A MAN with learning disabilities has told how cruel children who see him as an “easy target” have made his life a misery.
Keith Lynch spoke out as Police Scotland launched a four-week campaign highlighting hate crime and urging victims to come forward.
The crime is historically under-reported and can range from violent physical attacks to verbal abuse, criminal damage or even online bullying.
Mr Lynch told the News that he and his wife Tracy had been targeted by youths on a number of occasions.
They had verbal abuse shouted at them on a bus, before their attackers tied the toggles of Mrs Lynch’s jacket to a pole.
In another incident, the garden gate of their home in north-west Edinburgh was repeatedly kicked while others climbed on his fence.
While these cases may sound relatively minor, they have had a huge impact on Mr and Mrs Lynch, leaving them feeling afraid in their own homes.
Mr Lynch, who is vice-chairman of disability charity People First, said: “There were also teenagers who threw things at the window, shouting verbal abuse. It was very frustrating, they saw me as an easy target.”
He added: “It’s not okay to have to live your life in fear every day. To worry about getting the bus, to expect to put up with it, because it has happened.
“This has to stop. It’s not fair on us or other people to put up with it. We need respect.”
He said the sad reality is that many victims have been targeted over such a long period that they see the offensive behaviour are “part of life”, and they do not go to the police.
And Mr Lynch, who has been involved in education projects to try to change young people’s attitudes, believes that individuals are reticent about coming forward for fear of the issue escalating but he wants to encourage more victims to go to the police.
This is reflected in the latest figures for hate crime in the city; from April 1 to the end of July, there have been 455 reports. Just 14 of those incidents involved disabled people – amounting to two per cent.
The month-long national hate crime awareness campaign will concentrate on a different minority group every week.
Chief Inspector Helen Harrison said: “We want to raise awareness about what hate crime is, how it affects victims in communities and how it can be reported. It has a huge impact.
“This week we are focusing on disabilities, which is one area which is under-reported. We’re keen to encourage victims to come forward.”
Sergeant Scott Kennedy, who specialises in equality and diversity, said: “We try to engage with people as much as we can, and address the barriers.”
As part of the hate crime campaign, Police Scotland is inviting people to get involved on social media by using the hashtags #reportit and #hatecrime.