First of all what is mate crime? Well mate crime is when someone, often a person with autism, is manipulated in to committing a crime by someone who they think is their friend. This often arises as people with autism can find it hard to tell when someone is a real friend, and when they are just pretending in order to get something out of the autistic person. As a result of this people with autism can come in to contact with the criminal justice system more than they should.
Autistic people can fall victim to mate crime due to the fact that they find it hard to read people, to understand when someone is lying, and tell who their real friends are. They might miss out on the non-verbal signals that a person is up to no good, and they might also misjudge the tone of the so-called mate’s voice. Added to the fact that they might not be able to read people’s faces, this means that they are left where they often have to take people at their word as they just can’t tell if they are being lied to, or not. Some autistic people do find it hard to make friends, and therefore might not be used to what a normal friendship is, and what would be expected of them within that friendship. Also, some autistic people become so desperate to make friends that they will not be too worried about how someone treats them, just as long as they say they are friends.
There are a few ways in which autistic people might be able to tell if they are being manipulated. They can think about if they feel scared to say no to someone. This might be due to fear of that so called friend being angry, and hurting them, or it might be due to the friend making threats to hurt themselves. It might just be that the friend puts so much pressure on them to not make them upset, that they feel unable to refuse them anything no matter how much they might want to. They might feel uncomfortable doing something that their supposed friends wants, and maybe even insists, on them doing. In this case they should go with what they feel, and not allow themselves to get talked, or forced, in to doing something that makes them feel uncomfortable. If they are doing something that makes them uncomfortable, or scared then they need to think about why they are doing it. Are they doing it because it is something they want to do? Or is it being done to try and fit in, or to make someone else happy? The truth is that no friendship should have one friend doing things they don’t think they should be doing just to keep the other one happy. This doesn’t mean being completely selfish; it’s just that being completely selfless will leave the autistic person open to being taken advantage of. People make a big deal about that one friend who will do anything for anyone, but the truth is often that person is taken advantage of by the people who claim to be their friends. Think about this – would the friend be there if the autistic person needed them? And is the autistic person doing things just to make the friend happy, or because it is truly something that they want to do?
Not all autistic people will be able to pick up on the above signs, or even when thinking about them be able to apply them to what they feel to be a friendship. In this case it would be the place of the parent, or care giver to point out to them – in a respectful way – what they feel is wrong with the friendship. They could do some work around what friendship is, and how friends treat each other. They could look at friendships on T.V, or in books, and then compare them to the friendship in real life. This might sound interfering, but if it done right it might be extremely helpful, and important. This level of intervention from family early on might well stop the autistic person from ever coming in to contact with the criminal justice system later on.
Mate crime in its most simple definition is this – being betrayed by someone you trust. It’s wrong, and extremely hurtful, and damaging to its victims. Sadly mate crime affects a lot of autistic people, and that’s why work has to be done by professionals, the police and families, to educate and inform autistic people about this, and to help them to avoid it.