Domestic Violence Battered Woman Syndrome
-Every twelve seconds in the United States a man batters his current or former wife or women friend.- Wrightsman pp. 238Despite overwhelming statistics similar to this it seems society has still been left in the dark when it comes to understanding battered woman syndrome and domestic violence.Accompanying this shocking reality are numerous myths concerning battered women and their abusers.At this point researchers psychologists and society are taking steps to better educate and prevent further abuse but still have a long road ahead of them.For instance -The United States has three times as many animal shelters as they do battered women shelters- Wrightsman pp. 238 This alone shows that society hasnt given the problem the attention it deserves.The purpose of this paper is to provide a review of current literature and issues surrounding battered woman syndrome. Symptoms of Battered Woman Syndrome
Research has shown that many battered women experience a group of symptoms that has come to be called Battered Woman Syndrome. Psychology, esfj -Battered woman syndrome is a womans presumed reactions to a pattern of continual physical and psychological abuse inflicted by her mate.- Wrightsman pp. 244
There are two major groups of symptoms that victims may experience.The first set of symptoms can be characterized as -fight or flight- responses. In its most basic physiological response this occurs when someone perceives danger and enters a mental state in which they are prepared to deal with this danger.The heart begins to race breathing changes it may become difficult to concentrate and in extreme cases a panic attack may result.This type of response can be recognized when the victim makes use of avoidance mechanisms and the numbing or lack of emotions.Typical signs to look for would include denial repression dissociation and minimizing or not dealing with what is really occurring. Walker pp. 32
The second group of symptoms that may occur when a victim is suffering from battered woman syndrome involves changes in cognitive abilities judgment and memory.Often times a woman will experience the abuse in her mind at a time when there is no danger present.For example a nightmare may occur that is so vivid that she will respond as though the abuse is really happening.Thus the next time that danger is actually present the victim could perceive the situation as being more severe than it really is.Because she feels there is eminent danger her response may be to go into a mental state in which she is taking what she feels are necessary lifesaving actions sometimes including killing her batterer. Walker pp. 33It becomes too difficult for the woman to tell the difference between memories of past abuse and current situations thus inhibiting her ability to respond appropriately.
Characteristics of Female Victims
The most consistent factor in the backgrounds of victims is the existence of previous exposure to violence. Hattendorf pp. 14This violence is most often experienced within the realm of the family whether it was perpetrated on themselves or other family members.
Learned helplessness is a characteristic that results from this repeated exposure to abuse.By definition learned helplessness is -a response to having been exposed to painful stimuli over which one has no control and finding that no avenue readily exists for escape.- Wrightsman pp. 244The behavioral model of learned helplessness seeks to explain the passive behavior an individual exhibits when placed in an uncontrollable environment. Hattendorf pp. 15
In the late 60s and early 70s Martin Seligman a famous researcher in the field of psychology conducted a series of experiments in which dogs were placed in one of two types of cages. In the former cage henceforth referred to as the shock cage a bell would sound and the experimenters would electrify the entire floor seconds later shocking the dog regardless of location. The latter cage however although similar in every other respect to the shock cage contained a small area where the experimenters could administer no shock. Seligman observed that while the dogs in the latter cage learned to run to the no electrified area after a series of shocks the dogs in the shock cage gave up trying to escape even when placed in the latter cage and shown that escape was possible. Seligman theorized that the dogs initial experience in the uncontrollable shock cage led them to believe that they could not control future events and was responsible for the observed disruptions in behavior and learning. Seligman pp. 59Thus according to the theory of learned helplessness a subject placed in an uncontrollable environment will become passive and accept painful stimuli even though escape is possible and apparent.
This idea of passivity is often a question in societys mind.Individuals always ask -Why doesnt she leave-As with Seligmans experiment the victim is repeatedly exposed to physical and psychological abuse over time.Although one might conclude the solution is quite obvious and she should simply leave the situation as a victim the answer isnt as clear.Her eyes are blurred to the truth and the possibility of escape from the abuse.Fear loyalty shame economic dependence and often love deny women the ability to leave their abuser.Therefore they come to accept their environment and the abuse that becomes their reality.
