There are many forms of violence, and only a small amount of it is physical. Hate speech is one of the most common forms of violence, although it’s often trivialised. This is dangerous, because hate speech is often a precursor to physical forms of assault.
What exactly is hate speech? In short, it is any kind of communication that attacks others on the basis of their religion, sexual orientation, gender or other characteristics.
It’s important to recognise hate speech as a form of violence, because words have so much power. They can have a significant impact on how others feel, think and act – particularly because hate speech often targets vulnerable groups of people. Hate speech also marginalises them and perpetuates stereotypes and prejudices.
Most countries around the world have laws that restrict the use of hate speech, though some activists argue they could undermine our freedom of speech. Australian hate speech laws fall somewhere between the more relaxed US regulations and the much stricter legislation in some European countries.
So what crosses the line between freedom of speech and hate speech? Well, it’s all in the definition, really. Anything that’s hateful and vilifies a person or a group on the basis of one or more characteristics is hate speech. And regardless of what category it fits into, any type of speech that verbally attacks someone else is harmful.
Most physical violence is a result of a verbal altercation. Research has repeatedly shown that hate speech often precedes an attack. It also has other tragic consequences, like depression, self-harm and even suicide.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking words are just words… because they’re not. Verbal abuse is still abuse. Just like hate speech is a form of violence. So think before you open your mouth. And remember the famous quote: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”