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Law student shines in worldwide legal competition


26 May 2003
A final-year law student at Southern Cross University has come second in worldwide legal competition for a 4,000-word paper she wrote on the hidden victims of domestic violence: men who are abused by their wives.

Jodie Leonard, 29, from Alstonville, won $US500 (about $A750) and an invitation to present her paper at the World Society of Victimology's International Symposium in South Africa, being held from July 13-18, where Ms Leonard will also formally accept her award.

"My paper was on the hidden victims of domestic violence: male victims and female perpetrators," she said.

"The media still tends to ridicule and humiliate male victims of domestic violence. I think it's because male victims challenge society's concept that men are the dominant, aggressive gender who are more likely to be the offenders rather than the victims."

Victimology is a relatively recent area of legal research, and involves the study of people who are victims of crime and victims of the abuse of power. The aim is to have their needs recognised by support services, the criminal justice system, civil courts and governments, and possibly to also have restorative justice programs implemented. The School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University is the only law school or faculty presently in Australia to have a whole unit devoted to victimology.

Ms Leonard said statistics on male victims of domestic violence ranged widely. A 1994 University of Western Australia Crime Research Centre study found men made up nearly nine per cent of victims. Meanwhile a book 'The New Science of Intimate Relationships', by NZ academic Garth Fletcher, said males made up 50 per cent of victims, based on 70 studies worldwide.

As part of her paper, Ms Leonard did an email survey of five male victims of domestic violence, from Western Australia and the US, accessed through a male support group in WA, called Men's Confraternity. One man suffered daily to weekly abuse, psychological and physical, including being punched and kicked, for eight years from his wife.

"Most of the men said the abuse continued once they separated or divorced because of the need to have contact with their ex-partners in order to see their children," she said.

"They recommended several reforms to improve the situation, including changing negative community attitudes through public education, and establishing support services similar to those available for women. They also expressed a need simply to be believed and treated favourably by the criminal justice system and support services."

Ms Leonard was encouraged to enter the competition by her victimology lecturer, Associate Professor Sam Garkawe, who also teaches human rights, international law, restorative justice and international criminal justice at Southern Cross University. Professor Garkawe is a founding editor of the Australian Journal of Human Rights and is an editor of the Journal of the Australasian Society of Victimology, and a member of their executive.

Ms Leonard plans to do a larger study on the subject for her Honours thesis next year.

The World Society of Victimology is an international, non-governmental, non-profit organisation that has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Council of Europe.

For more information contact Sara Crowe, Southern Cross University Media Liaison Unit, Ph: 6620 3144.