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Battered women’s syndrome is defined as a type of post-traumatic stress that describes those individuals who have been the victims of severe and persistent domestic violence (Downs, 1996).According to Walker (1999), battered woman syndrome is not a gender specific issue, but can affect men and children. When an individual undergoes persistent domestic violence, he or she is likely to develop post-traumatic stress which is specifically called battered woman syndrome. Such individuals who undergo this type of syndrome have an increased likelihood of committing crimes such as murder (Downs, 1996). However, once an offender is proved suffering from the battered woman syndrome, the battered woman defense may be used in court to show that the offender cannot stand trial (Russell, 2010). However, this will only be applicable when the offender commits a crime when he or she is suffering from the battered woman syndrome (Russell, 2010). Currently, the existence of the battered woman syndrome cannot be classified in medical terms. The discussion will be against the legitimacy of the battered woman defense.
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Against the legitimacy of the battered woman defense
A person who is persistently abused by his or her partner is likely to become depressed or unable to make appropriate decisions which will allow him or her to avoid the daily abuses (Downs, 1996). Most of the individuals suffering from the syndrome are unable to make informed decisions because of the psychological or mental disorder. Such individuals may develop very low self-esteem as they sometimes believe that it is their fault to be battered (Walker, 1999). In some cases, individuals suffering from the battered woman syndrome become abusive or aggressive to other people who try to assist them to get out of their abuser’s hands (Downs, 1996). The law refers to this syndrome as a psychological condition, but it has not been accepted that the battered woman defense can be used to show that an offender cannot stand trial (Russell, 2010).
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The courts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and United Kingdom have accepted the growing and extensive body of research demonstrating that the battered individuals can defend themselves by using force against their abuser or kill them because of the severe situations they find themselves in (Russell, 2010). Such individuals commit crimes while they make efforts to free themselves from their abusers. Even if battered woman syndrome has not been considered a legal defense, it may legally represent reduced responsibility, provocation, self-defense, and insanity (Downs, 1996). Investigations have been done to determine usefulness and validity of battered woman defense. The practicability battered woman defense has been rejected by courts (Russell, 2010).
A good example of a case that involved battered woman syndrome in 2003 includes R v Charlton (Gurnham, 2009). Charlton kept abusing both his wife and daughter sexually as well as battering them on a daily basis (Gurnham, 2009). The woman killed her controlling, obsessive, and jealous partner as his hands were held together by handcuffs (Gurnham, 2009). She was found guilty of her partner’s death and was therefore incarcerated for five years. However, the prison term was reduced by two and half years because the court found that the man used to threaten as well as abuse the defendant and her daughter severely (Gurnham, 2009). Therefore, the threats created fear within the defendant for her own safety and her daughter. As a result of the fear for safety, the defendant made a decision do away with her partner by killing him (Gurnham, 2009).
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There has been a debate on whether or not battered woman defense will be used in court to determine whether those offenders who suffer from battered women syndrome can stand trial or not. Individuals with battered woman syndrome can commit crimes such as murder, because of reduced responsibility, provocation, self-defense, and insanity. An offender can only be considered as not able to stand trial if he or she is insane because insane people may do things out of their conscious. All the other triggers such as provocation, reduced responsibility, and self defense cannot be used as defense in the court.