Anti-Vilification Laws and Public Racism in Australia: Mapping the Gaps between the Harms Occasioned and the Remedies Provided
Despite a lively debate in Australia and internationally about the operation of anti-vilification laws, notably absent from these debates has been empirical evidence of the ways in which targeted communities experience racially and religiously motivated abuse. In this article we aim to contribute to addressing this significant gap. We report on interviews conducted with target community members to identify and map the gaps that exist between the coverage of Australian laws and the lived experience of racially and religiously motivated abuse. These gaps emerge both from the structures of the laws themselves, and from the ways in which the law (necessarily) cannot cover all incidents of racially and religiously motivated abuse. Identifying these gaps is, in itself, an original contribution to the literature. We also discuss the implications of these gaps. We do not argue that anti-vilification laws should be expanded to cover all experiences of racially and religiously motivated abuse - that would broaden the law too far, with attendant risks for freedom of speech and the law's symbolic and legal efficacy. Rather, we argue that the identification of these gaps has three benefits. First, it enables a more precise assessment of the limits of existing laws when it comes to combating public expressions of racially and religiously motivated abuse. Secondly, it reaffirms the symbolic importance of the law in contributing to (but not substituting for) broader anti-prejudice strategies in the community. Thirdly, it provides a framework within which to consider the allocation of resources to educative and campaign-based approaches to combat racially and religiously motivated abuse.
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