Battered person syndrome
||This article possibly contains original research. (May 2011)|
|Battered person syndrome|
|Classification and external resources|
Battered person syndrome is a physical and psychological condition of a person who has suffered (usually persistent) emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from another person. It is classified as ICD-9 code 995.81 "Battered person syndrome" not elsewhere classified (NEC).
The condition is the basis for the battered woman defense that has been used in cases of physically and psychologically abused women who have killed their abusers. The condition was first researched extensively by Lenore Walker, who used Martin Seligman's learned helplessness theory to explain why abused women stayed in destructive relationships.
ICD9 code 995.81 shows the syndrome as including "battered person/man/spouse syndrome NEC", and any person presenting with identified physical descriptors rather than psychological descriptors falls under the general heading of "Adult physical abuse", classified under "Injury and Poisoning". DSM-IV-TR does not provide a distinct diagnostic category for reactions to battering. Rather the diverse reactions of battered women are treated as separate diagnoses, for example, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.
When Battered Person Syndrome (BPS) manifests as PTSD, it consists of the following symptoms: (a) re-experiencing the battering as if it were recurring even when it is not, (b) attempts to avoid the psychological impact of battering by avoiding activities, people, and emotions, (c) hyperarousal or hypervigilance, (d) disrupted interpersonal relationships, (e) body image distortion or other somatic concerns, and (f) sexuality and intimacy issues.
Additionally, repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:
- The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
- The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
- The abused fears for their life and/or the lives of their children (if present).
- The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.
The syndrome develops in response to a three-stage cycle found in domestic violence situations. First, tension builds in the relationship. Second, the abusive partner releases tension via violence while blaming the victim for having caused the violence. Third, the violent partner makes gestures of contrition. However, the partner does not find solutions to avoid another phase of tension building and release so the cycle repeats. The repetition of the violence despite the abuser's attempts to "make nice" results in the abused partner feeling at fault for not preventing a repeat cycle of violence. However, since the victim is not at fault and the violence is internally driven by the abuser's need to control, this self-blame results in feelings of helplessness rather than empowerment. The feeling of being both responsible for and helpless to stop the violence leads in turn to depression and passivity. This learned depression and passivity makes it difficult for the abused partner to marshal the resources and support system needed to leave.
Feelings of depression and passivity may also be created by lack of social support outside of the abusive situation. Research in the 1980s by Gondolf and Fisher found that women in abusive situations increase help-seeking behavior as violence intensifies. However, their attempts at seeking help are often frustrated by unresponsive extended family and social services. In a 2002 study, Gondolf found that more than half of women had negative views of shelters and programs for battered women because of negative experiences with those programs.
The battered person syndrome first rose to prominence in the 1970s, when it was used as a legal defense for abused women who murdered their husbands in a pre-meditated fashion. Defense lawyers used the syndrome to explain premeditation as follows: the woman could not leave the relationship due to learned helplessness. Nor could they fight back when actually being attacked. In the face of increasing violence, the woman's belief was that the only way she could protect herself and her children was to eliminate the partner when he was more vulnerable, for example, while sleeping.
In recent years BPS has been questioned as a legal defense on several grounds. First, legal changes in many states now make it possible to admit a history of past abuse into evidence. Second, not all battered persons act the same. Third, it pleads pathology when there may in fact be completely rational reasons for the victim's assessment that her life or that of her children were in danger. For example, if life-threatening attacks were preceded by a certain look in the eyes in the past, the woman may have had probable cause for believing that another life-threatening attack was likely to occur. Fourth, it does not provide for the possibility that a person may be abused but have chosen to kill for reasons other than on-going abuse – for example, jealousy or greed. Fifth, it paints survivors of domestic violence exclusively as passive victims rather than resourceful survivors. 
- "battered-person syndrome legal definition". LoveToKnow, Corp. Retrieved 2013-06-26.
- *Walker, Lenore E. (1979). The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.
- ICD-9-CM: International Classification of Diseases, 9th revision; Clinical Modification, 6th edition, 2006 / Practice Management Information Corporation (PMIC). Published Los Angeles, CA : PMIC, C2005. Online Edition. http://icd9.chrisendres.com/index.php?action=search&srchtext=995.81
- Roth D. L. & Coles E. M. (1995). "Battered woman syndrome: a conceptual analysis of its status vis a vis DSM-IV mental disorders". Medicine and Law. Vol. 14(7–8): pp. 641–658.
- WALKER, L. E. (2006), Battered Woman Syndrome. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1087: 142–157. doi:10.1196/annals.1385.023
- Walker, 1979.
- Walker, 1979
- Battered women as survivors: An alternative to treating learned helplessness. Gondolf, Edward W.; Fisher, Ellen R. Lexington, MA, England: Lexington Books/D. C. Heath and Com. (1988).
- Gondolf, Edward. "Service Barriers for Battered Women With Male Partners in Batterer Programs". J Interpers Violence February 2002 vol. 17 no. 2 217–227.
- Dutton, Mary Ann. "Critique of the 'Battered Woman Syndrome' Model". http://www.aaets.org/article138.htm, last visited 2011-05-13.
- Downs, Donald A. "Battered Woman Syndrome: Tool of Justice or False Hope in Defense Cases?" in Current Controversies on Family Violence. Eds. Donileen R. Loseke, Richard J. Gelles, and Mary M. Cavanaugh, Sage Publications, 2005.
- Rothenberg, Bess. "'We Don't have Time for Social Change' Cultural Compromise and the Battered Woman Syndrome". Gender & Society October 2003 vol. 17 no. 5 771-787.
- *Noh, Marianne. and Lo, Celia. "Medicalization of the Battered Woman: A Historical-Social Construction of the Battered Woman Syndrome" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta Hilton Hotel, Atlanta, GA (Aug 16, 2003) 2008-10-23. , last visited 2011-05-13.