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Abuse and harrasment - what can we do?

Thu 17 Feb 2005 In: Features

With the number of protests that are appearing as a result of the Destiny Church anti-Civil Union campaign, what is it that members of our community can do? While New Zealand already has hate speech laws of a sort- sections 61-63 and 131 of the Human Rights Act, they only protect people from harassment, "disharmony", and inciting "disharmony" on the grounds of race, ethnic or national origin, colour, or sex- and the latter one is only protected from sexual harassment. Unlike New South Wales law, there is no current law specifically prohibiting vilification, or extreme vilification. Harassment can take many forms: Making offensive remarks about a person's race or sex; Mimicking the way a person speaks (i.e. if they have an accent); Making jokes about a person's race ; Calling people by racist names; Deliberately pronouncing people's names wrongly; Personally sexually offensive verbal comments; Sexual or smutty jokes; Repeated comments or teasing about someone's alleged sexual activities or private life; Persistent, unwelcome social invitation or telephone calls from workmates at work or at home; Following someone home from work; Offensive hand or body gestures; Physical contact - i.e.: patting, pinching, touching or putting an arm around another person's body - which is unwelcome; Provocative visual material (i.e. posters - with a sexual connotation); Hints or promises of preferential treatment in exchange for sex, or threats of deferential treatment if sex is not offered; Sexual assault and/or rape. "Disharmony" includes actions such as: A campaign involving provision of a facility which allows people to phone in details of over stayers anonymously Material on a website which describes a particular race as being lazy, greedy, unintelligent and prone to criminality Pamphlets which attack an immigrant group and say that they are ruining the tone of an area, increasing crime and decreasing property values and should be sent back to where they came from. Many of the above actions are taken by those who profess they "love us" and therefore protest at our activities, claiming it is a valid use of their right to freedom of expression. It is surprising what they usually do when confronted with "Well if you love us, give me a hug to prove it". They usually either get more abusive, or run away. Both of these actions prove they were lying when they claim "We love you, but not your 'sin'". They also often try to claim that their right to freedom of expression and religion allows them to say such things and that they are using scriptural references. If they can show me, or any other person, where “the filth that is sodomy in this country”, “fucking faggots”, or “Do you know you're going to get AIDS?”, or any of the other epitaphs they reserve for us, is in their little sacred book, then they might have a case. But as they are not in any sacred text then, once again, they are lying. Now, most sacred texts have lots of rules about lying, and it is one of the things that is forbidden in most religions. It should be noted that saying these things about a person based on their race, colour or ethnicity is not acceptable. So why is it still acceptable in this day and age for those same things to be said about us? While complaints to the Human Rights Commission on the grounds of harassment, disharmony or inciting disharmony, may seem fruitless, it does send a message to both the Commission and the Government that these do happen - on a regular basis. It sends an important message that we will not put up with legally sanctioned discrimination any longer. If you feel that comments by a person, or a group, meet the above standards where, if they were said about a person on the basis of race, ethnicity, etc., but are directed against you because of your sexual orientation, I urge you to complete the complaints form and send it in to the human Rights Commission. It is available from their website in either Word or PDF format (see Related Links below). If something is broadcast that does this, we can complain to the broadcaster, then appeal to the Broadcasting Standards Authority if necessary. But often the decisions are not consistent, and one month they may decide for us, but the next against us. But what else can we can we do to prevent these attacks on us? If you find the behaviour or language abusive and offensive, you can lay a complaint with the police under section 4 of the Summary Offences Act. Again, this may not get you very far, but the more people who complain about a specific act by a person or group of people, the more likely the police are to take it seriously. If things get really nasty, and there are more than three of them, it may be useful to know what is meant by "unlawful assembly": An unlawful assembly is an assembly of 3 or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner, or so conduct themselves when assembled, as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that the persons so assembled- Will use violence against persons or property in that neighbourhood or elsewhere; or Will, by that assembly, needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to use violence against persons or property in that neighbourhood: Provided that no one shall be deemed to provoke other persons needlessly and without reasonable cause by doing or saying anything that he is lawfully entitled to do or say. Again, the chances of being able to use this are slim, as it may be difficult to prove that what they were saying or doing was not lawful. So what else can be done? In 1997 the Harassment Act was passed. Because of its wording, if someone is "Giving offensive material to that person, or leaving it where it will be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of, that person", or a way "that causes that person ('person A') to fear for his or her safety; and would cause a reasonable person in person A's particular circumstances to fear for his or her safety"; and they do this to you or "to any other person ('person B') with whom person A is in a family relationship, and the doing of the act is due, wholly or partly, to person A's family relationship with person B" they may be guilty of harassment. By "family relationship," they also include "Any other person who is a member of the person's whanau or other culturally recognised family group." While this has not been tested in court, nor a legal opinion given, it could be possible to claim that people within the lgbt community known to you who are subjected to these acts could be your "culturally recognised family group". Again, a long stretch, but this is often how we, as members of the lgbt communities, define our families. If "the first-mentioned person knows that the harassment is likely to cause the other person, given his or her particular circumstances, to reasonably fear for (a) that other person's safety; or (b) the safety of any person with whom that other person is in a family relationship" But how does the person who is yelling abuse and inciting hatred and discrimination against us know that they are causing us to "fear for his or her safety" or the safety of our family members? They will deny that their actions are likely to do so. Telling them may help. Giving them a slip of paper with the following words may help: Your actions and comments are deliberately inciting hatred against my family and myself. As a result, your actions are causing me to fear for my safety and the safety of my family. Even if they throw it away immediately, they have received a written statement that you fear for your safety and the safety of your family. As a result, they cannot claim "ignorance" of it. However, the action of giving them a piece of paper, or even telling them this, may indicate that you do not really fear for your safety. It is probably best to tell any police officer that is in the vicinity, but again, that is no guarantee. Most of the above is theoretical, and has not been tested in court. But at present, these are the only actions we can take. While people can be protected from statements that are designed to incite hatred, to incite discrimination, or from harassment and disharmony on the basis of their race, colour, gender, or ethnicity, there is nothing that protects us from the same statements. However, that is not the case in some countries overseas. The New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 at sections 38R-38T, 49ZS-49ZTA, and 49ZXA-49ZXC specifically outlaws vilification against people because of their gender identity, homosexuality or HIV status. The Anti-Discrimination Act may be analogous to the Human Rights Act, it is narrower in its focus in regard to sexual orientation. Various other Australian States also have differing kinds of laws that address inciting hatred, although, like New Zealand, this is predominantly on the basis of race, etc. Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code also outlaws hate propaganda, and defines sexual orientation in a way similar to that defined in New Zealand law. Laws in the United Kingdom, passed by both Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, also limit freedom of expression where that expression is designed to incite hatred, discrimination, violence, etc. While freedom of expression may be a very laudable thing to attain, it must be remembered that most places outlaw what is called "fighting speech"- words “which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”, and exclude that from freedom of expression protections. In reply to those who claim that legislation restricting freedom of expression is the thin end of the wedge, remember that New Zealand already has limited hate speech laws, and that in many countries, there are laws about what can be said about people on the basis of their race, their colour, religion or ethnicity. Why is it acceptable to say "fucking faggots", but not "fucking niggers". Why is it acceptable to say "all gays are diseased/spread disease", but not acceptable to state "all Jews are diseased/spread disease"? Why is it acceptable to say one thing about members of the lgbt population when it is not acceptable to say it about other groups in society? Calum Bennachie - 17th February 2005    

Credit: Calum Bennachie

First published: Thursday, 17th February 2005 - 12:00pm

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