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Emerging Images of Severely Battered Women and the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Behavioral Sciences and the Law Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: (Spring 1990) Pages: 121-130
J Blackman
Date Published
10 pages
The experiences of three severely battered women -- Hedda Nussbaum, Frances McMillian, and Damian Pizarro -- illustrate both the similarity and the diversity of battered woman syndrome.
Each woman felt the same sense of entrapment, but acted (or did not act) differently. The woman's social class and race were important factors in the criminal justice system response. Hedda Nussbaum defied the stereotypical image of the battered woman because she was psychotic and addicted to drugs. She was Jewish and affluent, and her case received unprecedented publicity. She was never indicted, and she was given quality psychiatric treatment. Frances McMillian was black, poor, and so physically and psychologically isolated that she could not reach out to anyone to protect her nine children or herself. Unlike Nussbaum, McMillian was denied quality psychiatric treatment without explanation and indicted on nine misdemeanor counts for endangering the welfare of her children. Damian Pizarro, a Hispanic woman who had been abused as a child by her mother, had attempted to end the abusive relationship with her drug-dealing boyfriend, but was obliged against her wishes to stay in the New York area in order to eventually regain custody of her son, whom the State of New Jersey had placed in foster care at birth. She sought an order of protection against the boyfriend, but did not receive it until after he had found her, dragged her for three days through the streets of Manhattan, and finally been stabbed by her with a knife she had taken from a restaurant. Her rage at being abused continued in the aftermath, as she spent years of her life in jail, "innocent until proven guilty," awaiting trial. 6 notes, 25 references. (Author abstract modified)