Australian Human Rights Commission




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5.3Vilification and harassment


    Vilification and harassment includes derogatory or intimidating behaviour such as physical or verbal abuse. Participants described their frustration at the lack of legal protection from vilification and harassment in Australia. For example:

    I always hear homophobic language being used as put downs etc and never see anyone being reported for vilification, however if they were [using] racist or sexist language etc they would be reported for being racist/sexist.61



It is my understanding that there are no laws against harassment based on gender identity. In the last month I have been harassed numerous times because I am visibly sex and/or gender diverse. I have been harassed by people on the street and by people working in establishments I have entered. It is really scary if there are no laws against people harassing you for being gender diverse. There is essentially nothing you can do about it. This makes the public sphere a very unsafe place for a lot of intersex, sex and gender diverse people.62

    Research shows that people are frequently vilified or harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation or sex and/or gender identity. For example, in 2006, the Private Lives survey found that out of all participants, 59.3% experienced personal insults or verbal abuse and 13.7% experienced physical attacks or other kind of violence.63

    Speaking Out (2010) found that of their survey participants:

  • 92% of trans women and 55% of trans men reported verbal abuse

  • 46% of trans women and 36% of trans men reported physical attacks without a weapon (punched, kicked, beaten)

  • 38% of trans women and 9% of trans men reported physical attacks with a weapon (knife, bottle, stones).64

    Vilification and harassment are particularly prevalent amongst young people and has serious consequences for their mental health. Writing Themselves In: 3 found:

    Almost double the number of young people who had been verbally abused (40%), in comparison with those who had experienced no abuse, had thought of self harm (22%). Three times those who had been physically abused (62%), in comparison with those who reported no abuse, had thought of self harm. This pattern was repeated through self harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. For example, in comparison with those who reported no abuse, twice the number of young people who suffered verbal abuse, had attempted suicide and four and half times the number of young people who had been physically assaulted, had attempted suicide.65

    The consultation heard many personal stories of vilification and harassment experienced or witnessed by participants. Some of the more serious examples are described below.

(a)Vilification and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation


The Commission heard of a number of stories of vilification or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation. For example:

When walking home, a man and his boyfriend were ‘jumped’ by three teenage boys who called them ‘faggots’ and punched them in the stomachs, chests and heads.66

I was abused and screamed at by a group of men… who called me a f**king dyke [and said] that I should be stabbed or raped.67

ACON described an incident reported to them as part of their Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project:

The victim has endured 20 years of homophobic abuse from his neighbour. He has received taunts such as, “All poofters should be killed at birth”; “Why don’t you poofters drop dead of AIDS?”, “AIDS poofters” etc. The victim has taken several AVOs against his neighbour and has had him charged with malicious damage. For the past two years the victim has been on a disability support pension and is currently on anti-depressants. He dreads venturing as far as his front yard because of the fear of abuse from his neighbour.68

The consultation also heard that vilification of gay men is closely linked with vilification on the basis of HIV/AIDS status:

As gay men account for around 80% of all people that have been diagnosed with HIV,69 vilification on the ground of HIV/AIDS status disproportionately affects gay men. ACON recommends that HIV/AIDS status be included as grounds where vilification is prohibited.70


    A few comments expressed concerns about the increased risk of violence for lesbian women who may be discriminated against on the basis of being female (their sex) and their sexual orientation. Participants stressed their concern that women only spaces should still be permitted under federal laws.71

(b)Vilification and harassment on the basis of sex and/or gender identity


The Commission heard some particularly disturbing examples of vilification and harassment on the basis of sex and/or gender diversity. For example:

Other stories of vilification? I don’t know where to start. Do I tell of the story I’ve heard of a person who had rocks thrown through her window in a country town? The person who had a rubbish bin thrown through the window of their car? Do I tell them my own story? I was sitting in my car minding my own business at a set of lights. Two pedestrians came across the pedestrian lights and thumped on the car. I went over the intersection and realised I was in some degree of shock at the noise before I realised what had happened – one of the pedestrians raced over to the other side of the intersection, put their fist through the driver’s side window that was closed, smashing it, punched me in the side of the head six times and just walked off. I spent the night on an emergency trolley in the Alfred hospital.72

At one place I started in, when I started transitioning 13 years ago, I was attacked every day for two weeks. Every day and every night 24/7 ... My sons used to come over who were then 12 and 14 and I would be getting rocks and bolts and bits of iron, brick, wood, landing on the tin roof every five minutes. I eventually moved because the police attitude to that was unless they are actually in the house [they could not] do anything.73

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