Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's all blame the victim

In the course of my work I've done a lot of study into the nature of violence and crime. What interests me most is not so much the act itself, but the mentality of the person who does it, and the attitudes and beliefs that encourage it to happen.

With that in mind, check this report in the Herald-Sun last week regarding an assault in Brisbane:

A FATHER of six who king hit and almost killed a man in a road rage attack over claims he jumped a petrol station queue has been jailed for at least 12 months. Brisbane District Court was told Wilson Daniel Lee, 38, punched expectant dad Tal Naor, 30, in the head causing him grievous bodily harm - at a Caltex Service Station on Creek Rd, Carindale, southeast of Brisbane, on August 17 last year. Prosecutor Stacey Coker said Lee was a passenger in a Jeep Cherokee lined up in a queue for fuel when a car driven by Mr Naor reversed next to a petrol bowser ahead of others waiting to fill up.

She said while Mr Naor was lined up waiting to pay for his fuel he became involved in a row with Lee's daughter-in-law who berated him for pushing in. The court was told Lee then confronted Naor about what he had said to his daughter-in-law and punched him the head. Naor felled to the ground unconscious, with blood flowing from his ears, while Lee returned to his car and then drove away.

The court was told Lee handed himself into police the following day after CCTV footage of the attack was aired on television news.

Mr Naor suffered a serious brain injury and needed a life saving operation, the court was told. He was in intensive care at Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital for a week and in the hospitals brain injury unit almost another three weeks. Mr Naor's heavily pregnant partner Becky Ward and close friends maintained an around-the-clock bedside vigil as his parents flew in from Israel.

Mr Naor, who attended court today, said he has suffered a permanent brain injury as a result of the unprovoked attack. Proudly cuddling his nine-month-old daughter, Leah, Mr Naor said he suffered regular serious headaches, memory loss, vertigo and mood swings. "I was 90 per cent dead (after the attack) and I am glad to be alive to actually see my baby," he said.

Judge Kerry O'Brien sentenced Lee to three years jail, to be suspended after he serves 12-months in custody.

OK, now that type of incident is unfortunately all too common. An argument breaks out over a relatively trivial issue, someone loses their cool, and someone - in this case Tal Naor (pictured) - almost loses their life. Not enough people understand the potential lethality of a single punch. But that is not what interested me when reading this article. As usual, I like to read the comments by readers, and I expected the usual condemnation of the perpetrator, and of the judge for too short a sentence. And there were some of those, but more notable are these comments:

Pauly of Melbourne:
Might teach him to wait in line like everyone else?

Mark Bishop of Townsville:
How can you say this attack was unprovoked? Whilst I don't condone violence of this nature this guy has firstly jumped a fuel queue and then had a verbal altercation with the offenders daughter-in-law. We don't know what was said in this altercation but to provoke a king hit from Mr Lee I would assume it was pretty bad.

Troy of Melb:
Unprovoked Attack? Pushing in front of other drivers that have been waiting in a que, is that not provoking a attack? I am sorry as there is no excuse for violence, but it is hardly a Unprovoked Attack. If he pushed in front of me I certainly would have confronted him. Its a bit stiff that this smartallec gets to stand there and play the victim in all this when if he just waited like everyone else in the que there would have been no problem, and he wouldnt have ended up in hospital.

Jarrad of Melbourne:
What do you mean unprovoked Herald Sun? The guy PUSHED in line! Did I read a different article? You idiots.

what the heck, this guy deserved to get hit

Marty Lowry of Melbourne:
unprovoked? He jumped the queue! If you show that basic lack of manners and respect for others then I have absolutely no sympathy for him. He took a chance and it came back to bite him in the form of a nut case with a good punch.

Sarcastic of Ahead of you in the queue:
How can you say it was unprovoked? He jumped the queue!

Tim B:
you have said he was unprovoked. he was obviously provoked because the guy pushed in. mr lee probably wouldnt have done it otherwise. mr naor might have said something about his daughter in-law aswell. if the so-called victim had not pushed in the line and waited like the rest of us have to then he would not have got hit. he brought it completely upon himself and i have no sympathy for that. he thought he was a hero till he ran into a bigger hero.

JOhn Brown of Melb:
not condoning violence but maybe the ignorant Mr Noar will think twice before pushing in again. It rude selfish arseholes like Mr Noar that piss everyone else off on the roads

Brett of Bangkok:
Finally the sentences get tougher but for the wrong guy. Young punks punching and stabbing people in bars to look tough, and get less than this guy who had at least a valid reason. The idiot had no respect for anyone lining up. Happens all the time in Aus now, as people from other countries dont adapt to Australian culture. Total disrespect. And probably deserved the punch as PC Australia lets guys like this get away with everything else.

