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People Not Punchlines

June 21, 2011

I’ve been sent the press release below by Nicky Clark.

As a disability rights campaigner and mum to two disabled girls

I’m launching a new campaign on 23rd June as part of Learning Disability Week, to have disability hate speech recognized under law in line with current legislation and protection.

 

Currently as the law stands it is illegal to communicate in a manner which is threatening abusive or insulting and intended to harass alarm or distress someone on the following grounds only:

 

Colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.

 

Disability remains exempt from this list and therefore disabled people are routinely harassed with no right of redress under law.

 

The language we use everyday underpins the rise in targeted violence and abuse towards disabled people.

 

Professor Ian Rivers from Brunel University conducted a survey of 185 children who had bullied others. He concluded that difference is a primary motivating factor.

 

In gathering information for this campaign I contacted Professor Rivers and asked him for his opinion on the issues around bullying and disability.

 

He explained “Children with Special Educational Needs and Emotional Behavioural Difficulties are often the target of bullying and ridicule. Where there is a hierarchy, teachers for example are bound by their policy on bullying. However in the cases of unofficial hierarchy, peer on peer bullying, the problem is rarely addressed”

 

Recently these behaviours have transferred from the playground to the television. The comedian Frankie Boyle also finds it acceptable to use disabled people as the source material of his “jokes”, but as distressing and discrimatory as many disabled people and carers find his “humour”, we as a society allow these comments to pass unchecked.

 

This campaign is not an attempt to curb free speech but rather to highlight the growing trend towards the normalizing of hate speech in respect of disabled people.

 

David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at learning disability charity Mencap, said:

 

“As an organisation we strive to change the negative attitudes towards people with a disability in our society which is why we fully support this campaign. We believe that use of offensive language contributes to a culture where harassment and bullying of people with a learning disability is all too common.

 

 

“It is estimated that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence due to their disability. The tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and Francceca Hardwick and David Askew are just two examples of where name-calling and low-level harassment was allowed to escalate into sustained abuse with fatal consequences.

 

“Ignorant use of language contributes to a culture where people with a disability, and their families, continue to be regularly subjected to verbal and physical abuse. It is as bad as using racist or homophobic language and this needs to be recognised.”

 

Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter had the word “retard” used against her and her family routinely.

The gang who hounded her, literally to death would stand outside her house and yell, ”We can do whatever we want and there is nothing you can do about it.”

 

As a campaigner and as a mother, I’m fighting to ensure that this ceases to be true. Therefore I’m calling on MP’s to amend the existing hate speech law and ensure that disabled people are rightfully included in this vital legislation.

 

Nicola Clark

 

For more information or to request an interview please contact Nicky Clark on

peoplenotpunchlines@gmail.com

Twitter @dontplaymepayme

Previous campaigns- www.dontplaymepayme.com

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2011 6:19 pm

    The Hate Speech law is already a stupid, regressive law, allowing legal redress for people who are merely offended. As Stephen Fry said, in his defence of the necessary absolutism of free speech: “So you’re offended? So fucking what?”

    Frankie Boyle and any other cretin should be perfectly free to say whatever they like. As I should be free to say whatever I like back to them.

    And who will police this law, particularly in schools? Teachers? And are we going to get to a stage where children are going to be questioned and harassed by the police?

    You can say as much as you like that this isn’t a campaign to curb free speech. But it is just that. Because if you don’t believe that free speech should be an absolute then, quite simply, you don’t believe in free speech.

    Bear in mind, also (as pointed out by many other writers and comedians etc. that I’m sure would approve of) that this kind of law also affects their freedom to deal with all manner of subjects, even if they’re tackling them in a sensitive and thought-provoking way.

    My daughter is severely disabled. What she doesn’t need, and what we don’t need, is people legislating on behalf of her out of a sense of… well, a sense of what? If anyone abuses my daughter, I’ll deal with it in a way that we’re happy with. She doesn’t need this kind of patronising, heavy-booted law to look after her.

    What we do need, however, is a greater raising of awareness of how we need to be more sensitive towards disabled people. I’m all for us being encouraged to take on this kind of collective responsibility to behave like decent people. We don’t need laws to do that.

    I’ll say it again: you shouldn’t be able to prosecute people simply because you’re offended.

  2. *Stargazer permalink
    June 22, 2011 1:36 am

    I definitely think the criminality surrounding verbal and physical abuse needs to be comprehensive in its inclusion of the disabled; the long arm of the law SHOULD extend to those who don’t casually offend, but deliberately and maliciously HARANGUE and PERSECUTE innocent people (already living difficult lives), with behaviour that is neither reasonable nor human – to a point where their victim and/ or victims’ self-esteem, day-to-day life – QUALITY OF LIFE is suffering.

    In some cases these circumstances produce tragic, wholly preventable family losses and human tragedy.
    How can we not feel shame as a nation – as a race – when we hear of such events?
    Fiona Pilkington and her Daughter should not have died for nothing.

    Not everyone who is vulnerable has a strong-willed, loving and devoted father like Paul Saxton’s Daughter.

    The perpetrators of such abuses should and MUST be punished.

