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Posts Tagged ‘battered women’s syndrome’

The policy presentations continue! This week I heard my peers discuss sexsomnia, family mediation, and battered women’s syndrome. For this post I am going to focus on battered women’s syndrome.

I understand battered women’s syndrome, or BWS, as a condition that it is most commonly used as a defense for women, but which describes any person who enters a psychological state of mind which is characterized by depression and an inability to take any sort of independent action in order to escape from an abusive situation. Individuals are driven to this condition typically due to constant and severe intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, mental, economic, and spiritual abuse are all possible types of violence the individual could be experiencing).

As for the term ‘battered women’s syndrome’, I find myself wanting to use other terminology to describe the condition. Some people understand BWS as a subgroup of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I find myself drawn towards this terminology more than BWS, because I feel that BWS carries certain connotations with it: firstly it implies this condition only happens to women; secondly I feel that it carries a history of pathologization and medicalization of women for ‘womanly (read: crazy) conditions’; and finally the term ‘battered’, and more broadly the crime of ‘battery’, implies physical harm, when in fact a large part of BWS does not involve the physical, but is emotional, verbal, mental, spiritual, etc…

Last semester, in Working With Abused Women I, we looked at BWS and intimate partner violence. We looked at a question: If a woman kills her abusive partner, what type of sentence is she likely to receive compared to a man who commits femicide (woman-killing)? Tell us why you think this is so. I thought I might revisit my answer to this question, and add a few comments, some of which are more relevant to counselling

When looking at intimate partner violence and how it is handled by the legal system, there is a distinction in the way the law works for men and for women. Sheehy states that “in spite of our many legal advances, violence against women has not subsided in Canada because women’s vulnerability to male violence and our ability to harness law are inextricably linked to women’s social, economic, and political position in Canada, in relation to those who hold power” (473). Right off the bat we see that women’s and men’s access to legal rights are differentiated by our position in society (which can be further implicated by issues of race, class, citizenship status, ability…). We also need to seriously consider the historical context of the ways in which the judicial system has dictated women’s lives. The law was not created by women, for women, or in the interests of women, and in fact it was created without even considering women as persons. Specificially in Canada, we must acknowledge a history of colonization that led to the invisible and forced sterilization of Aboriginal women, whereby the Canadian government stood by and watched it happen.

When a woman kills her abusive partner, we find that women typically have two options: 1) state that she is suffering from Battered Women’s Syndrome, or 2) utilize the self-defense plea. From our course readings we learned that by using the Battered Women’s Syndrome, the woman has to prove she was “psychologically vulnerable”, and if she uses the self-defense plea, she has to have proof that she feared for her life, and tried other options to leave the abuser before she killed him. Why is this the case that women have to ‘pick their battles’ in explaining why they killed their intimate partners?

Trying to think about how I would provide support and counsel to a woman who is being charged with the murder of her male partner is a tough scenario. I am no lawyer, and could not counsel the woman in terms of what her plea should be, so I suppose my approach would be to provide psycho-educational support. First, I would check-in to see where the woman is at: is she is crisis mode? Does she have a support network? Does she feel counselling would benefit her in this situation? I would then provide her with a lot of validation and support. I would discuss the multiple ways that women cope with intimate partner violence, and that sometimes it seems the only way out is in fact to murder ones’ partner. I might provide the woman some history into the experiences of women who have gone through the court process with the BWS plea so that the woman has some idea of what to expect in her trial (should this be the plea she chooses to use).

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