Fuckwalk: Defending your right to swear

In 2008 the Victorian state government introduced a trial for police powers to issue on-the-spot fines of $238.90 to anyone deemed by an officer to have used indecent or offensive language in a public place.

 

Since giving police these powers, the number of offences related to public behavior shot up nearly 29 per cent between 2009/2010 and 2008/2009 with most of the 8,266 offences committed on footpaths, streets and lanes.

This proves that police are taking advantage of this law and issuing fines rather non-frugally and hypocritically.

  • Under the definition of “public place” in the Act, swearing is illegal on any public highway, road, street or bridge.
  • It is also illegal in any “race-course, cricket ground, football ground or other such place”
  • Also out of bounds is any “wharf, pier or jetty”
  • Swearing is also prohibited in “any public hall, theatre or room while members of the public are in attendance”.
  • Swearing is not permitted at “any licensed premises”

Frankly, if you swear, you’re fucked.

Somewhat inspired by SlutWalk, but with a much less ambiguous message/agenda, FuckWalk has manifested itself as a Victorian event aimed to prove the difference between acceptable swearing at a democratic, freedom-of-speech level, and anti-social, offensive or violent fuckheaded behavior. In a point of view shared by many citizens, myself included, violence, loutishness and fucking around like a total arsehole is completely unacceptable and we welcome laws to combat this.

 

While some may label the act of swearing as a tool to be wielded by the lesser linguistically educated, this is no more a reason to outlaw it than to outlaw, say, illiteracy. The bottom line is, combating swearing itself is not the answer. Besides, targeting something as subjective as “swearing” threatens to unravel the very nature of a democratic society that values individual freedoms. What is classed as a swear word by modern standards is a huge grey area especially when all but the word “cunt” are used openly and uncensored on commercial FM radio, in stand-up comedy routines and in popular movies.

 

Fuckwalk is a protest event being held on the 25th of June at Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, defending our right to swear casually to express ourselves without punishment – whether that be socially, artistically, as pain relief, or as otherwise valid adjectives. Not so people can swear excessively, or behave like total social pariahs.

 

Fuckwalk does not condone anti-social, aggressive behavior. Readers outside Victoria are encouraged to stand up for the principle of basic freedoms and stage their own events at a national level.

 

For those taking part, one last point: Abusing police is absolutely not on. They are simply doing their job – governed unfortunately by rules from fuckwit politicians.

Full Event Information: Facebook | Fuckwalk Event Page

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Events, Politics, Law

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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11 Comments on “Fuckwalk: Defending your right to swear”

  1. June 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    I remember learning about swear words in linguistics. Swear words are also called “magic words” because they elicit such powerful reactions in people. Another way to describe them is as superstitious words because people get upset by them as though they’re somehow different from other words. The word “can’t” and the word “cunt” are so similar you probably say “cunt” every day because many people don’t detect the difference unless the context is right. A good example is people who speak English as a second language. They’re always saying things like “cunt” and “shits” (i.e. sheets of paper) but we don’t respond to it because it isn’t anything special about the words or how they sound, it is about the context they are used. Generally when someone gets hurt they yell “fuck!” which is a wonderfully cathartic expression of ones pain. Anyone standing by might be uncomfortable about this but I often wonder if they’re more uncomfortable because I’m in pain and don’t know how to respond and therefore they feel uncomfortable so they tell me off for making them feel uncomfortable when if they had a measure of compassion in them they’d sympathise with me and my pain and not blame me because they don’t know how to respond.

    Same with being called a cunt, no one likes being told someone doesn’t like them. But really, banning these words is so primitive and childish. It’s like saying, “if every one pretends not to be unhappy then everyone will be happy!” The government really need a reality check and any policeman so pathetic to enforce this law is too obedient to authority be trusted with such an important office in society. I think it’s time we told people who are offended by such language to harden the fuck up.

  2. Jimmy
    June 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    “one last point: Abusing police is absolutely not on. They are simply doing their job – governed unfortunately by rules from fuckwit politicians.”

