By: Jennifer Francisco, Member-Candidate, J.D. Candidate, May 2020, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Over the years, there has been discussion as to whether the Battered Women Syndrome (“BWS”) should be included within the affirmative defense of self-defense. BWS is a defense implemented to protect women being physically and emotionally abused by their aggressor.

The Battered Women Syndrome has three cycles. The first is the abuse stage; this is where physical harm and emotional distress takes place. Next is the loving respite stage. During the loving respite stage, there is temporary remorse on the part of the batterer, which drives the victim back to their aggressor. At this point, victims feel that the aggressor has changed, bringing the aggressor and the victim closer together, which is why this tends to be one of the most dangerous stages. Finally, there is the Anticipation Stage also referred to as an Anxiety Building Stage. This is where the victim knows harm will occur again and is simply waiting for the abuse to take place.

Fear of threat of force has resulted in women taking justice into their own hands by retaliating against their aggressor by killing or attempting to kill their aggressive partner. It is for these reasons that the BWS was created. Scholars have argued that BWS does not fall under the umbrella of self-defense. Self-defense applies where an individual is facing an imminent threat of force. Since women do not know when exactly the attack is going to occur, the threat of force is not imminent. However, if a closer look is taken at the true meaning of imminence, it seems that BWS fits perfectly under the category of self-defense. Imminence refers to something being inevitable. Inevitable means that something is going to occur. Due to the BWS cycle, it is clear that during the third stage, the aggressor harming the victim again is just a matter of waiting for the attack to occur. Because of how the cycle works, it is clear that the harm will reoccur, making it so that threat of force is imminent.

Some may question why victims do not just leave their abusers. However, women experiencing the battered syndrome may have difficulty leaving their abusers. This is referred to as the idea of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness refers to the idea that although an individual may feel that women would have other options such as leaving the aggressor, learned helpless makes it so that women feel like they cannot leave. This feeling arises out of women feeling like they will not have the proper resources without the help of the aggressor.