If you have experienced abuse, harassment or hate, our friendly team are here to listen and provide advice about our other support services.
No-one should ever experience abuse, in person or online, because of how they look. However, people with a visible difference often encounter appearance-related abuse and harassment.
In many cases, that abuse may constitute a hate incident or even a hate crime.
On this page, we explain what these terms mean and how you can report hate crimes and hate incidents.
All these different terms can be confusing, but if you experience a verbal, online or physical attack because of your visible difference, it will often fall into one of these categories.
Abuse is a broad category, meaning the mistreatment of someone. There are many forms of abuse, including verbal, physical and psychological. If someone shouts offensive things at you because of your visible difference, they are verbally abusing you.
Harassment is unwanted behaviour which you find offensive, intimidating or humiliating. It includes spoken or written words, images, physical gestures, facial expressions and jokes. If someone knowingly tells a cruel joke about visible difference in front of you, they are harassing you.
Harassment because of your visible difference could be against the law. This is because the Equality Act 2010 considers harassment due to “disability” as unlawful discrimination. You may not identify with the term “disability”, but this is how you are protected under the law.
Hate incidents and hate crimes apply to acts which the victim or anyone else believes were motivated by prejudice based on:
- Sexual orientation
- Transgender identity
If someone has harmed or abused you because you have a visible difference, then this may be legally classed as a disability hate crime or hate incident. Again, you may not consider yourself to be disabled but this is how your visible difference is protected under the law. It’s worth remembering that disability is currently defined very broadly in hate crime law as “any physical or mental impairment” – differing from the definition used in the Equality Act.
A hate incident becomes a hate crime when a criminal act was carried out. A criminal act could include assault, criminal damage, harassment or hate mail. If no criminal act was carried out – such as name-calling – the act is still a hate incident. If you report a hate incident, the police have to record it even though it is not a crime.
You can see from these definitions that any appearance-related abuse or harassment is a hate incident and if a criminal act was carried out, it may be a hate crime. Depending upon the circumstances the incident might be also be seen as unlawful discrimination.
“I had an interview at a company that fitted satellite dishes and TV aerials, where the man said, ‘I can’t employ you. I couldn’t send you out to a customer with a face like that’. I found that really upsetting.
If I’m on my own and I get called names and experience abuse I just bury it but after 45 years of doing that I just fell apart. There is an old saying, ‘sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you’, but names can really harm your mental health.
I’ve never reported the abuse as I didn’t know it was a crime. I didn’t know it was something the police would take seriously. People need to be aware of what they can or can’t do and we need to put a stop to the abuse.”
A hate crime doesn’t have to involve physical violence. A hate crime could be:
- Verbal abuse
- Physical abuse (shoving, punching, kicking)
- Threatening behaviour (taunting, spitting)
- Offensive or threatening texts or social media posts (trolling)
- Phone calls
- Damage to property
- Exploitation by a friend, carer or someone you know for a criminal purpose