Battered Woman Syndrome

"Battered woman syndrome" (BWS) is a term used by psychologist Dr. Lenore Walker in her 1979 book. Back then, people used this term to describe behaviors caused by the trauma of living with a violent partner.

But over time, it became clear that anyone can become a victim of domestic violence. As a result, the terms describing these situations evolved. People now refer to battered woman syndrome as "Intimate Partner Violence" or IPV.

This article will answer the following questions:

  • What are the three components of battered woman syndrome/battered person syndrome?
  • What are the common signs of intimate partner violence?

It will also discuss intimate partner violence and self-defense. If you or someone you know needs legal help due to IPV or BWS, this page can help you understand where to get help.

What Is Intimate Partner Violence?

The American Psychiatric Association defines IPV as the cycle of abuse between intimate partners. This type of abusive relationship can victimize anyone, regardless of gender, age, class, or background.

IPV may also cause or contribute to "learned helplessness" which "is the behavior exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated aversive stimuli beyond their control."

It happens when the victim of violence feels so defeated and powerless that they cannot leave the abusive relationship. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), intimate partner violence can have many of the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Victims of battered woman syndrome or IPV often feel scared but hopeful that the abuse will eventually end. Thus, they stay with the abuser. The feeling of fear and hope becomes a cycle of abuse.

Many state courts understand the signs of battered woman syndrome. Various support systems are available to victims of this abuse. Some courts consider IPV or battered woman syndrome when addressing outbursts or when the person fights back.

If you or someone you know is scared to speak to law enforcement authorities, there are various ways to help.

What Are the Three Components of Intimate Partner Violence?

Intimate partner violence is a vicious cycle between people in an intimate relationship. The abuse can happen occasionally, often, or as a long-term problem. The abusive cycle usually follows a pattern with three stages:

First Stage: Tension Building

The first stage of IPV begins with a low-tension conflict. The abuser often feels angry or neglected. They may feel that these feelings justify the imminent danger that they cause to their partner.

Second Stage: Abusive Phase

The tension bursts when the abuser commits a form of domestic violence. This might be physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, or psychological abuse.

Third Stage: Honeymoon Stage

The third stage is usually called the "honeymoon stage". This is when the abuser apologizes. During the third stage, the abuser makes amends, and the relationship is at its best — until the cycle starts over again.

As the cycle of violence keeps repeating, the victim starts thinking it is their fault. Learned helplessness may develop, where the victim feels powerless. As a result, the victim stays trapped in the cycle until something extreme happens.

What Are Common Signs of Intimate Partner Violence?

People who are victims of IPV or battered woman syndrome often show certain traits. Talking to people who have experienced domestic violence can help them see these signs. The most common traits that victims of IPV show are:

  • The victim thinks the abuse was their fault. They tend to take responsibility for what happened. They often have a hard time blaming the abuser.
  • Due to the domestic abuse, victims experience hypervigilance. They are always afraid for their safety.
  • They think that the abuser is powerful. They are afraid to seek help for fear of being hunted down by the abuser.

In addition, people who experience IPV often show signs of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. They also exhibit low self-esteem and are less interested in activities they used to enjoy. They might abuse alcohol or other substances. It is important to get help once these signs are recognized. It has even been argued that BWS or IPV is a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder due to similarities in symptoms.

Battered Woman Syndrome and Self-Defense

Intimate partner violence is now recognized by family and criminal law in many states. It is also considered in defense cases of IPV victims who kill or injure their abusive partners. For the courts, this condition indicates the defendant's state of mind and may be considered a mitigating circumstance.

For example, the court may consider that a victim of a battering relationship felt that they were justified in attacking their abuser and that they were in reasonable fear of imminent danger. Courts have recognized this, considering the victim's condition and experiences with the abuser.

The admissibility of the “battered woman defense" in criminal cases has been questioned. It's common for someone who exerts this defense claim to introduce expert testimony in a criminal trial. A victim's legal defense team will present testimony from an expert witness in psychiatry. The expert witness will emphasize the complex cycle of the abusive relationship. They provide information on how the abusive partner altered the victim's perception compared to that of a reasonable person. They will also testify about how and why victims often fail to report the abuse.

Intimate partner violence can also come up in divorce and child custody cases.

If you or someone you know is a victim of intimate partner violence and possibly suffering from the condition, please contact your local authorities and local support organizations. There are many avenues available for victims to get help.

Legal Help For Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

Getting out of the cycle of abuse and physical violence can be difficult. Because of the history of abuse, victims often feel trapped and alone in the situation. Unfortunately, recantation of a domestic abuse victim's initial statement to police is not uncommon. Supporting the victim through the legal process is crucial.

Thus, it is important to report the abuse to social services or the appropriate legal system. Medical intervention should immediately be sought for those who experienced physical abuse or acute battering.

Victims of domestic violence can likewise file for a protective order, also known as a restraining order. The protective order will prevent the abuser from coming close to the victim or their family members. In most cases, police may arrest the aggressor. Under the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, protective orders from one state must be recognized and enforced in all other jurisdictions.

However, it is important to remember that advocates and support groups are available in each state. These organizations are available to help victims of IPV. There are also government organizations within the criminal justice system that handle domestic violence cases. The Office of Violence Against Women, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, provides grant funding and other resources to non-profit and government agencies that assist victims of IPV.

If you are a victim of IPV or someone you know is experiencing family violence or involved in a violent relationship, it is important to reach out for help. There are many ways for victims to get help. This includes contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or through online chat.

How an Attorney Can Help With Intimate Partner Violence

Domestic violence of any kind can leave deep wounds. After getting the medical and emotional support you need, you should seek help from an experienced family law attorney to explore your legal options. Such options can include restraining orders, or orders of protection, and modifications to child custody arrangements. In cases involving married parties, a petition for spousal support may address the victim's financial concerns. An attorney can help you protect yourself and your loved ones.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Victims of domestic violence can press charges against their abuser
  • The ability or requirements to press charges varies in each state
  • Contacting a family law attorney or advocacy groups for advice is essential

Some attorneys represent victims of domestic violence. Others defend the rights of those accused of domestic abuse or other related crimes. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney