Disfigurement hate crime is a hate crime but alarmingly, more than four in ten (41%) of respondents did not believe it is

Crime, justice and civil society

Police need to be more present. When you’re surrounded by a group of slightly drunk girls at a bus stop at Halloween and they make fun of your ‘costume’ and laugh in your face, what can you do? You can’t report it.

In the two decades since the Macpherson Report exposed ‘institutional racism’ in the Metropolitan Police, police services around the country have given much focus to the way in which they deal with minority communities and with hate crime. Indeed, new hate crime legislation has been passed, and the Ministry of Justice now routinely record hate crime statistics for annual publication.

However, awareness of disfigurement hate crime is very low. Where it is recorded, police and other criminal justice agencies record disfigurement hate crime under the disability heading, so detailed analysis of statistics is difficult.

In this research, we asked respondents to agree with one of the following statements:

• Hate crime focused on a person’s disfigurement is not yet a crime
• Hate crime focused on a person’s disfigurement is a crime

Disfigurement hate crime is a hate crime but alarmingly, more than four in ten (41%) of respondents did not believe it is.

A third of respondents (33%) have been the victim of a disfigurement hate crime, but of those only 30% reported the crime to the police. This could be due to low trust in the police: only 22% think the police take hate crime seriously, and just 26% think the police would deal with a hate crime properly. This distrust is echoed in respondents’ views of the courts: 25% think the courts take hate crime seriously, and generally view sentencing as being too lenient.

When asked whether they thought they had equal access to justice – such as to the civil courts – as a person who does not have a disfigurement, 31% of respondents said they didn’t think they did have equal access, or didn’t know.

We also asked respondents to agree with one of the following statements:

• The Equality Act 2010 gives protection to people with disabilities but not with disfigurements
• The Equality Act 2010 gives protection to people with disabilities and/or disfigurements
• Neither

The Equality Act 2010 does include ‘severe disfigurement’ as a protected characteristic, but almost half (48%) of respondents thought that it did not, or didn’t know. Only one in eight (12%) respondents felt that the Equality Act 2010 had improved their lives in any way. 41% said that it had not improved their life, and 47% didn’t know.

We were interested to establish respondents’ views on how face equality sits alongside other areas of equality, such as gender equality and race equality. We asked respondents to rate six areas of equality on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘not at all equal’ and 10 being ‘very equal’. NB: Needs presenting in graphic form to show how the high figures for disfigurement are at the lower end.


The heavy weighting at the not equal end of the scale for disfigurement echoes what Changing Faces hears very frequently: that face equality is the poor relation of equality campaigns, and often forgotten.

That is not to say that there are still not huge equality issues in the UK for many groups – the gender pay gap still exists, and black, Asian and minority ethnic people are still more likely to die in custody than any other group – but people’s perception of equality for people who have a disfigurement is way behind other groups.

In just the last three months, through the #WhereIsDisfigurement campaign, which draws attention to the omission of disfigurement as an equality issue, Changing Faces has highlighted six diversity and inclusion themed reports from charities, public bodies and government that have no mention of disfigurement. Recent examples have included reports from the BBC, the House of Lords and the Shaw Trust.

This is disappointing from a policy perspective especially as Changing Faces worked closely with the Equality & Human Rights Commission to produce a Code of Practice and Non-Statutory Guidance in 2010 when the Equality Act became law, but it is also hugely insulting to people who have a disfigurement who find that their needs are being repeatedly ignored.

Our respondents appear to be highly politically engaged, with 88% participating in the EU Referendum in 2016, and 83% saying that they would be very likely to vote in a general election (although the survey was completed before the 2017 general election was called). But, echoing experiences of the police and justice agencies, trust in politicians is low: only 30% think politicians deal with the issue of disfigurement well.


7a The Home Office and Ministry of Justice in England and Wales, the PSNI in
Northern Ireland and Police Scotland must invest in a public information campaign to increase awareness of disfigurement hate crime, ensuring that front line criminal justice staff are appropriately trained to deal with complaints.

7b The Equality & Human Rights Commission must invest in raising awareness of the Equality Act, both in order to increase adherence to it but also to reassure people with a disfigurement that the Act protects them, and to encourage them to come forward when things happen. The Commission should also encourage other bodies to ensure disfigurement features in their diversity and inclusion research, strategies and reports.

7c The legal profession, including professional bodies, HM Courts & Tribunals Service and other regulators must be given training to ensure that they do not discriminate against clients with a
disfigurement or anyone in the legal system.

7d Elected officials should affirm their support for face equality to ensure their constituents know that they are aware of the issue and can be relied upon to support legislation and projects to reduce discrimination.