Safeguarding together: exploitation of people with learning disabilities and Mate Crime

November 12, 2018

This year Safeguarding Week (12th- 18th November 2018) focuses on exploitation, many people reading this may remember the story of Gemma Hayter, who was ‘friends’ with a group of people younger than her.  They abused her home and exploited her due to her learning disability, eventually killing her after she had accidently got them thrown out of a pub by disclosing that one of the gang was underage.  Gemma had been described as susceptible to abuse and had experienced exploitation in her past, but she wasn’t able to appreciate that these five people who eventually killed her were not her friends. A review into her death in 2016 indicated that there might have been opportunities for services to have intervened and safeguarded Gemma against the events which led up to her brutal death.


Empowering people to tell their story


Earlier this year I was really lucky to have the opportunity to attend an event where Newport People First and Torfaen People first premiered the work they had done in partnership with Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner.  They shared true stories of how people with learning disabilities had been exploited by so called friends.  As a nurse and lecturer I had read about ‘Mate Crime’, shared case studies with groups of students and explored ways to safeguard people against this however, I had never met someone with a learning disability who had actually experienced this and I was shocked to see people I knew telling their story.


Four people with learning disabilities presented the videos that they acted in and told true stories of how people with learning disabilities had been targeted and exploited by various people including a neighbour, over the internet, in the street by strangers and by someone acting as a boyfriend.


There were many people with learning disabilities in the room, carers, family members friends and professionals and it was incredibly moving to be part of something that felt so powerful and empowering on that day.


 The devastating impact of Mate Crime


‘Mate Crime’ is an extremely unpleasant form of exploitation: specifically targeting vulnerable people who can find it difficult to make friends, may lack confidence in social situations and have possibly experienced abuse or exclusion in their lives from wider society.


Targeting an individual because of a perceived weakness with the specific goal of financial, sexual or physical exploitation can have devastating consequences.  One man with Autism who had been living independently started to withdraw after a gang of people indicating they were homeless started to approach him on the days they knew he received his benefits.  This meant he was running out of money to buy food and pay his bills but also that he was afraid to go outside as he felt intimidated and knew that he could be taken advantage of by these individuals.


Working together


It is important that we hear the stories of people with learning disabilities and their families.


 Look out for:

  • Friends who visit close to ‘payday’

  • Sudden increase in spending but not much to show for it

  • Someone who has previously managed financially having less money, less food in the house, less data or money on their mobile phone

  • Someone losing confidence in their local community, fearful of leaving the house, changes in habits and routines

  • A change in someone’s social situation, more visitors, bigger groups and new people in someone’s life.  The person might be anxious about how to keep these friends if planned activities cannot take place.  They may say …… won’t want to be my friend if……

  • Increased use of the computer, if befriended on social media or if making payments across the internet

  • The person may be less well cared for, appear anxious, nervous or distracted and may even have injuries that cannot be explained. 

  • Their house may be less tidy, key things like DVD players, mobile phones, computers or TV’s might be missing, the property might be damaged

  • There may be new things in the home, possibly illegal or stolen goods, there have been occurrences of ‘friends’ storing drugs within the property of a person with learning disability

  • An increase in people hanging around, sitting on walls or doorsteps near to the persons home


Accepting that while people do have the right to make their own decisions we can work together with the person to ensure that informed choice is made based on options that can meet an individual’s needs.  It might be difficult to support the person to see that an abuse is taking place; they may be fearful of getting the perpetrator into trouble or may fear they could be in trouble themselves.



As professionals, it is important that we are alert to understanding the risk, ask relevant questions, keeping the person central and remembering that safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.


Paula Hopes, RNLD., M.Sc., PGC-LTHE


Learning Disability Nurse Consultant


ABMU Health Board


@paulahopes1  @abmhealth #nationalsafeguardingweek


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