Battered Woman Syndrome
In Robert Agnew’s general strain theory, he talks about how strain and stress could cause an individual to commit crimes that they wouldn’t have committed without those circumstances. In his theory, he refers to negative affective states, which are the “anger, frustration, and adverse emotions that emerge in the wake of destructive social relationships”. It is these negative affective states that are produced by strain. Agnew acknowledges that strain can be caused by negative situations, such as abuse or neglect, family conflict, or stressful life events. These situations can all be found to be extremely prevalent in households where domestic violence occurs. According to this theory, the negative stimuli presented causes, in this case, the woman to feel angry, frustrated, disappointed, depressed, and fearful. These negative feelings, in turn, are outwardly expressed through violence. In this paper, we will look at battered woman syndrome as a theory that has stemmed from Robert Agnew’s general strain theory.
In her 1979 book “The Battered Woman”; Dr. Lenore Walker first came up with what is now know as battered woman syndrome. Put simply battered woman syndrome, or BWS as it is sometimes called, is a group of psychological symptoms that are easily recognized in women who have been physically, sexually, or psychologically assaulted by their domestic partner. According to Dr. Walker, “Battered woman syndrome presents evidence that the syndrome is part of a recognizable pattern of psychological symptoms called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) reported to be produced by repeated exposure to trauma such as the physical, sexual, and/or serious psychological assault experienced by battered women” (Gelles 133). Because battered woman syndrome is considered to be in the same category as PTSD, it does not have it’s own classification in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-third edition, also known as the DSM-III. Instead it is just classified along with post-traumatic stress disorder. The American Psychiatric Association gives five criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD using the DSM system,
“1. presence of a stressor that could cause a traumatic response (battering)
2.symptoms lasting for more than one month
3.measurable cognitive and memory changes
4.at least three measurable avoidance symptoms
5.at least two measurable arousal symptoms” (Gelles 138).
These five criterions are what doctors in the psychiatric field use to diagnose a woman with battered woman syndrome.
In some cases, a doctor’s diagnosis comes into play in the courtroom. In most cases a doctor’s testimony is used to give an idea about the woman’s state of mind when she committed the crime she is on trial for. An example would be when a battered woman commits a crime against her spouse, and claims that her husbands abuse was what caused her to commit the crime in the first place, and a doctors testimony is used to explain the psychological effects that the abuse has had on her state of mind. Abuse plays a major role when crimes are committed against a spouse. Dutton’s research has shown that, “Among women who are convicted of homicide against an intimate partner, a large percentage killed following physical, sexual, and psychological abuse toward them by their partner” (112). Judy Ann Laws Norman is an example of a woman who was driven to kill due to the abuse she suffered from her husband.
Judy Ann Laws Norman was married to John Thomas “J.T.” Norman for 25 years. He was an alcoholic who forced his wife to prostitute herself. She claims that if she did not bring home a minimum of $25 a day, he would beat her. When he beat her, he would use any and all objects he could find. Judy suffered many different forms of physical abuse at the hands of her husband. He used to put cigarettes out on her skin and throw food and drinks at her. In some cases, he would refuse to let her eat for days at a time, and at least once he smashed a glass in her face. Aside from these physical assaults, J.T. would often subject Judy to psychological torture. He would call her names like “dog” and “whore” on a regular basis. Sometimes he would force her to sleep on a concrete floor and also crouch down on the floor and eat pet food out of a bowl. J.T. also gave Judy reason to fear for her life. The records state, “Norman often stated to both the defendant and to others that he would kill the defendant. He also threatened to cut her heart out” (Gagne 55).