A MERSEYSIDE anti-bullying campaign set to tackle 'mate crime' has received the backing of the region's police force and Tranmere Rovers football club.

'Mate crime' is the bullying of vulnerable people such as those with autism by their so-called friends and something Autism Together - formerly Wirral Autistic Society - is calling on communities to take a stand against.

The charity has today launched its online campaign to coincide with Anti Bullying Week - which runs until Friday - to raise awareness of the issue.

The multi-award-winning Wirral charity, which employs nearly 900 people across Merseyside, is asking people to photograph themselves alongside the slogan 'Together against mate crime' and post it on Facebook and Twitter.

Merseyside Police, Tranmere Rovers Football Club and the Light Cinema in New Brighton, are just three organisations to have pledged their support and promised to post their pictures online.

Wirral Globe:
The Merseyside Police’s Community Engagement Unit show their support for Autism Together’s ‘Together against mate crime’ campaign.

The campaign also has national backing from autism champions Dame Stephanie Shirley and Anna Kennedy, OBE.

Nicola Palios, owner of Tranmere Rovers FC, said: "Any form of bullying is loathsome, but the bullying of vulnerable people by those who are supposed to be friends is particularly abhorrent. 

"As a club we are working hard to provide an environment where everyone who comes to Prenton Park feels safe and welcome, which is why we are proud to be working with Autism Together and supporting Anti-Bullying Week."

JaneWoodason, education manager at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, said: "Peer pressure and a desire to fit in can make young and vulnerable people become unwitting victims of this insidious form of bullying. People with autism are often more challenged by social interaction and so are particularly susceptible. We want to put a stop to mate crime now."

Wirral Globe:
Light cinema staff Marc Stansfield with Jane Woodason, Michael Gardner and Becky Atherton. 

Autism Together has been determined to raise the issue since its report, published earlier this year, found worryingly high levels of mate crime in Merseyside.

Parents told researchers of their heartbreak at having to protect their 'harmless and extremely vulnerable' children from bullying. 

Chief executive of Autism Together, Robin Bush, said: "Mate crime is a hideous, often hidden, form of bullying that needs to come out of the shadows.  We need to show the bullies that we are onto them and to reassure members of the autism community that they are not alone.  We will help them stand up to this issue."

The report found that:

  • Eighty per cent of respondents in Merseyside with autism and over the age of 16 felt they had been bullied or taken advantage of by someone they had thought was a friend. 
  • One hundred per cent of respondents in the 16-25 age category reported having difficulty distinguishing genuine friends from those who may bully or abuse the friendship in some way.  Eight out of ten said that fear of bullying had caused them to turn down social opportunities.
  • Of the respondents who reported experiencing mate crime, 71% across all age groups had been subject to name calling and verbal abuse.  Fifty four per cent of 12-16 year-olds had had money or possessions stolen.   In the 25+ age group, 74% reported that they had been manipulated or forced to do the wrong thing.
  • Over a third of adults with autism had been subject to bullying or manipulation of a sexual nature - including being coerced into 'sexting'.

Numerous national organisations have already agreed to be part of the campaign including: Progress to Excellence Training, Brain in Hand, the Autism Alliance, OMI Interactive, Sensory Direct and Globo PLC.

Anyone wishing to contribute a photograph can find out more at autismtogether.co.uk/together-against-mate-crime-campaign.

To discuss the issue with the Autism Together team please contact the Rainbow Resource Centre on 0151 666 9960 or email matecrime@autismtogether.org