Battered Woman Syndrome Theory

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The criminal justice system is basically an expression of the central moral code of our society. In the words of Justice White, “the law is constantly based on notions of morality. . . . as such, the conduct that we punish and the conduct that we excuse is an expression of our moral understanding of right and wrong.” This Battered woman syndrome was primarily introduced to help explain the reasonableness of a woman’s actions in self-defense against her abuser. Pioneered by Dr. Walker, it was developed to allow experts to testify at trials, most commonly where a woman was on trial for killing her batterer, and was alleging self defense. The “battered woman syndrome” evidence mainly explains why a battered woman having d special knowledge of…show more content…
As per the Walker theory, there are three major distinct phases in any battering cycle, beginning with the tension-building phase when there is a gradual intensification of tension which is manifested by obnoxious behavior on the part of the batterer and which sometimes escalates to minor acts of physical abuse. In order to avoid such situations in future, the woman attempts to pacify her husband by doing what she thinks might please him. However such attempts eventually fail and this invariably gives way to the acute battering phase. In fear of pain and injury, which she will have to endure during this phase, she often expedites the inevitable explosion, forcing it to occur in conditions so as to minimize the impending harm. The explosion itself is constituted by physical and verbal aggression which leaves the woman injured and…show more content…
However, the term “syndrome” carries with it the stigma of psychological disorder. In order to establish the “battered woman syndrome”, what is essential is an expert testimony. The main reason behind this is that Judges still require an expert to give the battered woman’s claim of self-defense a voice of authority, because her claim challenges long held social norms. It is assumed that judges cannot possibly see the correctness of the woman-defendant’s claims of reasonableness without the help of an expert. Domestic violence is so far beyond the “ken of the average layman,” and so ingrained in our beliefs that it is a private, family matter, an expert is essentially required to fit this into commonly held views of reasonableness. Using testimony about a “syndrome” to explain what a reasonable person would do is a contradiction in terms—it is a legal fiction that the legal community has developed to allow experts to testify in trials of battered women. Such an expert testimony might actually prevent the unjust result of sending a victim to prison for acting out of necessity, but doesn’t require changing the actual substantive self-defense laws. This use of expert testimony to explain reasonableness, though logically baffling, is the only realistic option for introduction of evidence of battering under the current evidentiary laws. The ability to present expert testimony at trial for a battered woman who has
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