“My little sister’s birthday / She’ll remember me / For a gift I had ten of my boys take her virginity”

These words are from a song written by a world famous rapper. Mums and journalists were shocked. Horrified. Wanted the record stopped. Their sons and daughters merely shrugged.

They’d heard it before.
They’d seen it before.
They had been surrounded by it for so long, they’d stopped noticing.

Is this hate speech? If you ask your kids, they’ll tell you no. It’s just a song, mum. But for anybody working with, or studying hate speech, the resemblance is striking.

This is what hate speech sounds like. This is how women raising their voices are met. With threats of violence. With threats of rape. With words devaluing their sex, their body and their looks, every time they speak up in public.

Is it illegal? No. It’s not. Most of the time it is not even close.
Is it harmful? Of course it is.

  • We know that hate speech promotes social exclusion and produces a «chilling effect» to participation in our democratic system. It scares people away. It weakens our democracy.
  • We know hate speech isn’t just a symptom, it’s a disease. One hateful comment will lead to more comments. Like a virus driven cold, it will spread.
  • We know hate speech devalues women, not only in their own eyes, but also in the eyes of innocent bystanders.
  • We know it produces fear, anxiety and distress-
  • And we know it can lead to discrimination and violence.

And yet – what does our government do to prevent it? To protect the human rights of our women and girls? To reduce the harmful effects on our society?
Shamefully close to nothing!

When the topic of hate speech is discussed the focus always gets directed to a debate on restrictions or no restrictions on the freedom of expression.
This has blinded us to the social harms of hate speech and other types of measures that could be taken to counteract such harms.

There are hundreds of things that can be done without violating people’s freedom of expression. For the last two years I have been urging the government to come up with an action plan against hate speech.

  • To order more research, so we can get the knowledge we need to adopt measures that work.
  • To strengthen the efforts in schools, so that both teachers and students know what hate speech is, and how it affects our society and the people living there.
  • To raise awareness and strengthen civil society’s work against hate speech, so that our kids, and we ourselves, stop turning a blind eye, and start doing something about the way our society sees and treats women and girls.

For we are all responsible. The problem with hate speech cannot be solved if we look at it as a “bad apple problem”.

If we reduce it to a problem of misogynists and angry men raging in the comment sections 
If we think it is all about the rapper and the text I started with —
Then we miss the point. Because the kids are right. That’s just a song.

It’s the society he raps about that is our biggest problem. The hate speech itself is just a mirror. It cites the words that are already spoken in our community. It mirrors our own ways of treating women as less important, less valuable, less human. It reflects. It does NOT invent.

That is why I am so glad to see so many people here today. People willing to fight. People willing to make our government do something, and people ready to make a difference themselves.

It’s time to stop shrugging and start working, and I am honored and privileged to do that work with you.

Thank you.

Sammen med den amerikanske ambassaden arrangerer ombudet i dag en konferanse om hatytringer og trakassering av kvinner i det offentlige rom. Dette er Sunniva Ørstaviks åpningstale.