Battered Woman Syndrome


Battered Woman Syndrome is an inductive theory that seeks to explain the reactions of women when they are subjected to domestic violence. This theoretical approach seeks to sympathize with women who have been victims of domestic violence. In social context, several women have been exonerated from legal liabilities as a result of expert testimonies on Battered Woman Syndrome.

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Battered Women Who Harm- Inductive Theory

The fight against domestic violence has several dimensions. The most radical progress in the fight against domestic violence came in 1994 when the Violence Against Women Act became law. According to this legislation, resolving domestic disputes is not a prerogative of the legal department alone but it also involves “the medical and health community, social service agencies, community leaders, and the private sector” (Ross, 2007).

Consequently, domestic violence has been updated to encompass its effects on the victims, community, children, and families. Through the spirit of combating domestic violence, the connection between inductive theory and criminal prosecution of victims was established. The Battered Woman Syndrome has always been applied in criminal prosecution processes to address the plight of the women who retaliate to instances of abuse (Schuller & Rzepa, 2002).

The Battered Woman Syndrome is an inductive theory that was constructed after expert observations were made on behaviors of abused women. This paper explores how the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is applied during criminal proceedings in favor of abused women.

There are several stakeholders when it comes to issues of BWS including the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, the State Justice Institute, and the National Association of Women Judges. The social and legal fraternities concur that “battering has both medical and psychological effects” (Faigman, 2006). Consequently, evidence relating to BWS has been presented in a number of criminal trials that involve domestic violence.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that research on BWS has not yet been exhausted. Consequently, social policy stakeholders recognize that there is need for additional research on BWS. For instance, “the term “battered woman syndrome” does not adequately reflect the breadth or nature of the scientific knowledge that is now available concerning battering and its effects” (McCauley, Kern & Derogatis, 2005). The inclusion of the word ‘syndrome’ in the description of this theory implies that there is a ‘disease’ involved in the manifestation of the BWS.

BWS cannot be used as a summary explanation for the actions of women who have been subjected to domestic violence. Therefore, “expert testimonies in cases that involve BWS should be used to support a battered woman’s claim of self-defense or duress and not to replace it” (Terrance & Matheson, 2003).

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Expert testimonies on the role of BWS in criminal cases against victims of domestic abuse have been used to exonerate suspects. In addition, research indicates that there is ‘scientific evidence and criminal knowledge’ that can validate the premise of BWS. Repeated cases of domestic abuse often lead to reactions that are closely related to traumatic stress.

During criminal-prosecution proceedings, expert witnesses on BWS have been admitted in courtrooms across the country to shed light on the sociological implications of this phenomenon. Overall, the expert testimonies that are offered during criminal prosecutions serve as pointers of the effects of domestic violence.

The information that is contained in expert testimonies also assists “fact finders in their deliberations, and dispels common myths that may interfere with their ability to consider fairly the issues of the case” (Terrance & Matheson, 2003). All the social stakeholders of domestic violence will continue to use and enrich the validity of BWS as a theoretical explanation of its effects.


Faigman, D. L. (2006). The battered woman syndrome and self-defense: A legal and empirical dissent. Virginia Law Review, 2(1), 619-647.

McCauley, J., Kern, D. E. & Derogatis, L. R. (2005). The “battering syndrome”: prevalence and clinical characteristics of domestic violence in primary care internal medicine practices. Annals of internal medicine, 123(10), 737-746.

Ross, L. (2007). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. Advances in experimental social psychology, 10(1), 173-220.

Schuller, R. A. & Rzepa, S. (2002). Expert testimony pertaining to battered woman syndrome: Its impact on jurors’ decisions. Law and Human Behavior, 26(6), 655.

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Terrance, C., & Matheson, K. (2003). Undermining reasonableness: Expert testimony in a case involving a battered woman who kills. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 27(1), 37-45.

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