    Or else we will indeed find ourselves in a formless, broken-down society;
    where it may be socially unacceptable to call a Lesbian woman a dyke for example – but perfectly reasonable to call someone disabled a freak-of-nature AND for them to be mercilessly driven to suicide/ “mercy-killing”.
    We are NOT freaks of nature – we are variations on the theme of nature.

    From The Bottom Of My Heart – To All Of Those Bullies – Accept Us – Or Do One!
    We Don’t Need You!

    Are we ready to usher in the portent of Charles Darwin’s “Survival Of The Fittest” ideaology?
    Where ONLY the vulnerable with someone to help them will overcome Natural Selection.
    How do we have any other hope?
    We want not only to survive and prosper.
    We want to give something back.

  3. June 22, 2011 9:31 am

    “Currently as the law stands it is illegal to communicate in a manner which is threatening abusive or insulting and intended to harass alarm or distress someone on the following grounds only:
    Colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation.”

    A quick note on this: the “abusive or insulting” part of the legislation does not apply to religion or sexual orientation. It should, but it doesn’t. Fully agreed that it needs to apply to disability (in the long version, not the short version)

    Paul Saxton: Because if you don’t believe that free speech should be an absolute then, quite simply, you don’t believe in free speech.

    How’s your campaign to abolish libel laws, regulations on truth in advertising, late night noise restrictions, and laws against perjury going? I believe that speech should be free in the same way that movement should be free – I have the right to move freely around this country, except where my free movement takes me into your living room stealing your TV; similarly the right to freedom of speech has to be balanced against the damage to other people speech can cause.

    Words are very powerful – that’s why freedom of speech is so important – and that power makes them dangerous. Dangerous to governments and the powerful, yes, which is why free speech is needed. But also dangerous to people just going about their lives, so like all the other things that can be used to bring down a bad government, it needs some regulation.

    For me it’s not about offence – I don’t care about offence – it’s about the concrete harm caused by hate speech. Nor is it or would it be about “offence” in the legislation – “threatening”, “abusive”, “insulting” or “harassing” are far more specific than that, and modes of speech I can’t think of a legitimate use for when talking about a racial group or people with disabilities. The long-standing protections against racial hate speech in the Public Order Act have not stopped people saying all sorts of offensive racist things, comedians included, or discussing race in a sensitive/thought-provoking way.

  4. June 23, 2011 10:52 am

    cim: “How’s your campaign to abolish libel laws, regulations on truth in advertising, late night noise restrictions, and laws against perjury going? I believe that speech should be free in the same way that movement should be free – I have the right to move freely around this country, except where my free movement takes me into your living room stealing your TV; similarly the right to freedom of speech has to be balanced against the damage to other people speech can cause.”

    As I said: you don’t believe in free speech. And by making false comparisons, you merely reveal your willingness to contort the world to suit your own viewpoint. Which, of course, is fine. Just let’s not pretend that you’re not all about curbing free speech.

    The trick here is to continue – as individuals, as a society – to get across that some words really aren’t appropriate. We can do that. We’re grown ups. When we resort to the law to attempt to control what people say, we’re basically just giving up.

    Oh, and the fact that you think religion should be specially protected from ridicule and abuse speaks volumes.

  5. June 23, 2011 12:25 pm

    Paul Saxton: “by making false comparisons”

    What’s false about those comparisons? Libel/slander is a form of speech. It is prohibited by law – not just by a sense of politeness and appropriateness. Why is libel okay to legally ban but hate speech not? What’s the distinction that means hate speech should be protected by the right to free speech, but libel shouldn’t?

    I don’t believe any “right” should – or can – be absolute when the exercise of that right causes harm to others. Conversely I don’t think there should be any restrictions on rights where the restriction doesn’t have the purpose and effect of preventing harm to others.

    “Oh, and the fact that you think religion should be specially protected from ridicule and abuse speaks volumes.”

    Under the law, (were it made consistent with the laws on racism) religions and their tenets could still be ridiculed and abused. A person who followed a particular religion could not be, but if a person is taking harmful actions because of their religion, the law would not prevent their actions from being criticised. Similarly criticism of beliefs, holy books, etc. would remain legal.

    I fail to see what legitimate use there can be for ridicule and abuse of people who follow a particular religion (or have no religion; the law provides equal protection for non-religious people like myself) because that is their religion.

    (There’s also an issue where racism is often disguised as attacks on religion, for which inconsistencies in the law are unhelpful)

    “When we resort to the law to attempt to control what people say, we’re basically just giving up.”

    I don’t see it that way. By analogy with theft, we agree as a society that theft is generally wrong, inappropriate, etc. We don’t then view it as giving up on our task of convincing everyone that theft is unacceptable if we outlaw it and impose penalties – often quite severe ones – on people who steal regardless. If people doing something is going to cause harm in the short-term, we have a duty to take steps to prevent that harm in the short-term, as well as encouraging people not to do it in the long-term. Furthermore, the setting out of a law – and the enforcement of it – can also help make clear that society doesn’t find a particular behaviour acceptable.

    The law is not a complete solution, but it is a part of the solution and in the short-term a necessary one.

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