Characteristics of an Abuser
Ironically and similarly to their victims many abusers also experienced or witnessed some form abuse at various points in their life.Hattendorf pp. 14Although the male abuser can remember hating the violence and the lifestyle it produced they continue with the pattern by becoming abusers themselves.Their role models were dysfunctional therefore they were unable to learn effective relationship skills.Many times as children these abusers were given instructions for their actions as well as their feelings thus leaving them with emotions such as hostility distrust and a low tolerance for frustration.They are often provoked at the slightest irritation and thus become violent.
According to Dr. Donald Saunders there are three separate types of men who abuse their wives.They are characterized by their ability to handle their emotions the manner in which they use alcohol their attitudes concerning women and also their own history of victimization.Type 1 abusers are not likely to be violent outside of their home they are considered -family only- aggressors. Of all abusers these men would be the most concerned about their image and would try to consider an alternative to violence usually alcohol when they need to loosen up or express an emotion.Saunders claims these men are -doormats until they erupt with alcohol.-This means that while they are normally passive and easy to get along with when they are using alcohol they are more readily provoked to using violent means.These men are the least likely to have been abused as children.Type 2 abusers will use violence inside the home but also are violent outside of the home.These abusers perpetrate severe violence on their victims and it is generally tied to alcohol.Most have unbending attitudes about sex roles and have a history with the law therefore they know what they can get away with.There is a high likelihood they were abused as children.The final type discussed by Saunders Type 3 abusers are emotionally unstable and exhibit signs of depression anger and high levels of jealousy.They most fear the loss of their partners.Although they are not as violent as Type 2 Type 3 abusers are more psychologically abusive.Saunders pp. 18
The Cycle of Violence
Most couples involved in violence experience a battering cycle which researchers have identified as the cycle of violence.There are three phases to the cycle of violence including the tension building phase the acute battering phase and the loving calm phase.In the tension building phase the woman may be in a state of denial that any abuse is actually happening.However abusive incidents are occurring such as slapping or verbal abuse.The victim attempts to maintain a balance that will not upset the abuser. Jensen pp. 26For instance she may try to ensure that the home is clean that meals are prepared and that the children are behaving.At this point the tension continues to build.
During the second phase the acute battering phase the tension which has been accumulating is released.This phase is the shortest of the three only lasting two to twenty-four hours.The violence in this phase is much more severe than the first and culminates in an attack on the victim.Jensen pp. 26Many times a victim will not seek help unless the injuries are severe and they may not cooperate with authorities out of fear and loyalty to the abuser.In some cases if the couple has already been involved in the cycle the victim will intentionally provoke the abuser simply because she knows that once this phase is over the tension will be broken and the violence will stop-for the time being.
The third phase is depicted by kindness and remorseful behaviors by the abuser. Jensen pp. 26This phase is sometimes referred to as the -honeymoon- period.The abuser makes promises to the victim that he will never hurt her again.His actions may persuade the victim that he is honest and truly sorry.He may buy her gifts and spend more time with her.Sometimes the victim may choose to leave the abuser during this phase however she often changes her mind when he appears apologetic.Often guilt is used to try to convince her to stay and the children are often pawns which he uses to get her to continue with the relationship.The honeymoon phase however is not reality for the couple and although it may last anywhere from one day to several months the tension will again begin to build and the couple will revisit the first phase and their cycle of violence will continue.
