Is The Saying “The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time” Victim Blaming?

I wrote the bulk of this post back in June 2013 for my old blog and seeing that it’s not really part of my dad blog type of post I didn’t bring it over to here, but after hearing and reading the phrase “in the wrong place at the wrong time” being used in news stories about the siege in Sydney, I thought I would bring it across. The following is verbatim from my post back then and I haven’t updated it even though the details of the woman who was stabbed but unnamed have obviously been released days after it happened 17 months ago. I have added to this in the summary below.

June 29, 2013

What do the murder victims Jill Meagher and Thomas Kelly have in common? Add attempted murder victims Simon Cramp and the 30-year-old yet unnamed Hunters Hill woman who was waiting for a bus before being stabbed almost to death to that question? They were all described in the media as being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I understand that it is idiomatic to use this phrase to describe “a location where something bad is about to happen at just the time of its occurrence” and I don’t want this to sound like the old “is that really ironic Alanis?” debate, but I hate the use of that old chestnut. Let me tell you why.

I always have cringed when I have heard that cliché used to describe a victim’s circumstances.  And I have always had this thought associated with it; if I needed to travel somewhere by bus and be there at a specific time and to get there by that time I needed to be at my nearest bus-stop at a predetermined time – as shown in a time-table – and I was waiting there and I caught that bus, then being at that bus-stop meant I was at the right place at the right time.

Now, knowing that, if I was there at that same very time and a driver was to spin out of control and hit me causing me injury or worse, killing me seconds before the bus got there it would seem that I would have been in both the right place at the right time and the wrong place at the wrong time all at once.  Okay, so this sounds like mere semantics.  And until that woman was attacked in Hunters Hill and stabbed almost to her death, I would have supported that argument; it is just a phrase people understand and are comfortable with, so let journalists use it.

But now I really need to speak up about why I hate that expression so much.  Jill Meagher was simply walking home from dinner and drinks with friends. Her walk home was to be no more than 800 metres going the “long way.” For every step that she took on her way home, for every second of the no more than ten minutes it should have taken her, where she would have been for that brief moment in time was the right place at the right time moving ever closer to the sanctity of her bed in her husband’s arms in the flat where they lived.

And all semantics aside, by using this idiom I feel we are somehow laying partial blame on the victim. It almost seems as if the media is suggesting that Thomas Kelly shouldn’t have been walking with his girlfriend at 10pm through Kings Cross. But why not? Why can’t an innocent couple – or individual – walk the streets at night minding their own business?

The fact is that they can. The fact is they have the right to do this. And the place that they were and at the time that they were there was right by them; until someone took their right and did them wrong. Because, the way I see it, and the way I am sure everyone else who is in their right mind should see it, the only thing “wrong” about these situations is the perpetrator.

So let me be the first to say this; Adrian Ernest Bayley was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kieran Loveridge was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Terrence John Leary was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Update December 17, 2014

I really didn’t want to write about the siege in Sydney. I often write about current news but only when it’s to do with a parenting issue or something about children or the relationship between men and children as in the paedophile story from South Australia earlier this year. But hearing that phrase being used I felt I had to bring this across to this blog with an update.

Lindt cafe’s 34-year-old manager Tori Johnson and barrister Katrina Dawson

I’m sure if you’ve been following the story of the siege in Sydney on Monday/Tuesday morning and you’ve seen the photo I embedded above. The photo is of Lindt cafe’s 34-year-old manager Tori Johnson and 38-year-old barrister and mother of three Katrina Dawson, both of whom died at the scene in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Tori Johnson was the manager of the store where the siege took place. Toni was working at that time. If asked about his whereabouts at 9:44am on Monday morning he could have answered “at my place of work, and I’m working” and as far as I can see, that would make him in the right place at the right time.

Katrina Dawson was having a late breakfast featuring a hot chocolate which she reportedly loved; you can read a great story about her written by a friend by clicking here. As the article states, she headed to the Lindt cafe to enjoy her late breakfast after getting her three children to school. As it is a mad house in the mornings at my own home getting kids lunches packed, uniforms ironed, kids dressed and teeth cleaned, I don’t get to enjoy breakfast until after 9:00am myself some mornings so I can relate to her only that level. Also as that story informs us, she didn’t like coffee so hot chocolate was her more her cup of tea (pun intended). And if you’re after a hot chocolate, then heading the the Lindt cafe which is owned and run by one of the world’s finest chocolate makers means that she was definitely in the right place, and with her hunger pangs I’m sure it was definitely the right time for her to be having breakfast.

And just as I wrote back in that original post on my old blog, not only would I suggest that their killer Man Haron Monis was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but now that we know that he really should have been locked up pending his trial and that he is a repeat offender who should not have been given bail, his own “right place, right time” should have been the local prison.

If we are going about our daily business, doing what we need to do, going to the places we need to go, and being there when we need or want to be there, we are never in the wrong place at the wrong time. Katrina and Tori should have been able to have left that cafe to be in other places at other times. I know it’s semantics. I know that the media and the general public will go on using that idiom, I just don’t ever want it to be thought that victims like them are ever where they shouldn’t be, and that we continue to live our lives going to where we want to go and when we want to go there without the fear of us “being in the wrong place, at the wrong time…”

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