    Do you think perhaps that this is precisely why the law has been introduced?
    If you physically abuse a Police officer the punishment could be up to 10 years in prison depending on the circumstances and severity of the crime.
    Why not a punishment for verbally abusing a Police officer?

    The Police do have discretion in these maters and I seriously doubt that if in circumstances mentioned above such as: “Generally when someone gets hurt they yell “fuck!”” Police would issue a fine. However if that same office is being verbally abused for simply doing their job then quite frankly the perpetrator deserves to be fined.

    We do live in the real world after all. We all know that there is those of us that enjoy the protection of the law and those who must have the law enforced upon them.

    I personally would never support such a pathetic public display of thumbing ones nose at authority.
    This is not a real issue… Rather a bit of a storm in a tea cup.

    • Rusty
      June 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

      “”The Police do have discretion in these maters and I seriously doubt ”

      The problem is exactly that; the POLICE HAVE DISCRETION! They can fine you if they want! and frankly I don’t trust police are smart enough or able to be rational in all situations to be the judge, jury and executioner. Anyways…. it IS total fucking bullshit; at the end of the day they are just simple words!

      Besides, anyone with any history knowledge knows that Laws never work. Every law ever introduced, in the entire history of our species, has been removed or changed. IT IS TIME FOR THIS ONE TO GO! Then the next… then the next… then the next.. etc etc..

      Grow up kiddies– their only words!!!

      • Jimmy
        June 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

        “The problem is exactly that; the POLICE HAVE DISCRETION!”

        A good point Rusty, however the Police like all other public service positions are governed by the APS Code of Conduct. They are held accountable for all decisions they make while doing their jobs. The Code of Conduct is put in place to ensure that people in such positions do not abuse the power that is granted to them by the law.

        Police officers are human beings though and will no doubt make mistakes from time to time. This still does not make this law any less valid.
        Personally I could not give a flying fuck if, how and when people choose to swear and in what context. I am however smart enough to know when not to swear… Like if I should ever be in a situation where I am disagreeing with a Police officer in any given situation.

        • June 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

          “Besides, anyone with any history knowledge knows that Laws never work. Every law ever introduced, in the entire history of our species, has been removed or changed.” — Rusty

          Wow. I’ve just started reading The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris and it almost seems mystical that I should read this comment just after putting it down from my lunch break (Shhh! I am working!). For a law to be worthwhile is it supposed to be absolute? Does this mean law making altogether is a waste of time? Or rather how do you jump from the variability of laws to the conclusion that they are a waste of time?

          On the issue of assaulting a Police officer, that is a very serious offence indeed and like all serious offences it is referred to a magistrate to decide the fate of the accused. In fact, the police don’t have a lot of power, it is the judges and law courts who have the bulk of the power and the Police can do very little without the support of the courts. For example, the police can detain you for 24 hours but unless they issue a charge against you in a court of law they have no power to hold you longer without permission to do so from a judge. So the police have the power to lock you up for 24 hours, but a law court can lock you up for 20 years. That is the scale of the power the police are actually trusted with, i.e. squat all. What is wrong about this law is that it is giving power directly to the police making them the trifecta of judge, jury and executioner which is a slippery path to go down for any matter and it is disturbing to see politicians so compliant in this regard.

          • Jimmy
            June 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

            “the trifecta of judge, jury and executioner”

            I’m curious as to why this is such a big deal? After all it is a minor fine. The Police issue them every day… Speeding fines being a prime example. J walking is another.

            If every small infraction had to go to a magistrate the courts would grind to a halt under the weight of a ridiculously huge case load and the cost to society would be astronomical! Not a very logical way to handle petty crimes now is it?

            • June 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

              Too true, but swearing isn’t even a petty crime, it’s the cry of an animal in pain. Also I wasn’t suggesting that the courts decide these matters, I was saying this idea of swearing is a crime should be dropped altogether.

