Battered Woman Syndrome, also known
as Battered Person Syndrome, is a mental disorder that victims develop from
serious, long-term domestic violence. It is classified as a subcategory of
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Walker, 2016). Both men and women can experience
this syndrome, but women are usually more prone to it. The victim will not
really be a survivor unless they regain their sense of control. This defense is
used when a person commits a crime and pleas not guilty by reason of self
defense. Although these crimes are usually committed when the abuser is not
armed or assaulting the victim, these victims are so traumatized that they are
fearing for their lives. Within this paper, I will explore the history of the
defense, case studies involving BWS, and statistics of domestic violence
throughout the years.

            During
the colonial times, men owned their wives and were able to inflict punishment
on them, as long as they did not leave any permanent damage (Harvard, 2010).

This meant that if a wife disobeyed their husband, he could punish her in any
way he felt necessary. After the overturn of this law, only men of color and of
lower class were punished for chastising their wives. This posed a problem
because those in the middle and upper classes were basically overlooked in
court. These women usually did not get justice because their husbands were well
off financially. Because of this, the Battered Women’s Movement was formed in
the 1960s. This movement was to end violence against women. They also aimed to
make institutional changes and abolish the right to beat a spouse. Although the
intentions were good, the police and government did not enforce these changes.

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They turned their heads and refused to acknowledge that a crime had been
committed (Battered, 1996). What followed next was the opening of the first
battered women’s shelter in Minnesota. This happened in 1974. When they got an
overwhelming turn up, more and more shelters were constructed. Shelter
activists realized that in order to fix this problem, institutions had to
change drastically. The activists also observed that the victim and children
are removed from the home rather than the abuser. In order to change this,
propositions for bills were drafted and activists were constantly meeting with
legislation (Battered, 1996). It took a while for anyone to listen, but when
they finally did shelters were only funded minimally. By 1986, more than half
the country had passed laws allowing victims to obtain order of protection from
their abuser and allowed police to arrest in domestic assaults (Battered,
1996). Cases involving domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, paired
with the victim committing an act of violence against the abuser increased
dramatically in the 1990s, where women were claiming they had to do it because
their life was in danger. These cases in turn birthed the term “Battered Woman
Syndrome” that is still used today. 

            The
“founder” of this syndrome is Lenore Walker. She is a renowned psychologist who
studies victims of domestic abuse and why abuse happens. Lenore was dedicated
to proving that BWS is a psychological disorder. She believed that BWS falls
under PTSD, which can be explained by the symptoms they display. Expert
witnesses come into play when a person has committed a crime and pleads not
guilty by reason of self defense, BWS. The Experts can clearly explain to
jurors what violence is and what it can do to a person mentally. Walker also
created the ‘Cycle of Violence’. There are three phases. The first is tension
building. This is occurs when there are minor battering incidents and emotional
abuse. In most cases, the victim tries to deescalate the situation, whereas the
abuser comes angrier. The victim thinks that by changing their ways, it will
combat any violence towards them (Cycle, 2017). Many people tend to reach out
for help during this stage, but most community organizations do not realize
they are in danger because there has not been any indication of abuse yet. The
next phase is the violent episode. During this stage, the victim may feel
frightened or trapped. Because of these emotions, they may try to protect
themselves or submit to the abuse. The abuser, in this stage, has become violently
dangerous (Cycle, 2017). This is a problem because a violent outburst like this
can quickly elevate into something deadly. Finally, the honeymoon stage is
last.  During this phase, the victim
feels angry and upset, but often also ‘covers’ for their abuser. The abuser, on
the other hand, feels remorseful and apologetic. They often also promise they
will change or blames other people for how they acted (Cycle, 2017). This cycle
keeps repeating itself over and over until the victim leaves, seeks help, or dies.

The victim believes the abuser when they say they will change, but in the end,
they never do.

            There
are different types of abuse, such as physical, emotional, and sexual, that can
lead to a BWS defense. Physical abuse is when someone harms you by touching
you. “Unexplainable” bruises, abrasions, and scars are all types of physical
abuse. Emotional abuse is when someone degrades you just because they want to
put you down. Some examples of this are stress, fear, lack of attention, and
self-esteem issues. Finally, sexual abuse is the sexual contact without
consent. This can be in the form of unwanted touching, rape, or sodomy.

            There
are four stages battered women experience. The first is denial, which is the
refusal to admit that there is a problem. The victim will refer to incidents as
accidents and blame themselves for what happened. The second stage is guilt.

This is when the victim acknowledges that there is a problem, but thinks that
it is them rather than their abuser. The next stage is enlightenment. This
occurs when the victim thinks that it will get better. Lastly, responsibility
is when they accept that their abuser will not change and they finally leave
and start fresh. This is part of the healing process. To heal, you must be in
control of your life and realize that what you went through is not your fault.

Treatment plans
depend on how severe the abuse was and the victim’s resilience. For the most
part, however, almost all plans include a combination of feminist and trauma
therapy, also known as Survivor Therapy Empowerment Program (STEP). The trauma
aspect allows the victim to fully understand that they are not crazy or to
blame. The feminist aspect attempts to re-empower the victim so they can gain
more awareness of their self control (Walker, 2016). Another way “treat”
victims is to involve the police. This is important to do because domestic and
intimate partner violence is a serious issue that needs attention. The very first
thing a victim can do is interrupt an escalating argument before anything
physical happens. If violence does take place, then it should be reported.

