Why violent hate speech affects us all

Threats of violence and rape to MPs or other public figures are not a joke – they have real impact in our everyday lives at home, in public and at work.

Woman sitting at office desk looks worried as if she is bullied


Rarely a day seems to go by when there is not a threat of violent attack against people in public positions, but this week has taken that to a new level. A candidate of one of the supposed mainstream political parties has been bandying around rape threats against an MP and passing them off as ‘satire’.

What has this got to do with women and work, you may ask? Well, everything. For one, being an MP is a job. The public realm is their workplace. For two, the nastiness and increasingly violent language everywhere, and particularly against women, seeps into our everyday exchanges. It’s not just about Twitter. If it is okay to make supposed ‘rape jokes’ in public, to intimidate and seek to censor women engaged in public debate, isn’t it even more okay to do it and much worse in private, in an office, on the way home or at home?

This week has seen the Government’s response to the Women & Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment in public places. Welcoming the response, but calling for it to go further and for a more comprehensive, joined up approach, Maria Miller, chair of the Committee, said: “We heard from a large number of women, from the police and other agencies as well as researchers, who told us that sexual harassment in public places pervades the lives of women and girls, whether it is cat-calling in the street, upskirting on public transport, misogynistic abuse online or sexual assault in pubs and clubs or at university. Yet, it is so everyday and routine that it is often invisible to those who don’t experience it.”

We used to believe the story about progress being inevitable not so long ago – that the younger generation would move things on and you only have to look at the climate change protests and more to see that this is still the case, that there is a yearning for something better.

On the other hand, bullying is rife at schools, with girls taken apart for every aspect of their appearance, violent porn which seeks to humiliate and degrade women is easily accessible and shared regularly by boys, many of whom think it is the norm, and the threat of violence is many children’s daily reality. All this set in a fractured, divided world, riven by the violence of austerity and by certain politicians who seek to profit from the misery of others through nationalist sloganeering without offering a single constructive solution.

As we know from the workplace, role models are vital. Once upon a time any candidate caught even remotely promoting rape as a joke or inciting violence, however ‘satirically’, would have been dropped like a stone by their party. Nowadays, it seems, nothing anyone can do or say – most particularly against minorities and, of course, women because most of these negative, nationalistic would-be politicians have a mighty, mighty chip on their shoulder about women – will stop them from being on the ballot paper. This is how far we have sunk in the last few years.

If they get elected, what will the impact be on policy for women, on pregnancy and maternity rights, on part-time working, agency working and all the rest? They won’t get asked about specifics during the campaign, no doubt, because it will all be about the big enemy, “Europe”.

Our children – and most especially our daughters – deserve much, much better.

*If you would like to sign the petition to ban anyone who promotes rape or violence from standing for elected office, click here – https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-lifetime-ban-from-standing-for-elected-office-for-those-who-threaten-rape-or-violence

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