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15 Conn. L. Rev. 121 (1982-1983)
The Admissibility of Expert Testimony on the Battered Woman Syndrome in Support of a Claim of Self-Defense

handle is hein.journals/conlr15 and id is 139 raw text is: THE ADMISSIBILITY OF EXPERT TESTIMONY ON THE
BATTERED WOMAN SYNDROME IN SUPPORT OF A
CLAIM OF SELF-DEFENSE
Many courts recently have considered whether to admit expert tes-
timony on the battered woman syndrome1 in support of a woman
defendant's claim that she acted in self-defense when she killed her
abusive husband or boyfriend. Proponents argue that the testimony is
necessary to explain the psychological characteristics unique to victims
of prolonged domestic violence and the current trend favors admission.
1. The battered woman syndrome is a psychosocial theory that identifies characteristics
common to women victimized in abusive relationships. It explains their psychological inability to
terminate the relationship and rebuts the myths that battered women either derive masochistic
pleasure from the beatings or deserve to be beaten because they have provoked their batterers.
Battered women-although from various social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds-typically are
socialized to accept a traditional male/female role distinction. They tend to have an extraordinary
dependence on men, a trait probably developed before they entered the battering relationship.
They also suffer from low self-esteem, which causes them to doubt their ability to succeed as
wives. Verbal abuse usually accompanies the beatings and contributes to their belief that they
must be doing something wrong to cause their mates to beat them. Yet case histories and studies
show that batterers lose their self-control because of internal reasons, often precipitated by exter-
nal events such as job stress.
The continuous beatings create a learned helplessness evidenced by extreme passivity, com-
pliance, and submissiveness. Motivation to avoid the beatings is reduced and the woman's pcep-
tion of her ability to succeed at even simple tasks is altered. Psychologist Lenore Walker first
labelled this learned helplessness theory, drawing analogies from electroshock experiments per-
formed on dogs. The dogs were repeatedly shocked at random intervals over extended periods of
time. Long after the shocks were stopped it was necessary to drag the dogs from their cages to
reinstill the desire to avoid future shocks. Battered women often require repeated draggings to
shelters and safe houses before they are able to terminate the relationship. Dr. Walker identified
three typical cycles in battering relationships: the tension building phase; the violent phase; and
the loving, contrite phase. During the third phase the woman's victimization is completed, the
bonds of the unusual symbiotic relationship are forged, and neither the battered woman nor the
batterer thinks survival possible without the other. This makes it very difficult for the woman to
see the cyclical and hopeless nature of the violence. See L WALKER, BATTERED VoMEN (1979).
For discussions of the dynamics of battering and why women often resort to homicide, see D.
MARTIN, BATTERED WivEs (1976); E. PIZZEY, SCREAM QUIELY OR THE NEIGH1ORS WILL HEAR
(1974); Eisenberg, Changes in the Law Affecting Battered Women: Past. Present and Future. 3
AM. J. TIAL ADvoc. 45 (1979); Comment, Battered Wives Who Kill: Double Standard Out of
Court, Single Standard In?. 2 LAw & HUM. BEHAV. 133 (1978)[hereinafter cited as Comment,
Double Standard]; Comment, The Battered Spouse Syndrome as a Defense to a Homicide
Charge under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, 26 ViLL. L REV. 105 (1980)[hereinafter cited as
Comment, Battered Spouse Syndrome].

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