              Police do cop a lot of verbal abuse (no pun intended!) it’s true and that’s a regrettable problem. But giving them the power to retaliate with on the spot fines won’t make them any more loved. In another profession they could argue that it’s not part of their job to cop such abuse but it is in their job description to deal with any cases where the law has been broken so one can expect they’ll always be copping it. I think having the discretionary power to lock people up overnight is plenty enough without needing to fine people, there’s just too much scope to abuse this kind of power.

              Plus the mentality of “we can fix any problem with a fine” is getting way our of hand. I think the people struggling to pay utilities bills and bank fees are really learning their lessons when those overdue fees hit them. All in all, if someone is verbally abusing a police officer then there’s probably a much more serious problem than just their language, them being caught in the act of a crime for example.

              • June 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

                On reflection it also occurred to me that there is every chance of this issue crossing from criminal law into civil law and once peope can sue other people for swearing it’s only a matter of time before I can launch a lawsuit against anyone who disagrees with this comment.

                • Some Guy
                  June 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

                  Generally speaking, a person who commits a civil wrong “will be deemed wrongful where…[they fail]…to act in accordance with normative standards of behaviour…[thus occasioning]…injury to the plaintiff’s interests.” (Mendelson’s New Law of Torts).

                  What is the interest here that has been injured?

  3. June 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    Swearing is a natural thing; every single human being has an implicit knowledge of cursing and possess a wide vocabulary of curse words, as well as the knowledge of how to use them most effectively in particular contexts. Whether one chooses to use them or not is a subjective decision; people suppress cursing for a variety of psychological reasons, not least rooted in religious tendencies, which generally result in repression. It is necessary to know curse words in our mother tongue as it aids our understanding of other peoples’ emotions, our ability to tell if we are being insulted, among other uses.

    I’ve spent a lot of time researching dementia and the effects of Alzheimer’s on the brain, which makes this article of particular interest to me. There are many patient files which record how people are heard to curse for the first time as dementia sets in. It is not that the patients have suddenly been taught how to curse; they always have possessed the vocabulary, implicitly, but have actively repressed the urge to make use of it. Other brain-damaged speakers show similar implied knowledge. In aphasics, for example, curse words are commonly uttered. The patients may not be able to construct sentences with curse words on the spot, but they can utter emotional statements in singular swear terms. Again, this proves that swearing is always an accessible means of communication even when other means of communication are made inaccessible and shut down.

    The government wants to inhibit human nature? Quelle surprise!

  4. Some Guy
    June 24, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    I’m not sure where to begin, so this may be little disjointed. Also, apologies if this covers material that seems somewhat trivial, but everyone has differing levels of knowledge about the law and its application, and so I’ll start from the beginning and you can skip over the bits you already know. Also, take none of the following as legal advice. I’m not a lawyer.
    Firstly it is important to realise that, in the realm of criminal offences, there are indictable offences and summary offences. Summary offences remove the, usually, required mental element of the crime. An example of the difference between the two can be found in drink driving and theft. If you’re caught drink driving, it doesn’t matter whether you had any intention to drink drive or not you are liable for a penalty, whether it be a fine or gaol, along with the mandatory loss of licence. If you are caught stealing, yet you honestly had a belief that the item was yours, you are not guilty of any crime. That puts the present police powers regarding use of offensive language into the wider context, in the simplest sense, of the operation of law. In Victoria the current provision can be found in section 17(1)(c) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic). It reads:
    “17. Obscene, indecent, threatening language and behaviour etc. in public

    (1) Any person who in or near a public place or within the view or hearing of
    any person being or passing therein or thereon-

    (c) uses profane indecent or obscene language or threatening abusive or
    insulting words…”

    It is worth noting that this provision is not a recent addition. It is a

    In regards to the current discussion, this section must be read together with S60AA(1A)(b) of the same act:

    60AA. Power to serve infringement notice

    (1A) A member of the police force may serve an infringement notice on any
    person that he or she has reason to believe has committed an offence against
    the following sections-

    (b) section 17(1)(c);

    The remaining section of note merely prescribes that the police, in exercising their powers under S60AA(1A)(b), can issue a fine of 2 penalty units. This, unsurprisingly, roughly equals $240.

