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Battered Woman Syndrome Is a Legitimate Defense (From Violence: Opposing Viewpoints, P 158-161, 1996, David Bender, et al, eds. -- See NCJ-159343)

NCJ Number
O W Barnett; A D LaViolette
Date Published
4 pages
The battered woman defense has been used by women who argue that their only means of escaping life-threatening abuse is to kill their husbands.
The battered woman syndrome (BWS) expands the concept of legal self-defense. This defense holds that a battered woman is virtually held hostage in a violent household by a man who isolates and terrorizes her, convincing her that if she leaves he will track her down and kill her. The American Psychiatric Association conceptualizes BWS as the development of a set of personality attributes brought on by abuse that render the victim more able to survive in the relationship and less able to escape it. Three components of BWS include behavior brought on by victimization, learned helplessness behavior, and self- destructive coping behavior. Because battered and nonbattered women are not significantly different, expert testimony during a trial should focus on the impact of violence and the woman's perception of threat. It is also important to recognize that the criminal justice system does not protect women from abuse. A battered woman may not be able to obtain a restraining order or keep it in effect. Further, she may not be able to obtain even temporary financial support for a 30-day period should she choose to leave the batterer, and courts usually allow abuser visitation with children.


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