Wounding Words

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Law firm Cape Town

by Simon David Dippenaar

As children, we were raised hearing the old adage that ‘sticks and stones may break one’s bones, but words can never harm one.’

However, one soon comes to the stark realisation that this is not actually true. This is particularly so, for example, when one considers all those that have committed suicide as a result of words.

Words are powerful. They can bring down governments, they can start wars, and they can destroy lives. The reality is that words can hurt more than broken bones in many cases. Some people actually bear the physical marks on their body from someone else’s words.

Too often we use words without considering their impact.

What we need is a society that is cognisant of the impact of words and a desire to temper them so that they are a force for good, and not for destruction.

This post was prompted by a very recent client who was repeatedly called a “moffie” and even beaten up by his neighbour because he is gay. “Moffie” is a word that has often been used to degrade gay men and is riddled with negative connotations.

More often than not, individuals choose to ignore the discrimination, but it can sometimes cause so much pain and make it impossible for some to break out of the psychological torture. This is one of those pillars of prejudice that has to be toppled in the creation of a non-sexist society.

The South African Constitution protects everyone in the country, irrespective of whether they are citizens or not, and all have the right to dignity and equality. The Constitution specifically provides that the right to freedom of expression does not extend to “advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm”.

It is important to note, however, that ‘hate speech’ does not refer to words that are merely hurtful, insulting or upsetting. For words to amount to hate speech, they must be regarded as advocating hatred and must constitute an incitement to cause harm to that person or group of persons.

Social ambiguity about men being abused is a factor in their not speaking up; they also run the risk of not being believed. In situations where individuals have experienced discrimination, there are various legal avenues that can be pursued.

Cape Town Lawyers at SD Law South Africa, we understand the pain caused by words that are intended to hurt and destroy. You need not suffer in silence. We can help so that you can walk tall and hold your head up high. We can ensure that your rights are protected, whether through alternative dispute resolution, litigation or other avenues.

Get in touch with me if you have a matter you would like to discuss.

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Disclaimer

The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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