What social workers need to know about mate crime

Advice and information on what mate crime is and how social workers can identify it

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Finanacial exploitation can be a key feature of mate crime. Photo: REX/Shutterstock

Mate crime is a form of abuse and exploitation that services and professionals have been largely unaware of until relatively recently. But it can affect many people within communities, particularly people with learning disabilities, mental health issues or substance abuse issues, and older people. And it can be extreme; as it was for Steven Hoskin, a man with learning disabilities who in 2006 was murdered in Cornwall by a group of people he thought were his friends.

Rod Landman is project officer for the Association for Real Change and project manager of ARC’s Safety Net project into mate crime. He has written Community Care Inform Adults’ guide to mate crime against adults with learning disabilities. This is a condensed version of some of the advice and information from Landman’s guide. Inform subscribers can read the in-depth article here.

What is mate crime?

A tentative definition, based on the experience of the Safety Net project, is: Mate crime happens when someone ‘makes friends’ with a person and goes on to abuse or exploit that relationship. The founding intention of the relationship, from the point of view of the perpetrator, is likely to be criminal. The relationship is likely to be of some duration and, if unchecked, may lead to a pattern of repeat and worsening abuse.

Learning disability and mate crime

People with learning disabilities may be situationally vulnerable to mate crimes. They may be living very isolated lives, but – like everyone – need friends. This need is easily exploited. In addition, many people with learning disabilities haven’t had the usual opportunities to become ‘streetwise’ when growing up. Incidents can therefore be more likely to take place when they are in the community, on public transport or using services without support.

Features of mate crime

Mate crimes are likely to happen in private, often in the victim’s own accommodation. They can also happen via social media, where victims are financially or sexually exploited after being befriended online.

Mate crimes often occur within long-term relationships, which may have started out as genuine friendships. They can appear to be real friendships to many observers. Social workers can be so delighted that a person with learning disabilities has a “friend” that they don’t question the relationship any further.

Identifying mate crime

Indicators of mate crime can be similar to other forms of abuse. Potential signs include:

  • Bills not being paid, a sudden lack of money, losing possessions, suddenly changing their will
  • Changes in routine, behaviour, appearance, finances or household (new people visiting or staying over, lots of new ‘friends’, lots more noise or rubbish than normal).
  • Cutting themselves off from established networks of friends/family and support, missing weekly activities.
  • Secretive internet or mobile phone use.
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5 Responses to What social workers need to know about mate crime

  1. Planet Autism February 22, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    I suspect this article is intended for adult social care but autistic children are very vulnerable to this problem too as well as bullying. Children’s social care need to take seriously, parents who know their children’s vulnerabilities instead of trying to fit such children into tick-boxes and misjudge parents as over-protecting or even emotionally harming. There is a huge amount of ignorance among social workers about autism and it is very detrimental to families.

  2. Tomas February 24, 2017 at 1:25 am #

    Autistic people without learning disabilities are just as likely to experience ‘mate crime’, that is often forgotten- being isolated by peers but desperately wanting friends, and also difficulty understanding people and their intent easily leaves a person open to deception and abuse.

    ‘Mate crime’ is not solely a LD issue.

  3. Helena February 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    These types of crimes can happen to people with autism and sadly do happen, in our experience.
    It also includes online ‘friends’.

    Tomas’ comment, and Planet Autism hit the nail on the head. There is also a balance to be had regarding adults’, but generally, people with a learning disability or diffculty, and/or autism are by that very definition, vulnerable. Therefore, it is normal and understandable for parents and carers to take steps to keep their family members safe. That is very often viewed as over protecting them.

    There is a need for more training of social workers, paid carers and support workers and teachers in understanding those with autism, and learning disabilities in general. They are more vulnerable, and mostly not aware of it.

    Interesting to see this being talked about at least.

  4. Anon February 26, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    Happens all the time in mental health services- we’re very aware of it. Please remember all vulnerable adults are just that- vulnerable.

    Good point raised.

  5. rob jennings February 26, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    I dont think its new christy brown is an example its probably that social services have such a big workload it was less focussed on before