Battered Women’s Syndrome

A phenomenon which has received much attention in the realm of domestic violence and particularly with women who kill is battered women’s syndrome (BWS), which is a subcategory of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Walker, battered women’s syndrome is:

A group of usually transient psychological symptoms that are frequently observed in a particular recognizable pattern in women who report having been physically, sexually, and/or seriously psychologically abused by their male domestic partners.

BWS develops as a battering relationship unfolds. This is typically a three-stage process that includes: 1) small incidents of verbal and minor physical abuse that begin infrequently but increase in frequency; 2) actual acute battering that often causes serious injury needing medical attention; and 3) a cycle where the abuser is contrite to the abused and ultimately teaches the abused to be submissive and passive toward further abuse.

A woman displaying symptoms of BWS may be apathetic toward subjects or activities for which she used to be enthusiastic, she may become involved in drug or alcohol abuse, and she may also experience completely different attitudes and emotions toward her spouse than she did before the abuse began. The importance in knowing about BWS lies in recognizing predictable, psychological effects caused by domestic violence. BWS is now recognized in legislation by many states and is considered when defending battered wives who kill their spouses. BWS is not used as a defense but more as an indication of the defendant’s state of mind or as a mitigating circumstance. A reasonable fear of imminent danger (especially used in self-defense) can be proven using BWS.


Inside Battered Women’s Syndrome