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Spouse Abuse - Essay Example

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Since 1984, when Dr. Lenore Walker developed and published a social and psychological framework to explain "why and how battered women kill their abusers" (Jacobs & Ogle 4), the traditional self-defense claim has been supplemented by the notion that victimized women have a special explanation for unlawful actions against their batterers…
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Spouse Abuse
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Download file to see previous pages Definition. Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) is a variation of the self-defense claim in assault and murder cases where a woman asserts an affirmative defense based on her psychological state as the result of a pattern of abuse by her batterer. BWS seeks to justify a woman's criminal conduct as excusable due to a diminished mental capacity combined with an understandably urgent need to end the abuse.
Standard Self-Defense Claim. In a traditional self-defense claim, the accused has the burden to show that they were in fear for their life, in imminent danger of physical harm, and had no recourse but to respond with reasonable, even deadly, force. This differs from BWS in that the former is based upon the facts surrounding a single event and the latter is predicated upon a psychological condition caused by extended abuse. In BWS, the accused is not required to demonstrate that, at the moment of the criminal activity, she was in immediate danger. Her proactive violence against her batterer, which would otherwise be inconsistent with the perilous situation-derived self-defense claim, does not have to be undertaken at the moment of suffering actual harm.
Argument for BWS. A victim of habitual assaults over the course of time is viewed in a sympathetic light by a judge or jury. While her actions may not be within the letter of the law, they are understandable when presented as the result of a diminished psychological state brought on by repeated abuse. Any human being, be they judge or juror, can identify with the drive to commit a violent act to escape an abusive situation. No reasonable person wants to punish a woman who has endured physical abuse over the course of months or years just because she chose to end that abuse by assaulting her attacker when he was asleep, for example, and not posing an immediate danger to her at the moment. Surely, if given the chance, he would likely pose a threat in the future and her actions seem appropriate.
Argument against BWS. Where BWS is flawed as a legal defense is within the scope of its analysis and the absence of empirical diagnosis. A BWS defense focuses solely on the state of mind of the abuse victim where she, while not in imminent danger, chooses to engage in an otherwise criminal act. This requires a judge or jury to suspend consideration of all the facts of the matter, as well as any available non-violent remedies to an abused woman, and accept that her state of mind would not permit her to escape the situation while it simultaneously allowed her to attack her attacker when he wasn't being abusive. Further, there is no definitive medical or psychological protocol to determine BWS, especially in self-reporters of abuse, making it impossible to obtain a sure diagnosis of the condition that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
My Position. I believe the BWS is a valid defense. Even though it may be hard to diagnose as a psychological impairment, the fact is that any woman who has endured sustained physical abuse could exercise a traditional self-defense claim if she acted in the moment. The fact that she chose to wait until she was not being attacked before taking action does not mitigate the obvious; she would be battered again and the state of mind created by continued abuse should be considered when she comes before a court of law. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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