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Battered Woman Syndrome

In 1998, Men's Centre North Shore made a Submission to the Select Committee on the proposed Social Security (Conjugal Status) Amendment Bill. Chairman Mark Rowley wrote: Activist Lenore Walker's original conception [of BWS], deeply flawed as it was, and is, has now become nothing more than a political and legal football, used in various ways and for various purposes for different ends... The authors of one law review are quite clear: "The use of syndrome evidence has served only to solidify some of the most archaic and destructive stereotypes about women who kill their batterers. [We] conclude that battered women syndrome expert testimony will fall into disuse as courts come to appreciate that it lacks any basis in valid science, and proponents come to realise that it is inimical to their political cause."

COSA also made a submission objecting to the syndrome are on both scientific and ethical grounds. The concept of battered woman syndrome was invented by Lenore Walker in 1979. She hypothesised that women living in violent relationships suffer a cycle of violence and experience learned helplessness which prevents them from leaving the relationship. The theory is based on the observations of this sole researcher and subsequent research has not found any empirical basis for her claim. 'Battered woman syndrome' is a poorly substantiated hypothesis which has not been corroborated by serious rigorous scientific testing. 'Battered woman syndrome' does not meet the Daubert test for scientific reliability in the United States law courts. Entering and endorsing the theory of 'battered woman syndrome' in our legislation undermines the principles of the neutrality of justice, equality before the law and individual autonomy. 

The Law Commission's Preliminary Paper 41 (published in 2000) is on Battered Women's Syndrome. It is available from the Law Commission web site as a pdf document. Go to:

Abused wife cleared on murder charge A Whangarei woman has been found not guilty of murdering her husband by stabbing him in the heart with a kitchen knife. The defence maintained Stephens was acting in self defence and was suffering from battered woman's syndrome, following continued abuse by Mr Stephens. During the eight days of evidence, the jury heard from psychologist Gail Ratcliffe who said, in her view, Stephens had been living in a battering relationship with her husband. Stephens suffered from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of that relationship, Dr Ratcliffe said. INL (link),  Herald (link) 24th April 2002.

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