The Battered Woman Syndrome And Criminal Law

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The Battered Woman Syndrome And Criminal Law Essay, Research Paper Peter Vance Criminal Law Professor Paul Moke 4-21-99 The Battered Woman Syndrome and Criminal Law The purpose of this research paper is to prove that criminal law in America has failed to provide a defense that adequately protects women suffering from Battered Women’s Syndrome. Battered Women’s Syndrome, or BWS, is a very complex psychological problem facing criminal courts today and has caused great debate on whether or not it should even be allowed in the courtroom. Although the syndrome has been given more consideration as a warranted issue by society, those who create our laws and control our courtrooms, have not developed a defense that sufficiently protects these women. United States courtrooms,

instead of protecting battered women, have put these women on trial and found them guilty of murder. The research is divided into four parts to better illustrate each individual topic and to provide for a more clear understanding of the material. The first analysis describes Battered Women’s Syndrome and gives background information on its origin. The second part of the research affords case examples of battered women’s trials, the defenses used, and the resulting verdicts. The third segment produces data on newly developed defenses and how they would help women justify or excuse their actions. The final portion of the research presents some of the different views held by supporters and critics of BWS. The conclusion of the research is based only on the data that was

collected and provides some personal explanations for the problems facing battered women today. Part I: THE BIRTH OF A SYNDROME The theories and explanations for battered women’s behavior started in the late 1970’s as a result of the oppression of women. Feminist movements in the late 1970’s caused great social uproar among legal and political bodies of government in the United States. Many social problems that women faced started to surface and the public began to notice the increasing number of battered and abused women. This new issue led Del Martin to publish Battered Wives in 1976, the first piece written about battered women in the U.S. Although the research on battered women had just begun, many American courtrooms began dealing with these relatively new cases

involving women as early as 1977. The famous case of State v. Wanrow (1977), resulted in the Washington State Supreme Court declaring the need for a more gender-based self-defense test. This case led to a greater approval of battered women’s issues among the public and sparked renewed interest in psychological research (Downs pg. 77). Battered Women’s Syndrome, although originating in part from the oppression of women, was initially developed by psychologists to help explain the behavior of women who were exposed to frequent and continuous abuse. The most highly recognized in the field of BWS, is psychologist Dr. Lenore Walker. Walker has dedicated most of her life to studying battered women and their victimization. Using the psychological theory of “learned

helplessness,” Dr. Walker came up with her own hypothesis to explain why battered women behave the way they do (Dubin pg. 9). Walker’s findings resulted in the theory known as the “cycle of violence” (Downs pg. 76). The cycle portrays three distinct phases in which battered women go through with their abusers. Phase One is known as the “tension building phase.” In this phase the woman senses that her partner is becoming increasingly sensitive to very minor disturbances. Phase Two is known as the “explosion phase.” The male partner, in this phase, physically and emotionally abuses the woman. Phase two can last for minutes or hours, depending on the situation. Phase Three is known as the “calm or loving phase,” and is thought to be why most women stay with their