Domestic Violence: Is Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) a Valid Legal Defense?

Domestic Violence: Is Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) a Valid Legal Defense?

Over the years there have been more and more cases involving women who are physically abused by their spouse or significant other. In order for a woman to even be considered to have “Battered Woman Syndrome” she must experience at least two complete battering cycles she is labeled a “battered woman.” The cycle has three distinct phases, which is then followed by the outburst-battering incident, culminating in a calm, loving break (often known as the honeymoon phase). The Battered Women Syndrome is not a legal defense as it lacks sufficient scientific support and evidence, typically it is a harsh and very destructive stereotype against women only, and the condition of the battered woman syndrome is too vague. Domestic violence is a very serious issue, but in the courts, it is generally very difficult to prove if a woman suffers from BWS.

Battered woman syndrome was brought about during the 1970’s and focused in the clinical observations of a single researcher. In order to prove that a woman did suffer from clinical syndromes, there had to be sufficient evidence to show that this syndrome meets the precise diagnostic criteria of psychology or the law. If a woman truly does suffer from this syndrome, there is no reliable way to differentiate those who do suffer from BWS and those who claim it as a legal defense. Courts are contemplating whether or not they should allow this syndrome as a legal defense as it lacks the legal support to justify claims by battered women who have killed. There is a great lack of scientific evidence as well as the failure to obtain political and social policy goals for women. Battered woman syndrome has been used in many cases, from the typical self-defense case to prosecutorial use of the syndrome. Courts understand and acknowledge this syndrome from the honesty of the woman, believing that she was in great need of using deadly force as a result of her mental incapacity to form the obligatory mental intent. Courts begin using Daubert styled tests of admissibility for the scientific basis for battered woman syndrome testimony, which lacks a serious amount of sufficient evidence. Prior to the Daubert effect, most federal and state court judges relied on two standards to detect if the testimony was admissible. The testimony addressed a fact at issue in cases, aiding the jury, Frye a 1923 ruing, helped the methods used by the expert in forming scientific conclusions that must be accepted within the community. Opposing societies argued that this theory excluded legitimate science, where it seemed as those the science and evidence was replaced by “majority rules.” The Daubert effect keeps juries from hearing scientific evidence against them. There are abundant ill-defined signs that a clinician who is biased towards battered woman syndrome will recognize in the reports of a woman who suffers from batter and abuse. This is an unlawful conduct justifying the woman’s actions, as the clinician may be quick to identify that woman of having BWS. There are no “true” signs that can be seen in order to diagnosis a woman with BWS, as the signs are common to a variety of different conditions. Courts have found that non-victims can lie and overstate their abusive history with the many non- specific signs, leading to a mistaken diagnosis. There is no way to distinguish whether or not a person suffers from BWS, therefore making the case completely unreliable, where there is no authority. For example, after many courts have stated that they require scientific and a sufficient amount of evidence to prove the case, judges were much more strict and harsh on both the plaintiffs and defendants. In the Case involving Keshia Dixon and her very abusive boyfriend, the federal courts did not offer any sympathy and refused to declare the evidence stated. “The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, explaining that expert testimony on BWS was ‘inherently subjective,’ and inadmissible to prove duress.” (Alkihan, 1)
The court felt that the information Dixon was presenting was very disbelieving and were not convinced that mental illness or emotional disorders justified her actions for committing a crime. Courts argued that because there was a lack of sufficient evidence of proving Dixon’s battered woman syndrome, they questioned whether or not she falsely exaggerated her abusive claims. The article also explains that other cases are unreliable, as it does not follow the Daubert standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, explaining that if a witness testifies, the scientific evidence must be reliable. Unfortunately Dixon’s case was seen as a political support as a posed to science, questioning if Dixon truly does suffer from battered woman syndrome.

