A History of Battered Person Syndrome

A History of Battered Person Syndrome

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A History of Battered Person Syndrome

In the 1970s, clinical psychologist Dr. Lenore Walker observed, described, and published information about the battered woman syndrome.  She sought to develop a theory that would explain domestic violence and why intimate partner abuse often reoccurred. Dr. Walker developed the battered woman syndrome after spending a great deal of time counseling and treating victims of domestic violence. 

She noticed that individuals who were subjected to intimate partner abuse often experienced victimization repeatedly. Despite this, many women did not try to escape their harmful environment or leave their abusive partner. Victims often remained in harmful relationships despite the violence and the brutality that they were suffering from. 

The battered woman syndrome provided explanations for why a victim remained in these detrimental environments. It also addressed questions regarding the victim's failure to report abuse and seek help from friends and family members. A few years after it's conception, Dr. Walker started providing expert testimony regarding the battered woman syndrome.

Once the public became aware of the battered woman syndrome that was described by Dr. Lenore Walker, many women employed this condition as a legal defense for killing their abusive husbands. Dr. Walker often acted as an expert witness for women who were standing trial for murdering their violent and aggressive partners. Dr. Walker utilized the causes and effects of the battered woman syndrome in order to convince courts that these women's actions were justified.

The use of the battered woman syndrome as a sufficient legal defense became extremely controversial because many people did not feel that the effects of this psychological condition were serious enough to legitimize murder. In many cases, in order for the battered woman syndrome to be effective in a courtroom, the defense attorney will be required to affirm that the victim was acting in self defense. They will therefore need to prove that the victim was being exposed to present provocation, that they were in unavoidable danger, and that they countered their attacker with an equal amount of force. 

When congress passes the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, the validity of the battered woman syndrome was investigated. Based on the findings, congress discounted this condition as a substantial legal defense. Despite congress's position on the battered woman syndrome, this psychological condition is often cited as a defense. In 2002, California passed a new law that permitted the women who were convicted of murdering their abusive husband before 1992 to seek a sentence reversal. 

Since the passage of this law, over one hundred victims of abuse who have been incarcerated for the murder of their abuser have been released. The first of  these women to be released was Marva Wallace, who served seventeen years in prison for murdering her violent and abusive husband. Although, the effectiveness of using the battered woman syndrome as a legal defense will vary a great deal from state to state and from cases to case. However, since its discovery, this psychological condition has helped people to understand the mentality and the state of mind of women who have suffered from domestic violence.

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