views regarding how they were treated at the initial reporting stage were very much connected with how interested and empathetic the police officers appeared. As they note, reporting a crime or making a statement can be a stressful experience, and finding the right language to communicate an incident can pose challenges, particularly for people with intellectual disabilities. Police perceptions' about people with disabilities, not least regarding their capacity to be reliable reporters and witnesses of crime, have been shown to be key in understanding how incidents of abuse or harassment are subsequently dealt with.

A small, but growing, body of work has explored police attitudes and perceptions towards people with disabilities in Australia, the US and UK (see for example, Bailey et al., 2001; Chown, 2010; McAfee et al., 2001; McAfee and Musso, 1995; Modell and Mak, 2008). These studies suggest that police officers often endorse general stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities being vulnerable and lacking the capacity to be competent witnesses. Keilty and Connelly (2010), for example note how police officers in Australia held myths about women with learning difficulties, that they were sexually promiscuous and lacked credibility as complainants. McAfee et al's (2001) comparative survey of police officers in the US and Australia also notes how police officers stated that they were more likely to be sympathetic if the victim of a crime was someone with intellectual disabilities, thereby reinforcing notions of vulnerability, whilst Modell and Mak's (2008) US research found that many police officers had difficulty distinguishing between different disabilities, most particularly intellectual disability and mental illness. The latter study also raised concerns about the lack of awareness of autism as a specific impairment, a finding backed up by research in the UK (Chown, 2010). Awareness of disability is variable therefore, and stereotypical views abound which in turn shape police practices. Identification/disclosure of disability

A number of authors have noted that a problematic issue is how, and at what point, a person's disability is identified and disclosed in the process of reporting a crime (Law Reform Commission New South Wales, 1993; Sanders et al, 1996; Burton et al., 2006). For police officers, the issue of identifying a disability is not always straightforward. For example, Sanders et al (1996) in their study of police forces, social services departments and health authorities in England and Wales note that the existence of a learning disability is not always readily apparent, and people may hide their impairments. Other authors have noted how police rely on personal experience to identify learning disability, based on assumptions about people's behaviour and appearance (Howard and Tyrer, 1998). A failure to recognise a victim's disability, and therefore their rights and requirements, has serious ramifications for the equitable treatment of people with disabilities by the criminal justice system. For example, Sanders et al's (1996: 2) study noted that the failure to recognise learning disabilities in witnesses meant that "police did not always use appropriate interviewing techniques. The police practice of constructing witness statements which witnesses then sign, meant that the nature of the witness' disability was not always clear to the prosecutor who later reviewed the case". A further study conducted on special measures introduced in the UK for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses also noted that police often experienced difficulty in the early identification of vulnerable witnesses, with some people not being identified as requiring special measures until they reached court, by which point it was too late to put any intervention in place (Burton et al., 2006). This finding points to the importance of communication between different agencies in the criminal justice system, and engagement between the police and other agencies such as the Courts Service, victim support organisations, and health and social care agencies who may be working with the individual. Perceptions of capacity

A key stereotype which has been shown to shape police practices towards people with disabilities is the widely held perception that they lack the capacity to be credible reporters of crime, and therefore poor witnesses (Hoong Sin et al., 2009). There is little doubt that people with intellectual disabilities can experience particular difficulties in recalling and communicating an incident. They may be more prone to suggestibility and the need to appease a questioner. However, as Sanders et al. (1996) note, few people with learning disabilities experience difficulties with all three elements (memory, communication and suggestibility), and research has shown that alternative questioning approaches can elicit more accurate information (Gendle and Woodhams, 2005). It is therefore clear that police need to appreciate different ways in which people with intellectual disabilities (and other disabilities) communicate if they are not to be written off as unreliable witnesses. This also involves the crucial task of police checking that victims understand what is being said, and that they also understand the process of seeking redress.

3.3.2 Variability in police policies, practices and procedures

In all jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies have to work within the confines of the law, policies and procedures. However, studies have shown that the reality of the police's response to people with disabilities and crime against people with disabilities can differ significantly. Whether in the initial recording of crime, or the investigation which involves interviewing the person with a disability, police procedures are subject to variability. For example, Bailey and Barr (2000) found significant variability in the way cases involving people with intellectual disabilities who had experienced sexual assault were dealt with by police forces across the UK. Few had specific policies in place in relation to dealing with sexual abuse involving people with intellectual disability, and of those who responded, some 66% said that the teams who investigated child abuse cases were also responsible for investigating cases involving adults with learning disability. This is potentially problematic for the way in which it conflates issues affecting children with adults with intellectual disability, increasing the possibility of infantilising people with learning disabilities. Bailey and Barr's (2000) concern was that a lack of clear policies on dealing with such cases could lead to individual attitudes of police personnel becoming influential, attitudes which, as the previous section has shown, are not always appreciative of the needs and rights of people with disabilities.

