Understanding the battered woman syndrome defense

On behalf of Brian D. Roman, Attorney at Law on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.

Massachusetts has adopted a very proactive approach towards minimizing domestic violence throughout the Commonwealth. As an unintended consequence, some well-intentioned police who respond to domestic violence complaints will simply arrest both parties in situations where it is impossible to identify the abuser.

A good example of this might be a couple who poured the contents of their beverages onto each other after having a verbal altercation. With no witnesses to the incident, nor any clear signs of cuts or bruises, police will likely arrest both parties.

If something similar has happened to you, there are a few things you should know about battered woman syndrome. BWS first attained notoriety in the 1970s as a way to explain a victim's behavior in intimate relationships involving domestic violence. One of the biggest concepts to come out of that research was the notion that a victim of BWS could potentially act violently against their abuser, even in situations where they may not have been in imminent danger of physical harm.

If you are currently facing domestic violence charges this can be important to you for several reasons. The person alleging to be a victim of BWS may use that defense as a way to mitigate domestic violence charges of their own. For example, a spouse may argue that a crime they committed against you was inspired by a pattern of previous abuse that you allegedly committed against them.

You need to know that the BWS defense has been previously used in Massachusetts. According to one expert, this type of defense works best in situations where an alleged abuser has violated previous restraining orders. This is why retaining an attorney experienced in Massachusetts domestic violence law can sometimes prove invaluable. An attorney can develop a strategy to help you challenge assertions of BWS. An attorney can also provide you with other viable defensive arguments based on the circumstances of your particular case.

Source: Cornell University Law School - Social Science and Law, "Battered Woman Syndrome," Michelle Strucke, Kate Hajjar, accessed July 07, 2015