Cover photo of Social Policy Journal

The 8th International Symposium on Victimology

Adelaide, 21 – 26 August 1994

Dame Ann Ballin

It is not often that it is possible to join a gathering populated by the historical figures involved in a particular segment of the social sciences, but it was my privilege to do just that at the 8th International Symposium on Victimology. I was surprised to find that these people were still relatively youthful and very approachable so that some interesting conversations about the genesis of their work was possible as the week progressed.

Victimology as an academic entity is "young" in comparison to its parent, criminology. Literature suggest that the study of the victim arose out of some early work on the victim of crime as provocateur, a notion which makes us uncomfortable now but which was acceptable four decades ago. Over that time, our consciousness of victims of crime has risen to the point where contemporary critics ask whether victims were not invented by "wet liberal thinkers" promoting a dangerously fearful and dependent attitude amongst the population – particularly female.

This very issue was craftily represented by the two keynote speakers at the opening plenary session. Professor Robert Elias, in a very disciplined paper, challenged victimologists to consider the need for returning to the application of scientific rigour. He challenged the more humanistic influences as having taken the issues too far without adequate enquiry and suggested that many hypotheses could not be sustained. It seemed to me that this was a very important paper in terms of the demand that we examine where we are in the victimological field. However, the response to this was Jan van Dyke's report on, among other things, crime surveys and what they reveal about the experience of international populations. Those of us who have worked with victims of crime do not find it difficult to accept these findings, many of which concern unreported crime.

My personal experience of the symposium was dominated by the fact that I was assigned (as one of four rapporteurs) what appeared to me at first as a "rag bag" of papers after my colleagues had chosen what they wanted. This meant that I was exposed to topics that I might not otherwise have heard and my education was broadened thereby.

There were dozens of papers, some of doubtful worth, which meant that each session comprised at least three. With such numbers, it is very hard to engage in decent dialogue so that good critical appraisal and challenge was virtually impossible. I think it was regrettable in view of the better material and I hope the organisers of the next symposium in Amsterdam in 1997 are more careful in accepting papers.

An early session on the offender as victim produced a paper by Robert Peacock of the University of Transkei, on the tragic consequences of incarcerating black juvenile offenders in adult goals where the inevitable degradation of their lives takes place with little hope of rescuing their personal identities or self-esteem. This paper and others made me ashamed of the frustration I so often feel with our progress in New Zealand on social issues. We have so little to deal with in comparison with a country like South Africa; but on the other hand, should we not be more efficient? Peacock taught Criminology to students for whom English was a second language and he later described to me the difficulties this presented for them with so few facilities to help them deal with the obstacles. He seemed exhausted and had every intention of emigrating.

The same session saw an excellent study by a young psychologist and a social worker who researched the efficacy of teaching young offenders about the victim's experience. Using a control group, they were able to show that by exposing their clients to real victims, insurance officers etc., they were able to produce empathic responses to a significant degree. It was a good practical effort from professionals who surely must have had enough to do without engaging in research.

Japanese criminologists presented a very detailed study of the effects of conviction on the offender's family and the subsequent difficulties encountered by the young offender when trying to get work and resume a place in the community. Although they seemed very simplistic studies, I wonder in hindsight whether a New Zealand study would prove that our society is any more accepting and accommodating to offenders and their families than is common in Japan.

Two papers on family violence were presented from different cultures but reflecting what Justice Krishna Iyer passionately referred to as the "debasement of society", in his superb keynote address. In the first paper, Nyrell Brooks, a senior Aboriginal worker from Townsville, described the humiliatingly low social position of the Aboriginal man and the associated violent behaviour so common in families who have lost their tribal status and way of life. During the isolation of the offending males, indigenous workers involve them in re-educative sessions, not just in anger management but in re-introduction of cultural protocol and skills. Meanwhile, the women and children are taking part in similar activities with frequent contact of families over time. This seemed very much the system many Maori would endorse.

In contrast, Dr Anshu Padayachee of the University of Durban – Westville, described the plight of 23 million women in South Africa where family violence has little or no recognition in their criminal justice system. So far, they have 8 refuges! One rape every 83 seconds and so it goes on. Add to this what we are now learning about the incidence of AIDS amongst African women and the situation is almost too dreadful to contemplate.

Out and about at mealtimes, we New Zealanders were often embarrassed by people coming up to us and enthusing about our wonderful compensation system! John Miller, of Law Faculty at Victoria University, gave a paper on the Accident Compensation Act but not everyone heard him describe what is really the case these days. He did not include the issue of restricted coverage of medical misadventure which some people were concerned about.

