Dealing with appearance-related abuse and harassment

No-one should experience abuse, in person or online, because of how they look. In many instances that abuse is a hate crime, or a hate crime incident.

Reporting abuse, hate crimes and hate crime incidents is easier than you think. The information below will help you understand more about what appearance-related hate crime is, how and where you can report it.

If you or someone you know needs emotional support around coping with visible difference please use the support and advice services we offer.

What is a hate crime?

A hate crime is when someone harms or abuses a person, either physically or verbally because of who they are – such as because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity.

If someone has harmed or abused you because you have a visible difference, then this may be a disability hate crime or hate crime incident. You may not identify with the term ‘disability’, but in terms of hate crime law, that is how your visible difference is protected.

A hate crime doesn’t have to involve physical violence. A hate crime could be:

    • harassment;
    • verbal abuse;
    • physical abuse (shoving, punching, kicking);
    • threatening behaviour (taunting, spitting);
    • offensive or threatening texts or social media posts (trolling);
    • phone calls;
    • letters;
    • intimidation;
    • damage to property;
    • exploitation by a friend, carer or someone you know for a criminal purpose.

It’s important to report abusive behaviour as a hate crime or a hate crime incident. Reporting a hate crime isn’t wasting police time or causing a fuss. The police want to understand what is happening. The more we talk about the issue, the more effectively the authorities can respond and get better at dealing with it.

If you tell the police that you believe an incident to be a hate crime, then they have to log it and investigate it as one. Sometimes a single incident may not be considered a hate crime, but if it becomes a pattern of events and you are repeatedly targeted then it will be.

How to report a hate crime?

If you’re in immediate danger you should call the police using 999.

If you or the person involved is badly hurt, you should call an ambulance using 999.

If the crime does not pose an immediate threat, you should still report it to the police, as it must then be recorded. You can do this by calling the non-emergency number 101.

If you do not want to speak to the police or you wish to remain anonymous, you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or visit their website. Or you can fill in an online reporting form through the True Vision website and that will be forwarded to your local police. Your report can be anonymous if you want it to be. There is also a True Vision app which you can download onto your phone.

Tips to remember if you’re reporting a hate crime:

    • Trust your instincts, if you think it’s a crime then make that clear to whoever you’re reporting to.
    • DON’T take the matter into your own hands. You might be fed up of having to put up with it, but the authorities are there to handle it.
    • Take someone with you. If you are meeting with someone who you would like to tell about the crime, take someone with you for support, but also as a witness to support you and your story.
    • If at any point you deal with the police and they need to come to your home, you can request that they visit in civilian clothes/ non uniform. You can explain that you do not want to attract unwanted attention by their visit, if you have these concerns.
    • When describing the offender it’s useful to give general information which can identify them like: age, height, build, gender, ethnicity, clothing, hair colour, glasses, jewellery or piercing, tattoos, facial hair, voice or teeth.

Where to go for support?

If you, or someone you know, has experienced a hate crime, or hate crime incident, there are lots of local services available. These services vary across the UK.

There are some great national charities that can offer support. Both Citizens Advice and Victim Support provide advice and can also signpost you to local services.

Changing Faces can help if you would like emotional support and to explore your options around coping with visible difference and the impact this may have on your life.

Further reading