A recent study commissioned by Mencap into the police's response in the UK to disability hate crime also points to some of the variations with police practice. For example, the report noted that "there was little consistency in the structures that the different police services...had in place to tackle hate crime" and that a range of different personnel within the service often dealt with reports of hate crime (Mencap, 2010: 4). Indeed, it is the first contact that can be the most important for the person reporting a crime, and a lack of experience of disability on the part of this person can be problematic. McCleod et al's (2010b) study of court users in England noted that in very occasional circumstances a special-needs trained police officer would be present when an interview was being conducted, and statement made. However, this was not the case in all police forces across England. Such differences, and often a lack of clear policies and procedures regarding how to deal with cases involving people with disabilities, can lead to a failure to investigate crimes against people with disabilities, and is also a reason why legislation and initiatives have been put in place in several jurisdictions to support people deemed to be vulnerable witnesses of crime.

3.3.3 Supporting people with disabilities in their encounters with police

The difficulties raised above, including the attitudes of the police and lack of clear procedures, have led to a number of developments in different jurisdictions designed to support people with disabilities as vulnerable witnesses. A number of authors have also pointed to the need for disability awareness training for police officers, which we address in this section. The Introduction of 'special measures'

Certain jurisdictions have put in place specific measures to support people with disabilities when they report a crime, measures which in some cases are enshrined in legislation. Many of these form part of initiatives aimed at the more general category of 'vulnerable and intimidated witnesses' (VIWs). The terminology of being a vulnerable witness may not sit easily with the goals and language of the disability movement, but nevertheless provides access to a potential source of support in negotiating the adversarial justice system. While we consider the provisions made under initiatives to support VIWs in more detail in Chapter 4, VIWs are generally deemed to include children, people with disabilities, and people vulnerable to intimidation. Measures also vary across jurisdictions, but have been shown to include:

• flexibility in types of evidence that are considered admissible;

• changes in the way evidence can be provided;

• changes to the requirements governing the competence of witnesses and of the need to give evidence under oath (Reid Howie Associates, 2002a).

For example, as mentioned in Chapter 2, Ireland's Criminal Evidence Act 1992 has made provisions for pre-trial video recorded evidence to be presented in court. Section 16 (1) of the Act applies to victims who are either under 14 or have a 'mental handicap', and allows recording of evidence "during an interview with a member of the Garda Síochána or any other person who is competent for the purpose" (Criminal Evidence Act, 1992). However, as Delahunt (2010) notes, the legislation is problematic as the complainant may still have to suffer the trauma of undergoing cross-examination in court.

The police are arguably the frontline in identifying vulnerable witnesses and putting special measures in place, although research has suggested that they often fail to do so, or may presume what types of support VIWs might need (Burton et al., 2006). Many measures relate to the court process, but one of the first interventions that police can be required to make is to engage an intermediary where they feel the victim requires it. For example, one of the special measures introduced by the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 in England and Wales is the provision of the Registered Intermediary, who can assist in communication between the witness and police at investigation stage, as well as in pre-trial meetings, and in court (O'Mahony, 2009). In Scotland, a similar provision known as the Appropriate Adult Scheme (whilst not set down in legislation) is achieving increased usage in the justice system, and is offered to witnesses, victims and suspects who are described as 'mentally disordered' (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Justice/law/victims-witnesses/Appropriate-Adult). There is little doubt that for victims, having an individual to accompany them through the process of reporting can offer significant support, whether that person is known to them, or is an independent professional. For example, McCleod's (2010b) study of court users in England noted that victims with learning disabilities and mental illness found themselves less anxious when a familiar person was with them; it also enabled police to flag their vulnerability and need for support at an early stage. Box 3.1 illustrates some more of these initiatives in comparative context.

Box 3.1: initiatives aimed at providing a 'support person' to facilitate people with disabilities in the reporting and investigation of crimes

The Independent Third Person programme in the State of Victoria, Australia is a service provided to people with a cognitive disability or mental illness during interviews with police. ITPs are volunteers trained by and registered with the Office of the Public Advocate in Victoria and provide communication support to individuals, as well as help them understand their rights. The service is available to victims of crime as well as offenders.