A paper I actually chose to attend was that by Dr Debra Keenahan, Central Queensland University, on Stalking. This little understood activity has a traumatic effect on its victims and has only recently attracted true criminal status so that some legal control can be exerted. Dr Keenahan provided a very useful description of the types of people who carry out typical stalking activities around their chosen victims and the often devastating results. The hopelessness and resignation of the female victim was well-illustrated and actually made the issues involved in a spouse remaining with the abuser a little easier to understand. This excellent presentation was followed by Dr Allan Barlow, explaining a new Act recently introduced by the South Australian government, making it easier for a stalking victim to get protection.

Judge Michael Brown's keynote address on youth justice was very balanced and created much interest which it certainly merited. New Zealand's pioneering work in this field has many years of development ahead of it but there is sufficient known to help other countries use the expertise. Gabrielle Maxwell's careful research on youth justice activity under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act, 1989, (Maxwell and Morris 1993) will have international value and a progress report would be a valuable contribution to the 1997 symposium.

Professor Hitimichi Morosawa, again speaking in a plenary session, reviewed the scope of victimology using a list of studies carried out in Japan over a decade as a reference. He cited pollution and market monopolies as interesting examples and medical issues reminiscent of the infamous New Zealand cervical cancer scandal. This was another area that I thought would merit a New Zealand paper at Amsterdam. By 1997, the legislation that followed as a result of the Cartwright Report will have been in place for just under three years and there should be some useful follow-up on the position of the patient in law at that point. The right to knowledge, informed consent and medical misadventure seem to be universal concerns judging from some brief international conversations I had at the conference.

Morosawa referred also to bullying in schools and to abuse by the media, both topics which concern us from time to time.

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of historical figures in world victimology. Some of these men and women actually wrote the draft for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Victims of Crime and the Abuse of Power of 1985 which was the basis for our Victims of Offences Act of 1987.

It was the matter of abuse of power which seemed to underlie a good deal of the Japanese studies, but even more so when consideration of the position of torture and incarceration of political dissidents was aired in papers on this topic. Professor Jacob Sahetapy described the political situation in Indonesia which was almost unbelievable to a New Zealander but true nevertheless. The Professor delivered this paper with a nice spark of humour which was very noticeable in an otherwise dour atmosphere and he did it, as some of his colleagues remarked, with a good deal of courage. It is not a healthy occupation in his country to be critical of the current government!

Abuse of power over women and children was also discussed, as was the victimisation of gay and lesbian people. I am told that many countries featured in these papers do not have human rights legislation in place or even in sight. Apparently it is still possible to sell young women as prostitutes in the streets of China; indeed it is quite common.

And what were the New Zealanders doing all this time? I have mentioned Judge Brown and John Miller. J J Taylor and Dave Smith from the Police gave several papers on our legislation, victim support and the victim impact statement and the Justice Department representative described its victim needs survey. When looked at dispassionately, we were able to give a good account of our progress and as I have said we can also see that we are a great deal more advanced than most other countries. Fresh from her post-graduate study at Cambridge University, Ruth Wilkie made the radical suggestion that if we are to assist the victim in the criminal justice system, the present structure should be scrapped and we should start all over again!

In spite of the cost of attending the conference, there was a large contingent of New Zealanders present, representing not only the judiciary, state services and academic interests but victim support groups and those concerned about the position of families of murder victims who were able to meet with their Australian counterparts.

One feature of the conference was the almost immediate availability of session tapes at A$10 as well as the various papers if they had been made available by the authors. This is a very worthwhile service because tapes can be used for training among other purposes. We teach very little victimology in New Zealand tertiary institutions or in refresher courses and good audio-visual material can initiate interest and discussion rather better than papers, particularly where the concepts are new to students.

I regret not having purchased more tapes to capture some of the topics that I could not cover at the time. Reading over the programme again I am really amazed at the breadth of subjects covered and I wish it were possible to convey more than I have. If I have done nothing else, I hope that I may have caused some readers to consider planning to attend the 9th International Symposium at Amsterdam in August 1997.


Maxwell, G.M. and Morris, A. (1993) Family, Victims and Culture: Youth Justice in New Zealand, Social Policy Agency, Department of Social Welfare and Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington.

Cover photo of Social Policy Journal


Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: Issue 03

The 8th International Symposium on Victimology; Adelaide 21 – 26 August 1994

Dec 1994

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