According to the Department of Justice, in 2016, it was confirmed that police
are deterring crime by creating the perception that criminals will be caught
and possibly punished. Threatening to report the abuser for their crime is also
another deescalate situations. The public can also help by learning not only
about domestic violence and its effects on people, but also BWS. The public is
usually under the assumption that these victims were just getting back at their
abuser, which is not at all the case. Lastly, there should be harsher
punishments for those who are convicted of domestic abuse and stricter laws
about the crime in general.

Were
you aware that every minute, 20 people are physically abused by their partner?
This means that over the course of one year, 10 million men and women have been
abused. This is the equivalent to 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men, which is an
alarming rate. Not surprisingly, 19% of intimate partner violence involved a
weapon. Unfortunately, this results in 1 in 3 females and 1 in 20 male murder
victims were killed by their partner (National Coalition Against Domestic
Violence, 2001). These numbers are very unsettling, especially because these numbers
are only estimates. The real numbers are assumed to be much higher than
reported.

As mentioned above, the legal system may aid in
the prevention of abuse. Police officers are trained to deescalate arguments
and violent situations. Attorneys are there to aid in gaining justice for the
victim. Across the United States, there are numerous definitions of domestic
violence. The generalized definitions most people utilize are, “the necessary
relationship between the defendant and victim, any past or present family,
household, or dating” and “any conduct that causes harm to the victim, or poses
a threat of harm that puts the victim in immediate fear for their safety.”
Knowing these definitions enables a person to fight strictly domestic violence
cases. Are these cases treated the same way if the victim defends themselves
and the abuser is harmed?

            Imagine a situation where someone is
being severely beaten, but when the victim tries to stop them, they end up
killing them. This is a problem because even though the abuser committed a
serious offense, the victim committed a crime, too. In the midst of fighting
for their life, they now become the defendant in this case. The Battered
–Person Syndrome defense can be used to either plead not guilty by reason of
insanity or self defense. In order for an expert witness to testify of the
defendant’s behalf, two things must be proved 1) it would be helpful for the
jury to hear the expert based on the victim’s behavior and 2) that the victim
has been battered (Strucke & Hajjar, 2010). Next, the admissibility test,
Dyas Standard, must be proved. This Standard includes three criteria: 1) the
witness must have sufficient skill, knowledge, or experience in this field to
make it seem like their opinion aids in the search for the truth, 2) must be
related to some form of science or occupation longer than the average person,
and 3) the state of knowledge permits an opinion to be expressed by an expert
(Stucke & Hajjar, 2010). If the defense can provide both of these aspects,
then the testimony is allowed.

            Barbara Sheehan was married to
Raymond Sheehan, a retired police sergeant who had a history of rage and
violence. It was noted that Mr. Sheehan always had a gun on his hip and ankle
at all times. On February 17, 2008, Mr. Sheehan broke Barbara’s nose in the
car. This was a normal occurrence among the Sheehan household. The next
morning, Barbara found her husband shaving and shot him 5 times. She then
picked up another gun and fired another six times. Barbara then called the
police. The defense recounted her state of mind at the time of the crime. They
also established that Mr. Sheehan had battered Barbara numerous times. It was
uncovered that Mr. Sheehan had pointed his gun at Barbara while shaving, which
prompted her to fire at him (Dwyer, 2011). She was acquitted of murder.

            Gaile Owens was married for 13 years
to her husband Ron. Ron was found with his skull smashed in in the living room
of his own home. Gaile claimed that she had been the subject of his painful and
humiliating sex acts. Gaile refused to testify to save her children from the
gruesome details, therefore, the court hardly only a miniscule amount of what
she had endured. It was found that Gaile had hired a hit man to murder her
husband so she could live a happy life again. The court concluded that the
evidence of abuse was inconclusive and Gaile was sentenced to death. She was
set to die by lethal injection on September 20, 2010, but before this could
happen, Governor Phil Bredesen was commuted, which allowed her to be eligible
for parole. The governor reviewed her case and decided that because she had
admitted her guilt and that other women in her situation had gotten lesser
sentences. He also agreed that even though the evidence of abuse was
inconclusive, he thought she was suffering from BWS. This prompted Gaile to be
released on parole (Blanco, 2012).

            Ibn-Tamas v. The United States is
the last case I will be talking about. On February 23, 1976, Dr. Yusef Ibn-Tamas
was shot in his house. His wife, Beverly was arrested for this crime. During
their marriage, there were violent episodes followed by tranquility, constantly
repeating the same cycle. She recounted many instances when Dr. Ibn-Tamas had
struck and abused her. After their move to Washington, Beverly was 7 months
pregnant, but when her husband would get mad at her, he would punch her in the
neck and head, in order to avoid harm to the baby. On the morning of the
attack, an argument ensued which in turn, became violent. Dr. Ibn-Tamas pointed
a gun at Beverly and then went downstairs. She went back downstairs and saw her
husband crouched down and holding what she thought was a gun, so she grabbed
one of his guns and shot him (Ibn-Tamas, 2017). Beverly was convicted of
murder. The defense decided to appeal and they then heard a testimony from Dr.

Lenore Walker. This testimony explained the concept of BWS and gave her opinion
of whether or not Beverly fit the description. Because of this testimony,
Beverly was found not guilty by reason of self defense.

            In conclusion, Battered Woman
Syndrome is a real and serious disorder than impacts a lot of people in the
world. There are cases where therapy and medication are unable to effectively
treat a person in terms of healing. Closure comes in many different forms for
people, and for some, it may take a law suit to completely heal. These lawsuits
open mental and emotional wounds or flashbacks, but some victims feel that this
is the necessary step they have to take, in order to be happy. Sometimes more
pain is worth the outcome. 

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