Source: http://www.publicadvocate.vic.gov.au/services/108/

Under the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Regulation 2005, New South Wales, Australia, people with disabilities are classified as 'vulnerable persons'. If it is established that a person has a disability, the person should have the right to a support person when being interviewed by the police, whether they are a victim or offender. The support person can be "a carer, case worker, legal representative, guardian or... interpreter".


It should be noted that police forces have also put in place other support mechanisms for people with disabilities, particularly around issues of accessibility, although these may not be enshrined in legislation. Many of these initiatives do not necessarily stem from legislation regarding VIWs in the criminal process, but from more general anti-discrimination or human rights legislation which sets out the need to make 'reasonable adjustments' or accommodation for people with disabilities.

In the UK, a number of police forces are signed up to a scheme called Police Link Officers for the Deaf (PLOD), which exists to offer outreach and support to the Deaf community (SignHealth, 2011), whilst police in a number of other jurisdictions have established emergency text messaging services for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing: the New Zealand Police's 111 TXT service is an example of this (http://www.police.govt.nz/deaf-txt; Rubin and Dunne, 1994).

In Ireland the Gardaí's Diversity Strategy and Implementation Plan 2009-2012 sets out a number of statements of intent and 'successes' it has had in the area of disability. A number of these 'successes' are set out in Box 3.2.

Box 3.2: Gardaí's Diversity Strategy and Implementation Plan 2009-2012: Successes regarding disability

➢ A study is underway into the provision of text phones for persons with hearing disabilities to enable members of the deaf community to communicate by text with the Garda Síochána.

➢ Braille Embossers are being introduced in each Garda region, to issue written communications which are accessible to persons who have a visual impairment.

➢ Any new literature being produced by An Garda Síochána will take account of its obligations under the Disability Act 2005.

Adapted from An Garda Síochána (2009) Diversity Strategy and Implementation Plan 2009-2012: 'Beyond Legal Compliance'. P.16.


The apparent lack of awareness regarding the specific needs of people with disabilities amongst police forces is attributed by several authors to the lack, or variable nature, of disability awareness in police training (Chown, 2010; Petersilia, 2001; McAfee and Musso, 1995). In a survey of police academies in fifty states in the United States, McAfee and Musso (1995) noted that most states provided training in the area of mental illness and in skills such as crisis intervention, but there was great variability in the amount and type of training provided. Similarly, a report in the UK notes that there is no training in Deaf awareness within national police training (SignHealth, 2011). Other studies have sought to evaluate and demonstrate the benefits of awareness raising events in changing police attitudes: for example, Bailey et al's (2001) evaluation of a training event aimed at police officers in Northern Ireland concluded that the event led to a positive shift in attitudes towards people with an intellectual disability.

It is not surprising then, that disability awareness training amongst law enforcement agencies is seen as crucial to changing responses to people with disabilities who are victims of crime. In the US, the requirement to make 'reasonable accommodations' under the American with Disabilities Act, has been "interpreted by Congress and the US Department of Justice as requiring disability training for police" (McAfee et al., 2001: 161), whilst a number of initiatives have sought to provide training for police forces, often led by crime support services or organisations of people with disabilities themselves.

In Ireland, as far back as 1996, the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities (1996) recommended that Gardaí and others working in the area should receive disability awareness training. The Gardaí Diversity Strategy (2009: 16) notes its intention of "[d]eveloping competence, expertise and external linkage to promote internal inclusion of those with disabilities and external response to citizens with disabilities", and "raising awareness of disability issues in the current Garda Síochána Diversity Works training Programme."

Further international initiatives regarding police training are set out in Box 3.3.

Box 3.3 Training initiatives/guidance on disability for police/law enforcement officers

The Office for Victims of Crime, under the United States Department of Justice, has produced a series of guides for law enforcement officers which address working with people with disabilities. These include First Response to Victims of Crime (2008), First Response to Victims of Crime Who Have a Disability (2002), Victims With Disabilities: Collaborative, Multidisciplinary First Response (2009), as well as a video and discussion guide on Meeting the Needs of Underserved Victims (2005).