Battered woman syndrome is typically and commonly sympathetic to females only. However, this completely disregards males, because the syndrome focuses primarily on the destructive stereotypes of women. Every year, approximately 1,510,455 women and 834,732 men are victims of physical violence, meaning that approximately 56% of women living in North America suffer from domestic violence and 44% of men living in North America also suffer from domestic violence. Having a syndrome that only applies to women is unjust and unfair as men and women in society today are treated as equals. The battered woman syndrome neglects the males who are physically abused as well, allowing society to overlook those men who suffer from similar issues as women. Women in North America have admitted to physical aggression against their male partners, these studies proved that women in their twenties were more likely to physically aggress males, rather than women who were in their thirties and above. The law should rename the Battered woman syndrome to the Battered Person Syndrome, simply due to the fact that both sexes suffer from domestic abuse. Studies from 1999 show that males are more likely than women to experience serious assault by being hit by an object, threatened with a knife, or even stabbed to death. With the seriousness of these forms of assault, 96.8% of the women assaulted, while 90.5% of males experienced the assault. Unfortunately today society views the male as the stronger and the larger provider as a posed to the female, who acts as the caregiver as well as the provider in some circumstances. As a whole, we don’t feel that men can be physically abused by their spouse, but the truth is that they can. Society has placed this typical stereotype on both males and females, where the male is always the abuser and the female is the victim. However, in many cases this is completely inaccurate as it is actually quite common for a male to become a victim of domestic abuse. Women who abuse their partner feel that their significant other was insensitive to their needs, women wish to gain their partner’s attention, their partner was not listening to them, the husband was being verbally abusive to them, and lastly the woman feel that their actions would and could not hurt their partner. One case in particular involved a man who had been drinking at a bar, came home, and fell asleep on the couch. Not long after, his wife took an iron skillet and beat him. The police eventually took him to the emergency room, but no charges were laid against his woman. After being attacked by her, the incident was withdrawn, and his wife was released of all charges, nor was she taken to court. A famous psychologist, Roger Eldridge, explained that if a man attempts to report his incidents of abuse they are met with obvious discrimination, disbelief, and gender bias. Dr. Eldridge stated that many of people’s first response to a batter male are:
“You must have done something terrible to her to deserve this.”
“Look at the size of you, maybe she was just defending herself.”
“We can’t arrest her- what about the children?”

It is extremely difficult for the male to place charges on his wife due to the fact that the court and judges simply will not believe him, as he lacks the evidence needed. Having a syndrome that only benefits women is wrong, as it should allow anyone who suffers from domestic abuse to get the justice they deserve.

The condition, battered woman syndrome, is extremely vague as there is no clearly defined set of reasons to classify the battered woman syndrome. This syndrome is only for women who suffer from domestic abuse with specific types of reactions (e.g. posttraumatic stress disorder), which is not recognized as an illness because there is a lack of scientific evidence. Other reactions to battering that are relevant during legal issues may be excluded from the judge’s consideration. If batter woman syndrome is used, it generally refers to different psychological reactions to physical abuse, its diagnostic effectiveness is lost because there are no clearly defined conditions for this syndrome. Since the Battered Woman Syndrome is so vague, and does not state the characteristics, it can be extremely misleading and unhelpful. This is similar to Keshia Dixon’s case as the judge did not show any sympathy because there was a lack of scientific evidence to support whether she did suffer from battered woman syndrome. There were no certain characteristics to define if Dixon did have this syndrome, but a deeper understanding of the psychological trauma that is educed by BWS would have aided in the judge’s final decision. Even though Dixon and her daughters stated that Wright was an abusive boyfriend, where they feared for their safety, the court was not sensitive to her situation. Suffering from battered woman syndrome puts many women into a predicament as there is no way of being 100% positive that a woman suffers from BWS because there are no certain characteristics. It was difficult for the jury to diagnosis Dixon as a woman suffering from BWS because they lacked the scientific support needed and felt that her claims could have been exaggerated.

Battered woman syndrome is a serious issue as it happens very frequently in today’s society. The battered woman syndrome is not a legal defense as it lacks the scientific evidence, it concentrates on the stereotypes that are used against women (neglecting men), and referring to the battered woman syndrome is too indefinite. Over the years domestic abuse against women has become a more serious problem, allowing the courts to act stricter on various cases involving domestic abuse disputes. One is unable to prove whether they do suffer from battered woman syndrome, not making it a valid legal defense. This syndrome should be referred to a different name such as the battered person syndrome, because that way it would be referring to not only females but males as well. It is difficult to prove if a person suffers from this illness, which is exactly why it should not be classified as an illness, but rather a serious condition that should not need scientific evidence, but rather physical evidence.