What is mate crime?
Mate crime is a word for someone deliberately befriending a person with autism so they can take advantage of them. Sometimes people 'pretend' to be friends with autistic people to use for things, like money or a place to stay.
What are some examples of mate crime? We spoke to Andy Buchan, a police officer with experience of mate crime, about what some known examples are.
He said: "Sometimes people with autism get given independent accommodation and a 'mate' has pretended to be their friend so they have a free place to stay. They then invite friends around to hang out which can intimidate autistic people as they don't feel able to say no."
Another common problem is these supposed friends asking you for money, saying things to you like "Can you lend me some money until I get paid?" This 'mate' then refuses to pay back the money and often threatens victims for more cash.
"Autistic people may get benefits paid to them and spend relatively little so it appears that they have lots of cash lying around," says Andy.
He's also keen to point out that people with autism can be perpetrators of this, not just victims.
James* is 24 and found himself a victim of mate crime. “It took me a while to realise this person wasn’t my friend,” James said. “I thought we got along but then he started doing terrible things to me. He was violent and intimidated me. In the end my social worker moved me to a different house.”
Why is this happening to people with autism?
Often people with autism can find it more difficult to make friends, and feel isolated from the rest of society. This means sometimes you can be so desperate for friendship, you accept even aggressive people, or people who degrade you.
"Friendships for autistic people can be confusing and sporadic," says Andy. "So if someone shows an interest in them or their passions this can seem like the greatest thing in the world. So they'll often turn a blind eye to the deficient parts of the relationship."
How can I protect myself from mate crime?
Andy gave us these top tips for looking after yourself:
- Never give or lend money to people you have just met without telling someone you trust.
- Never let anyone into your home that you don't know or trust. Genuine tradesman will have ID to prove who they are.
- Ask a potential new friend to meet you at a day centre, or with your carer, so others can meet them too. If they really want to be your friend, they won't mind doing this.
- If someone is nasty, aggressive or violent towards you, they are NOT your friend.
- NEVER do anything with someone that makes you feel bad.
I think I’m a victim of mate crime, what do I do?
The most important thing is to tell someone you trust, as soon as you can. James said that’s when everything started to change for him.
“Tell social services or your psychologist, anyone you really feel you can trust,” he says. “It’s important for people to know this is going on as it’s really scary.”
Do not put up with this behaviour in silence. Whether it’s a friend, carer, social worker, or medical professional – let someone know what’s going on. You can call the police too. The police take this crime seriously and will investigate it thoroughly and professionally. If you ever feel in immediate danger you can call 999. Or if something happened recently, you can call 111 and ask to speak to a police officer. They’ll arrange a time to meet you that suits you, and you can bring someone you trust with you.
Andy is keen to emphasise how seriously this is taken. “Above all be assured that you will be believed and something will happen to help you and stop this.”
James says he is now coming to terms with what happened to him. “I’m still suffering from after-effects,” he says. “But I’m talking to a therapist about it and feeling like I can put it behind me. I want others to know that, with help, you can get over this.”
*Name changed to protect identity
If you feel you are being affected by Mate Crime you can talk to Bullying UK on 0808 800 2222.