Battered Women The Law
More than ten percent of homicides in the United States are committed by women and a significant percentage of these women have killed an abusive partner.- Wrightsman pp. 248When on trial these women claim that they were acting in self-defense.The battered women need to prove that their crime was committed out of self-defense or insanity.-Self-defense is defined in most states as the use of equal force or the least amount of force necessary to repel danger when the person reasonably perceives that she or he is in imminent danger of serious bodily damage or death.Its key items include a reasonable perception of imminent danger and a justified use of lethal force.- Another defense used by a battered woman is the insanity defense.As the term is applied it argues that the woman was unable to tell the difference between right and wrong because she was mentally incompetent perhaps harmed by head injuries or driven crazy by the abusive behavior of her husband and therefore should be excused from any culpability-. Wrightsman pp. 248In most instances a battered woman will use the self-defense plea as opposed to the insanity defense primarily because the self-defense plea is more justifiable and more successful.The jury must be convinced that the battered woman was in imminent life-threatening dangers at the time of the incident and she acted justifiably for the situation.Although this is still no walk in the park tackling the case from this angle can be much more beneficial for the defendant.Attempting to prove that the battered woman was -temporarily- insane at the time of the offense is by no means an easy task.The components of the battered women syndrome do not go hand in hand with the insanity defense.-Also many advocates for battered women feel it is demeaning for a women to be declared insane when acting to save her own life- or that of her children. Wrightsman pp. 251
One example of the use of self-defense in the courtroom would be the case of People vs. Diaz 1983.Madelyn Diaz was a 24-year-old woman who had been married five years and had two children at the time she committed her husbands murder.He was a police officer and over the course of their marriage he abused her sexually physically and emotionally many times at gun point.She had suffered a broken nose been forced to have sex with a stranger while her husband looked on and the latest incident included him holding a gun to their six month old daughters head and claiming he would -blow the babys brains out-.Madelyn felt that based on his past behaviors he was capable of following through on his latest threat.The next day she opened a dresser drawer where the couple kept their money and she saw her husbands gun.Immediately images of a gun being held to her babys head flashed in her mind and she fired two shots into her sleeping husbands body.She continued on in her daily chores of grocery shopping and even bought items that her husband especially liked.She returned from grocery shopping and found her husbands body she called the police and reported that someone had broken in and killed her husband.She later remembered that she was the one who killed her husband and turned herself in.She was indicted for 2nd degree murder and was later found -not guilty.- Wrightsman pp. 254This is an excellent example of how the use of self-defense can not only be used to argue your innocence but also after the individual blamed the death of her husband on someone else. Another key aspect would be the use of self-defense when it wasnt her own personal safety she was supposedly protecting it was her childs.She was severely abused in every aspect and as a result of the repetitive abuse she was unaware that she had even killed her husband when she returned to her house.From a position of law the battered woman syndrome and self-defense defense are more compatible with each other.The symptoms of the syndrome can cause a battered woman to have a flashback and act accordingly many times unaware of her actions.As our society is exposed to more and more abuse cases as time passes the use of the idea of battered women syndrome self-defense and the insanity plea will be more prevalent within the courtroom.
Following the reviews of the journal articles on battered woman syndrome and domestic violence I feel that this is a serious issue which is clouded by many misunderstandings.Domestic violence is an immoral and unexcused action which we as a society must attempt to terminate.-Battering is currently the leading cause of injury in American women sending more than 1 million every year to doctors offices-. Wrightsman pp. 238Statistics like this are simply inexcusable.Battered women face numerous obstacles both personal and legal through their journey in the court system.It is impossible to achieve a simple solution to end violence against women and children but we must join the fight to end the suffering that they are forced to endure.
Hattendorf Joanne. 1997. Domestic Violence- Counseling strategies that
minimize the impact of secondary victimization.Perspectives In
Psychiatric Care p 14-23.
Jensen Lisa. 2000. The Cycle of Domestic Violence and the Barriers to
Treatment. The Nurse Practitioner p 26-27.
Saunders Donald. 1992. Men of Mean Abusive men need treatment within
mens groups. Psychology Today p 18-19.
Seligman Martin. 1992. Interview.Omni Publications International Ltd. 1992.
V 14 N 12 p 59-65.
Walker Lenore. 1995. Understanding Battered Women Syndrome. Victims and
Violence. Trial p 30-36.
Wrightsman Lawrence. 2001. Forensic Psychology. California- Wadsworth.
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