You and I can help end hate crimes

You and I can help end hate crimes

Date: September 16, 2011
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Has hate speech instigated the killings and “corrective rapes” of lesbians? A seminar on “Equality, hate speech and attacks on lesbians” held at the beginning of Women’s Month explored the uncomfortable boundaries of this question.

The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) supported by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) hosted a panel chaired by Stephen Grootes of Talk Radio 702. William Bird, the Director of MMA and Niki Refiloe Khena, an activist for the White Flag Campaign shared their insights on this pressing matter.

Within a democratic society, the right to freedom of expression is valued, but a caveat of this right is hate speech. In the South African Constitution, “hate speech” is defined as speech that advocates hatred and constitutes an incitement to cause harm. With democratic rights come responsibilities and the media, as well as citizens, have an important role in challenging hate speech and stereotypes.

It is imperative to recognise that there are practical consequences of hate speech for women, particularly when generalisations about gender violence and rape myths are perpetuated through speech. An example of this is Julius Malema’s now infamous quip that women who stay for breakfast can’t complain about rape. This is a stereotype that perpetuates a culture of male sexual entitlement and encourages impunity about male sexual behaviour. It has a very real impact on women whose daily realities include the threat of gender violence.

Niki Khena of the White Flag Campaign brought a human face to an otherwise theoretical discussion at the Sparks Seminar. As the “B” in LGBTI, she frankly told her audience that she gets called names by her family, by neighbours and that sometimes these derogatory insults appear on the pages of newspapers. Khena has experienced violence and abuse based on her sexuality and as she said, “It started with hate.” She asked, “How long can we carry on pretending that thoughts of hatred will not result in acts of violence? When does it stop?”

William Bird raised the concern that there is generally poor coverage of hate crimes, especially considering the gravity of this form of violence and its implications for democracy. He noted that it is important to address and challenge these crimes, emphasising that the role of the media is to build a democracy and not to break it down. Of course, hate speech is not the only source of hate crimes and corrective rape. It is a multi-pronged, complex problem and the media can form part of the solution.

In the Sparks Seminar, it was suggested that the media should put forward alternative views and debunk the ones that are based on hatred. The media also need to hold people who perpetuate hate speech accountable. But it is not just the media who can promote equality and justice in this sense. As an activist, Khena takes this responsibility into her own hands. She talks to people on the street about hate crime in order to create awareness because “people act out of ignorance.” Khena is an inspiration to ordinary individuals and journalists alike when she says, “I’m no expert…I’m just an individual. But I challenge you. It is your responsibility. I challenge you to actively do something about raising awareness, about protecting, about empowering.”

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