Family Law and Spousal Abuse Lawyer


WHAT IS A BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME?

In 1979, Lenore Walker introduced the term “battered woman syndrome” to explain the intense emotions
and coping mechanisms of a battered woman.  It is now classified as “battered person syndrome” by the
World Health Organization (ICD-9 code 995.81).  Although there has been academic debate over the
terminology, the ideas behind battered person syndrome (BPS) are widely accepted.  Some states have
even made them into law.  For example, California Evidence Code Section § 1107 allows expert
testimony in certain criminal cases about “the nature and effect of physical, emotional, or mental abuse
on the beliefs, perceptions, or behavior of victims of domestic violence.”  The statute specifically provides
that intimate partner battering is not “a new scientific technique whose reliability is unproven.”

Lenore Walker described three stages in a typical battering relationship: stage 1, where small incidents
lead to increased tension; stage 2, the violent outburst; and stage 3, a calm period of apologies,
promises, and possible denial by the battered woman of the seriousness of the situation.  This cycle of
violence results in a battered woman trying to minimize or deny the batterer’s abuse out of fear, shame,
self-blame, or belief the batterer will change.  Sometimes, even if the battered woman chooses to report
the abuse or get help, she can be deterred by a daunting legal system and inadequate police or social
service response.


HOW DO YOU IDENTIFY BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME?

There is no checklist of symptoms for battered person syndrome.  Each situation is unique.  In essence,
the underlying theory of BPS is that the effects of battering go beyond physical, sexual, and
psychological abuse.  In her article “Battered Woman Syndrome” Nancy Kaser-Boyd, PhD, describes the
cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral effects of battering on domestic violence victims
(Sexualized Violence against Women and Children, 2004).  Some of the behavioral effects Kaser-Boyd
describes include victims hiding or minimizing the violence, failing to follow through on criminal charges,
leaving and returning to the abusive relationship, becoming passive or immobilized, and developing low
self esteem.  Physiological changes are similar to that of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and can
include far-ranging symptoms such as 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.  

Kaser-Boyd asserts that 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.  In extreme cases, a seriously battered woman can even develop psychotic symptoms.


PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING

Psychological testing has been used to identify symptoms of BPS and their severity, and assess the
credibility of battered women.  Three psychological tests used in this clinical research are the Minnesota
Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI and its revision MMPI-2), the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory
(MCMI and MCMI-II), and the Rorschach.  All three of these tests have indicated that the symptoms of
battered woman syndrome are very similar to those of PTSD.

On the MMPI and MMPI-2, battered women are often found to elevated scales 4, 6, and 8, which
represent a high level of family discord, fear, feeling threatened, and disruptions in their boundaries or
reality testing.  The elevated levels in a battered woman are similar to elevated levels found in Paranoid
Schizophrenia and individuals with PTSD and other types of trauma.  Nancy Kaser-Boyd conducted
testing on battered women using the MCMI-II and found that they had elevated levels on the avoidant,
dependent, self-defeating, anxiety, and dysthymia scales.  In one study, she found that battered women
who killed their batterer had higher elevations overall; this suggested a more severe form of BPS.  They
also had a higher elevation on the Schizoid scale which is also found in severe cases of PTSD.  In
addition, the Rorschachs of battered women have closely paralleled those of people suffering from PTSD.


EXPERT TESTIMONY

Kaser-Boyd emphasizes that, in legal matters involving battered women, expert testimony can be
essential.  Often, battered woman syndrome can have effects that defy common sense.  The expert is
necessary to explain how the fear resulted from the amount of threat to the battered woman’s safety in
each unique situation.  Typically, expert testimony should be used to establish that the person, usually a
woman, is a battered woman, she displays common symptoms that result from battering, and that there is
a nexus between the legal issue and experience of battering.  Testimony is also used to educate the jury
and court and dispel preconceived notions about domestic violence.  Also, expert testimony is essential
in cases where a battered woman kills her husband in self-defense or where the battered woman
becomes involved in criminal activities under duress from the batterer.  Although in criminal cases, no
Kelly foundation need be laid for BPS by virtue of Evidence Code § 1107, it still cannot be used when it is
offered “against a criminal defendant to prove the occurrence of the act or acts of abuse which form the
basis of the criminal charge.”  This would amount to an improper character or similar act evidence.  The
same would be true if an expert testified to BPS in a civil case.


© 2011 Warren R. Shiell. All rights reserved. Warren R Shiell is a Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law attorney. The information
contained in this website is an "Advertisement." It is for informational purposes only and shall not constitute legal advice. Nothing in
this Website shall be deemed to create an Attorney-Client relationship. An Attorney-Client relationship shall only be created when
this office agrees to represent a Client and a Client signs a written retainer agreement.




                                                                                  return to top of page < HOME



Contact a Los Angeles Domestic Violence Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell
Call for a free consultation now 310.247.9913
Divorce Attorneys Lawyers Los Angeles
DIVORCE AND SEPARATION LOS ANGELES
CHILD CUSTODY LOS ANGELES
PROPERTY DIVISION LOS ANGELES
CHILD SUPPORT LOS ANGELES
SPOUSAL SUPPORT LOS ANGELES
PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS LOS ANGELES CA
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Domestic Violence Waiting Too Long
Domestic Violence Battered Woman Syndrome
Domestic Violence FAQ
TAXES IN DIVORCE LOS ANGELES CA
FAMILY LAW FORMS CA LOS ANGELES
CALIFORNIA FAMILY LAW
PARENTING PLANS LOS ANGELES
CALIFORNIA COURT GUIDES
DIVORCE BOOKS AND RESOURCES LOS ANGELES CA
CASE LAW
HELPFUL LEGAL DIRECTORIES
CLIENT TESTIMONIALS
LAW OFFICES OF WARREN R. SHIELL LOS ANGELES
PRACTICE AREAS
RESOURCES
CONTACT US
OFFICE LOCATION

1875 Century Park East, Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90067
tel. (310) 247-9913
fax. (310) 276-0313
Divorce Lawyer Los Angeles Beverly Hills