Amazon of SA:
unprovoked? He totally deserved it. people that cut in like that have whats coming to them.

Vicki C:
No one should resort to physical violence and individuals who do should be punished. Having having said that Mr Naor should apologise for his actions that provoked this situation. People who by their rude and inconsiderate behaviour provoke violence should not leave our court system feeling vindicated. They have contributed to the unfortunate situation but the community has to cover the costs of incarcerating the offenders. Membership of a community requires individuals to not only restrain from physical violence but also to restrain from actions that will offend. Queue jumping is something that offends many of us.

Mick of Melbourne:
"Unprovoked"? How rich is that?

Amazing. That's 13 out of 28 comments that are offended not by a violent assault that left a man permanently disabled, but by someone cutting in line in front of someone else. One reader (Brett of Bangkok) even managed to incorporate a shot at immigrants into his comment. Now I am no fan of people jumping queues, but the worst outcome of that is that someone is delayed for an extra minute or two. And I don't know, but it seems like the kind of situation where Mr Naor may not have realised he was jumping a queue - seeing a spot at the bowser available, perhaps he figured it was okay to move into it.

According to some, that is justification for a bashing. He "provoked" violence.

What is provocation? Normally one would consider that provocation involves words or deeds that make it very difficult for another person to control themself. Does jumping a queue count? Of course not. Sure, it may make you angry, but all Wilson Lee needed to do was grumble about it for a few minutes, and then it would be forgotten.

The concept of provocation is dangerous because for many it provides a moral loophole. As in, it's wrong to bash someone senseless, but it's okay if they said something about your mother, or looked at you the wrong way, or bumped you and spilled your drink in a nightclub.

For some reason, we seem to always want to blame the victim. I'm stunned by the amount of rape cases that provoke comments about the victim's choice of clothing, or sexual history, or culpability due to her consumption of alcohol. I wrote a while back about the alarming way that people, particularly young females, blamed Rihanna for getting severely beaten by Chris Brown. Likewise, the recent attacks on foreign students have brought all kinds of racists out of the woodwork who find reasons to blame the victims.

With these attitudes around, is it any wonder that people feel no compunction about committing these crimes?


  1. Giving the Rio perspective, it is very difficult to imagine anything similar happening here; violence is really only conducted in the context of robbery or drug-dealing turf wars. In the circumstance described, conciliation would be the much preferred method of interaction; violence would be a very distant option.

    That said, this phenomenon may just be a part of Australian culture, which has goods and bads associated with it. The very same culture that finds it tolerable for someone to react that way at someone merely jumping the queue is the same one that won't tolerate abuse of power by those in authority. Here in Brazil the media will reveal cases of serious corruption, there will be a big brouhaha (carried out by the media itself) and scandal, but in the end ... nothing really happens, perhaps a very short prison term for the politician or whatever. People roll their eyes and shake their heads ... but in the end nothing happens.

    In Australia, the "ordinary bloke" is imbued with the culture of egalitarianism not to passively accept crap. If nothing happened to such people in authority in Australia, you can well imagine what "ordinary Australians" would end up doing after a while. Here it sounds too uncomfortably confrontational to do anything more than roll your eyes and shake your head.

    So there are pros and cons to a short-fuse culture as opposed to one with a sometimes exasperatingly long fuse. I like Australian's intolerance for taking crap, but I don't like the quickness with which violence will often be resorted to, especially nowadays, where it seems to be getting out of control and resorted to with only the slightest of "provocations".

  2. Peter: that's a really interesting point. Hadn't thought about it like that.

    What's interesting about Australians' intolerance for taking crap, is that we are far more laidback than say, Americans. Generally speaking, Aussies don't get passionately excited about things, preferring understatement... "aw, yeah, it was all right ay?"
    An example is our approach to Christianity compared to Americans - easy going.

  3. As someone who knows the victim, I was sickened to read that people believe he deserved this.

    But it didn't suprise me.

    Tal's friend rushed to his aid and cradled his head. He was bleeding from his ears and was out cold; he was dying. She called to a passing customer to assist her by calling an ambulance. He casually responded, 'Na, he deserved it'.

  4. @ Beckie - thanks for your comment. The response of the passerby is horrific and difficult to fathom.

    Even if Tal did something to inflame the situation (and I'm not saying that he did), to ignore a guy on the floor who is unconscious and bleeding from his head is the height of callousness.

  5. As a former friend of the victim (and not as the baby's mother, like my fellow commenters), he is lucky this didn't happen before, or again afterwards.
    He has not learnt his lesson, if anything he thinks he is now invincible and provokes more of these "unprovoked" attacks.
    Last I heard, he and his daughter's mother had matching AVOs on each other - not something you need without a court fearing ongoing provocation and an unstable household.