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Battered Women’s Syndrome

Battered Women’s Syndrome

Battered woman syndrome (more commonly called “BWS” or “Intimate Partner Abuse and its Effects”) describes a pattern of psychological and behavioral symptoms found in women living in abusive relationships. (BWS occurs in same-sex relationships, and men can suffer from “BWS,” but the overwhelming amount of research in the area has focused upon the female sufferer.) Typically, BWS falls under the category of post-traumatic stress disorder. There are four general characteristics of Battered Women’s Syndrome:

1. The fear that her life and/or her children's lives are in danger;
2. An inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere;
3. The belief that the violence was her fault;
4. An irrational belief that the abuser is omniscient and omnipresent.

If your partner does not have these symptoms, chances are great that she does not suffer from BWS. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will show that your partner could not suffer from BWS because of the absence of one or more symptoms. He or she may show this through medical reports, police reports, witness testimony or even expert witness testimony.

In order to be diagnosed with battered women’s syndrome a person must experience at least two complete battering cycles. The cycle has three distinct phases: the tension-building phase, followed by the violent incident, followed by the “make-up” or “honeymoon” phase. If there have not been two cycles, the person cannot be diagnosed with the syndrome. If relevant to your case, your attorney will try to prove that your partner could not possibly be a victim of BWS.

Experts. The criminal case is a war. The prosecutors want to prove that you are guilty of domestic violence. They will try anything and everything in their power to make sure that you are convicted of the charges brought against you.

To that end, they will often attempt to offer “expert” testimony regarding Battered Women’s Syndrome. These experts are used particularly when your partner recants his or her story. If there is recantation, the prosecution will likely bring in an expert on BWS who will say that recanting a story is a major symptom of this syndrome. The expert has likely never met the complaining witness in your case. In fact, the expert probably has no knowledge of your partner’s mental health history (if any). This means that, without knowing anything about your partner, the expert will say that your partner suffers from BWS. As you may imagine, this is a horrible situation for your case. If the expert can convince the jurors that your partner suffers from BWS, there is only one person who can be responsible: you.

All hope is not lost, though. There are specific rules that must be followed before an expert’s testimony can be heard in court. A skilled defense attorney may be able to prevent the expert’s testimony from being admitted in your case. In addition, your attorney may choose to present testimony from a defense expert to refute the prosecution’s expert or to present evidence that you were the injured party.

Battered Women’s Syndrome as a Defense. Battered Women’s Syndrome is a serious medical issue. If you believe that you are suffering from the syndrome, it is important to tell your lawyer. Your attorney may bring in experts to prove that you suffer from the syndrome and to offer opinions about how that relates to the charged offense. If it can be proved that you suffer from Battered Women’s Syndrome, this may be a valid defense to the domestic violence charges pending against you.

BWS is a complex issue, and it plays a potentially significant role in domestic violence cases. If you or someone you care about has been accused of domestic violence, or any crime of violence, it is vital that you consult with a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer right away.

About the Author: Darren Kavinoky is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer who practices throughout California. Darren has provided legal commentary on Larry King Live, the Today Show, Celebrity Justice and many other TV and radio programs. More information about Darren and The Kavinoky Law Firm can be found at

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