Merseyside charity Autism Together has published an open letter to David Lidington, MP, the Secretary of State for Justice.
The letter challenges the Ministry of Justice to give legal recognition to ‘mate crime’, the bullying and manipulation of vulnerable people by so-called friends, and to give police, social services and courts the power to tackle it.
It follows a 2016 submission made by Autism Together and other charities to the Law Commission, calling for this area of the law to be examined in detail. The Law Commission is considering whether to explore this issue as part of its 13th programme of law reform but insiders say progress is unlikely without Ministry of Justice backing.
Autism Together, which employs 1000 staff and supports 450 people on the autism spectrum, has called for recognition of mate crime since its 2015 report, Mate Crime in Merseyside, uncovered what the charity called a ‘staggering’ level of bullying and coercion of those on the autism spectrum. Eighty per cent of respondents over 16 and with autism had experienced some form of bullying or manipulation within friendship groups.
CEO of Autism Together, Robin Bush, said: “We’ve already put the strongest case possible to the Law Commission and provided real-life examples of mate crime happening in our region.
“Now we need David Lidington and his team at the Ministry of Justice to understand that families are desperate for help. With their backing, we hope to persuade the Law Commission to take action.”
A full transcript of the letter can be found below.
An open letter to Rt Hon David Lidington, MP,
Secretary of State for Justice
Ministry of Justice
London SW1H 9AJ
Dear Mr Lidington
We are contacting you on behalf of the many vulnerable people in this country – such as those with autism or learning disabilities – who are subject to bullying and abuse by those they consider friends.
In many cases, such is their vulnerability that they don’t know it isn’t normal to be physically, emotionally or sexually abused: for their homes to be used as drug dens, for their money to be taken, for their possessions to be borrowed and never returned, for their loved ones to force them into prostitution.
We call this abusive behaviour ‘mate crime’. It takes many forms – it has even led to murder. It needs to be recognised in law and stopped.
We have proposed that the Law Commission examine this area of the law. One option would be to consider a vulnerable person’s bill which would put in place practical steps to protect people who, although deemed to have mental capacity, are in fact extremely naive and vulnerable to coercion by so-called friends.
Another option would be to expand the remit of the new controlling and coercive behaviour offence, which protects people within families or intimate relationships but which currently excludes abusive friendships.
We have first-hand testimony from families desperate for support, as they see their family members dragged ‘willingly’ into corrupt relationships. We hear of police and social services who are frustrated that there is, literally, nothing they can do.
We need your help
We challenge you and your department to tackle this insidious problem: to give it a name and to give police, social services and courts the powers they need to halt it.
Will you meet with representatives from the autism and learning disability sectors so we are able to put our case first hand?
CEO, Autism Together