Thursday, July 4, 2013

Battered Woman Syndrome

The following is a post by my law partner Keith Findlay. Keith is an Albuquerque divorce lawyer, that handles various family law issues for clients throughout Albuquerque and New Mexico.

Women have had and do have in parts of the world substantially less power over their lives, are subject to being treated as subhuman, and are
often forced to confront extreme violence in their daily lives. The idea of such conduct at this day in age in the US is met with disbelief and insensitivity over its existence in a civilized world. Such a social reaction can often lead to women not reporting incidents because of lack of support. The issue of violence towards woman and men in a relationship is too real a thing, and should not be ignored.

 In the late 70's, the term “battered woman syndrome” was coined to explain the coping mechanisms of a battered woman and the intense emotions they feel as a result; now the term battered person syndrome is more appropriate, as this syndrome can be found in male victims of domestic violence too. The concepts behind battered person syndrome once were highly debated but now are widely accepted.  Some states have even made them into law.

The three stages in a typical battering relationship: 


  1. increased tension due to small problems; 
  2. an explosion of violent conduct; and 
  3. a cooled down period where the aggressor tries too apologize, makes false promises, and usually denial by the victim of reality of their circumstances.  
This cycle of violence results in the victim trying to minimize or deny the batterer’s abuse out of self blame, shame, fear of the aggressor, and often because of a belief the aggressor can and will change. Even when a victim comes forward, the legal system can be a deterrent just by virtue of its daunting nature and procedural challenges. Pursuing relief against the aggressor can be even harder for a victim that has experienced substandard service from police or other local authorities.  

There is no specific set of symptoms for a victim of domestic violence that has developed battered person syndrome. Each situation is must be considered contextually. Basically, the premise behind battered person syndrome is that the effects of battering go beyond psychological, sexual, and physical abuse. Victims of domestic violence that have battered person syndrome often take action to minimize the affects of the violence, an example would be covering bruises or other signs of physical abuse. Victims also tend to have or develop low self esteem. Often victims will not press criminal charges against the aggressor; even when charges are filed, some victims fail to follow through with their case for various reasons. Many victims, leave the relationship temporarily only to return to the same abusive relationship. Physiological symptoms are similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can be far-ranging including a heightened sense of danger; intense emotions of fear, vulnerability, and anger; denial; self-medication with drugs or alcohol; sleeping disorders; and physical symptoms of stress such as chronic fatigue and an impaired immune system.  

It is important to understand the effects of fear on a battered woman.  It can cause the victim to deny the battering or retract police reports. Fear can lead to the battered woman avoiding reality and blocking out painful memories. These effects worsen as the abuse becomes more severe.  This can lead to the victim becoming dangerous.

Psychological testing has been used to identify symptoms of BPS and their severity, and assess the credibility of battered women.  All of the psychological tests support Battered woman syndrome being substantially similar to PTSD. It is important to understand this when dealing with such a victim. if you have questions about getting a victim help you should contact an attorney and a doctor. A doctor can provide with advice about how to help the victim, and a New Mexico family law attorney can provide you with advice of how to get the battered woman help.

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