Police officers’ knowledge about Autism
The training that police officers receive on autism varies widely by country and provider. Mostly autistic people are not included as trainers or developers of the trainin. Assessment of how that training leads to a better interaction with autistic people is non-existent.
Perspectives expressed by police officers on their knowledge of autism and autistic people’s real-life experiences of contact with the police have been compared in england and Wales (1). The results show that even when police officers are satisfied and confident with their knowledge of autism, most autistic adults may report low levels of satisfaction.
Not believing autistic victims
There is also the problem of authorities not believing autistic people when they attempt to report crimes against themselves. Some studies show that non-autistic people perceive autistic people as less credible or as more deceptive in the context of justice, based on their overall presentation (2,3). This is consistent with other studies that reveal barriers faced by autistic people coming forward as victims of crime.
In a study on sexual violence against autistic women, a third of the victims reported the assault, but only 25% of those who reported were able to file a complaint and/or receive care. Around 75% said that reporting did not lead to action, with one third of them saying they were not believed. (4). In a similar study, out of 294 incidents of crime against autistic people, 41 were reported to the police, and only five led to conviction (5).
The most common reason provided by autistic people for not reporting crime was that they did not think there was anything the police could do to help them. More than half indicated that they did not trust the police, reported a fear of legal processes, and felt that they would not be believed (5,6).
Training police officers to understand autism is important, but it is not the only change needed to support autistic people as victims of crime. In addition, it is necessary to assess the impact and effect of the training in actual interactions with autistic people, develop the training to be practical and continuous, and include autistic people included in its delivery. Other things to consider include outreach programmes for contact between police officers and the community, practices to accommodate sensory and communication needs of autistic people (e.g. allowing for processing time or adjusting environments to support sensory needs), and providing trained advocates to support autistic victims of crime.
- Crane, L., Maras, K.L., Hawken, T. et al. Experiences of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Policing in England and Wales: Surveying Police and the Autism Community. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 2028–2041 (2016).
- Maras, K., Marshall, I., & Sands, C. (2019). Mock Juror Perceptions of Credibility and Culpability in an Autistic Defendant. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 49(3), 996–1010.
- Lim, A., Young, R.L. & Brewer, N. (2022) Autistic Adults May Be Erroneously Perceived as Deceptive and Lacking Credibility. J Autism Dev Disord 52, 490–507.
- Cazalis F, Reyes E, Leduc S and Gourion D (2022) Evidence That Nine Autistic Women Out of Ten Have Been Victims of Sexual Violence. Front. Behav. Neurosci. 16:852203.
- Gibbs, V., Hudson, J. & Pellicano, E. The Extent and Nature of Autistic People’s Violence Experiences During Adulthood: A Cross-sectional Study of Victimisation. J Autism Dev Disord (2022).
- Gibbs, V., Haas, K. Interactions Between the Police and the Autistic Community in Australia: Experiences and Perspectives of Autistic Adults and Parents/Carers. J Autism Dev Disord 50, 4513–4526 (2020).