hate crime or mate crime, make up your mind!
Three reasons why I don’t like the term mate crime.
What is the difference between hate crime and mate crime? I am confused, and I don’t think that I am the only one. I am a ‘self advocate’ from People First Havering and I have worked on the issue of disability hate crime since 2001. I have trained many police officers, and sat on the CPS’s Community Accountability Forum since 2008. One of the main challenges has been to raise awareness about disability hate crime with people with learning difficulties and criminal justice professionals. I am worried that the term mate crime will take us in the wrong direction on what is still a very long road towards this understanding and action. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of good things are going on. Accessible versions of ‘true vision’ have been produced and they are great. The top prosecutors in the country have demonstrated refreshing honesty in their acknowledgement that disability hate crime is a real problem, and that more needs to be done to improve hate crime prosecutions. And the EHRC inquiry has put the need to improve responses to disability hate crime on the agenda.
But I have three problems with ‘mate crime’ term that I want to share with you.
It might seem accessible for people with learning difficulties, but it isn’t for the criminal justice system.
‘Excuse me officer, I have been a victim of a mate crime’. I am worried that the police officer will look at me like I have lost the plot!
I have learned from my police friends that the names for the things that people with learning difficulties experience are: assaults, murder, rape, grooming and criminal damage. I have learned that this is happening because some people are biased against us, that they hold prejudices and act on them, sometimes violently. The two things- the crime and the bigotry is what makes it disability hate crime. I have learned that we are targeted because of these attitudes, not because we are ‘vulnerable’, misjudge friendships all the time, and need ‘safeguarding’ as a result. If we are struggling to get justice and recognition for what is going on, is the term ‘mate crime’ going to help the police understand what is happening to us?
Regular hate crime is just as under reported as ‘mate crime’.
I recently read the flyer of an upcoming conference which I plan to go to in Nottingham. It seems to be saying that it is easier for people to report a ‘normal’ hate crime than a mate crime. That’s not what I have found. I have never reported my experiences of verbal abuse, accompanied by rotten tomatoes and other objects thrown at me out of cars on my way home. Instead, I have often chosen to stay at home in order to avoid it. Why haven’t I reported it? To be honest, I am worried that I will be told that I am wasting police time. I am convinced that many people in my position respond in exactly the same way as I do every day.
I have been a victim of a proper mate crime and I think I know the difference
A few years ago, my friend rang me up 100 times a day, broke my windows, turned up uninvited and stayed outside my flat until three in the morning for many nights. It came to a head when he hit me and broke my glasses. That is when I called the police. He didn’t do this because I have the label of learning difficulties, he has the same label. He did it because he was frustrated, felt out of control and needed help. I wasn’t targeted because of my disability, I wasn’t groomed. But I did have a very difficult time with a mate, and it got out of hand. We got help and after a two year break in the friendship, we are mates again, twenty odd years after we first became friends. Where does this experience of mate crime fit into the debate? People with learning difficulties have all kind of relationships and friendships- good and bad- just like everyone else. The term ‘mate crime’ makes it seem like only we get lonely and misjudge relationships and friendships. Doesn’t everyone? I have already said that I don’t think that ‘mate crime’ it is an accessible term for the criminal justice system. It isn’t accessible for people with learning difficulties either.
What do we want to achieve with introducing the term?
In all these years, my main goal has been to raise awareness and get proper understanding in police and other agencies. I have spent many hours developing ways to explain what hate crime is all about. To people with learning difficulties who have had these experiences but didn’t know that it was wrong and something to take action about and to criminal justice professionals who struggle to understand that people are targets of hostility and violence and not just ‘easy targets’.
Look I think we are all on the same side. We want this to stop. But calling some of the targeted, nasty and bigoted violence that I and others face ‘mate crime’ doesn’t take us there.
I look forward to debating the issues!
This blog is written by Mark Brookes with support from Joanna Perry.