    This means that a police officer, having a reasonable belief that someone has used profane, indecent or obscene language or threatening abusive or insulting words may issue a fine of roughly $240. The key word in the legislation above is reasonable.

    The question, then, is how do you challenge a summary offence whereby the doing of the act itself is the offense? The answer is deceptively simple. You claim that you did not commit the offence either by denying you said what has been alleged, a difficult task, or by arguing that what you said was not an offensive term and that the police officer erred in law. In essence the second method of attack is claim that the police officer certainly held this belief, but that it was unreasonable for them to do so.

    So we come then to the overriding constraint on arbitrary abuse of power, in the present circumstances. Judicial interpretation of what constitutes offensive language. Considering the statutory offence found in S17(1)(c) is merely a legislative addition of an old common law offence, it is not surprising to hear that the judiciary have not exactly been silent on the matter.
    The earliest Victorian exposition on the subject, that I could find, was in the case of Worcester v Smith [1951] VLR 316 where O’Bryan J stated that:

    “Behaviour, to be “offensive” within the meaning of that section, must, in my opinion, be such as is calculated to wound the feelings, arouse anger or resentment or disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person.”

    Wood J carried this further in, a New South Wales case, Connolly v Willis [1984] 1 NSWLR 373 by stating:

    “[conduct is capable of being deemed offensive if] in the case of a reasonable person, feelings could be wounded and anger, resentment, disgust or outrage aroused.”

    Also, Kerr J states in Ball v McIntyre (1966) 9 FLR 237:

    “Behaviour to be offensive within the meaning of the section must in my opinion be such as is calculated to wound the feeling, arouse anger or resentment or disgust or outrage in the mind of the reasonable person”. (at 237)

    “Conduct which offends against the standards of good taste or good manners which is a breach of the rules of courtesy or runs contrary to accepted social rules may be ill advised, hurtful, not proper conduct. People may be offended by such conduct, but it may well not be offensive within the meaning of the section…..This charge is not available to ensure punishment of those who differ from the majority. What has to be done in each case is to see whether the conduct is in truth offensive”.(at 241)

    “I believe that a so-called reasonable man is reasonably tolerant and understanding and reasonably contemporary in his reactions”. (at 245)

    So what we appear to have, so far, in the modern interpretation of the summary offence of the kind found in s17(1)(c) is the reasonable man test. Where what is offensive is judged against the standard of the reasonable member of society. Here is some judicial discussion on the topic of what this overworked pillar of the legal system might think about offensive language.

    Mr Heilpurn, a NSW magistrate, perhaps said it best (in Police v Butler [2003] NSWLC 2):

    “The word fuck is extremely common place now and has lost much of its punch. One cannot walk down the streets of any of the towns in which I sit, day or night, without hearing the word or its derivatives used as a noun, verb, adjective and, indeed, a term of affection. I have stood on Sydney suburban railway stations while private school uniformed kids (girls and boys) yell “fuck off” to each other across platforms without anyone looking up from their newspaper in surprise. In court I am regularly confronted by witnesses who seem physically unable to speak without using the word in every sentence – it has become as common in their language as any other word and they use it without intent to offend, or without any knowledge that others would find it other than completely normal. I too have had the experience of having witnessed being cross-examined and responding to propositions by saying “Fuck off – it didn’t happen like that”. I have had witnesses who when asked their name answer “John fucking Smith”.
    So, to summarise. Whether or not a word is deemed offensive for the purpose of s17(1)(c) of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) is dependent on judicial interpretation of the terms of that section. This interpretation then feeds back to the Police affecting how they perform their duties by defining for them what is legal. I think it can be fairly clearly seen that we’ve bunched our undies so far up our collective behinds, we’re tasting elastic.

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