Cleartalk is a project which was developed through research involving police officers and other stakeholders in New South Wales, Australia, to improve the communication of police with people with learning disabilities. The outcome of the project was a set of modules to be used in training police how to communicate more effectively with people with intellectual disabilities. (See Brennan and Brennan (1994) Cleartalk: police responding to intellectual disability. New South Wales: Charles Sturt University. Accessed at http://www.criminologyresearchcouncil.gov.au/reports/25-92-3.pdf

3.3.4 Availability of/referral to support services

Another crucial part of the picture in the reporting and recording of crime is the role that support services have to play in facilitating people with disabilities to report a crime in the first instance, but also in providing support from that point onwards. Given that people with disabilities are often more likely to report to a third party than directly to the police, the need for specialist support services is significant. This also requires better joint working between police and potential referral bodies, and awareness amongst police of the existence of such services. Evidence to date suggests that in the Irish context at least, such awareness does not always exist. For example, under the Victims Charter 2010, it is the commitment of the Garda Síochána to inform victims of crime or traumatic incidents in writing of the helpline and other support services available. However, Kilcommins et al's (2010: 173) report on the needs and concerns of the victim population in Ireland found "an insufficient awareness of the Crime Victims Helpline". They state that "the fact that a number of the professional/community organisation respondents lamented the lack of a central referral organisation for victims again highlights a lack of awareness of the existence and role of the Crime Victims Helpline" (ibid). In terms of accessibility, the Crime Victims Helpline offer an email and text service, and such non-verbal points of access facilitate its usage by, for example, the Deaf community as well as persons who experience difficulty with speech. However, there is a question about how far such a service would be known about amongst people with disabilities.

In a number of other jurisdictions, specific services for people with disabilities who have been victims of crime have been introduced, many of which act as a first point of contact for people with disabilities. A number of these are set out in Box 3.4. They range from telephone hotlines to special guidance developed for people with disabilities regarding how to deal with, and report, crime and abuse. Such services are significant in facilitating people with disabilities to report a crime and also provide on-going support as they move through the criminal justice system.

Box 3.4: Examples of specific support services for people with disabilities to assist reporting of crime

The Disability and Abuse Hotline, Australia, is a national hotline that people with disabilities can ring or contact by email to report abuse. The hotline can discuss with the caller how to resolve the complaint and put them in touch with an advocate if required. The hotline is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, but is operated by People with Disability Incorporated.


VOICE UK is a national organisation in the UK which provides support to people with learning disabilities who have experienced crime or abuse. It runs a telephone hotline which people can ring, and also provides training on issues such as hate crime and 'achieving best evidence' to different organisations, including the police.


3.4 Conclusion: barriers and facilitators in reporting a crime

The experience of reporting a crime can be a stressful process, in which people with disabilities can find themselves confronted with barriers. These barriers can mean that people with disabilities fail to report crimes. Or when they do and their claims are not taken seriously, cases may then not proceed to court. This undermines the role of criminal law in protecting the rights of, and providing redress for, people with disabilities. The literature has identified barriers and facilitators in the process of reporting a crime.

3.4.1 Barriers to reporting and recording of crime

Uncertainty on the part of people with disabilities, and third parties, regarding what constitutes a crime, and when reporting of an incident should take place. People with disabilities can often believe that abuse does not warrant reporting.

Lack of trust and fear by people with disabilities of the criminal justice system, and police as a source of authority.

Negative perceptions held by police personnel regarding people with disabilities, and particularly people with intellectual disabilities, which can lead to reports of crimes not being taken seriously. Police tend to hold stereotypical views about people with disabilities as lacking capacity and competence as witnesses.

Lack of disability awareness of police personnel, which can lead to a failure to identify people with disabilities as vulnerable witnesses, or recognise where they may need further supports.

Lack of accessible police stations, information and modes of communication. For example, Deaf people may have difficulty in making contact with the police in an emergency situation.

Lack of clear recording procedures for crimes as they relate to people with disabilities.

Variability in police policies and practices relating to who deals with people with disabilities when they report a crime.

3.4.2 Facilitators to the reporting and recording of crime

Early identification of people with disabilities as vulnerable witnesses so that supports can be put in place if necessary.

Police officers trained in disability awareness, able to identify disability and recognise when appropriate supports need to be put in place.

The provision of accessible information for people with disabilities regarding the process of reporting a crime, as well as accessible police premises and communication supports such as sign language interpreters in police interviews.

The presence of an intermediary who can support a person through the reporting and interviewing process.

Greater communication between police and service providers such as health and social care agencies that people with disabilities engage with, as well as the disability community itself.

Availability of specialist victim support services who are experienced in working with people with disabilities, and can provide advice and support.

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