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Everything You Need To Know About Battered Woman Syndrome As A Legal Defence



Women have been the victim of domestic abuse for centuries. Between 1500 and 1800 it wasn’t just something that happened; it was expected that a husband beat his wife to correct their behavior. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that laws started to come in to make wife-beating illegal.

This led to a raft of changes in the law and status of women throughout the 19th century. But, it is still an ongoing battle. It’s estimated that one in six women still experience some form of domestic abuse. 

Understanding Battered Woman Syndrome

From the outside, it is simply wrong. But, women who are victims of domestic abuse often stay in the relationship. In 1979 Professor Lenore Walker detailed the reasons for this. Most men are extremely apologetic after beating their wives. This leads the women to forgive, hoping it will never happen again. As the cycle repeats, the woman will feel more and more helpless to control her husband’s actions. The result is described as ‘learned helplessness and leaves the women feeling there is no other option.

In effect, the mental state of the women is altered, and this is referred to as Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS).

It applies to any relationship where violence happens on a regular basis. The more it happens, the lower the woman’s self-esteem will be and the more they will feel dependent on their husband. 

In short, there is no possible hope of escaping the cycle. This issue is compounded by the common perception that men are stronger than women, effectively ensuring women feel hopeless.

Of course, like any living creature, push hard enough, and the victim will react. Most women will only push back when their husband is not physically threatening them. In some cases, this can result in killing the husband even though they weren’t fighting or being beaten at that time. 

On the face of it, this seems unprovoked and illegal. But, if you speak to a specialist in family law Sydney, you’ll find that BWS is a legal defense.

Provocation & The Law

Provocation effectively sums up losing control in the heat of the moment. If someone is pushed hard enough, they will react, and this can end in involuntary manslaughter. However, this approach is no longer valid in many states.

The truth is that men could use this to justify abuse and even killing their wives as they can argue they were provoked. Equally, as men are more likely to kill in the heat of the moment, provocation works in their favor more than women. After all, women tend to be more emotionally balanced. 

In other words, a provocation is rarely an acceptable form of defense in modern courts. This is actually a good thing for women, especially those that are victims of domestic abuse. 


It is difficult to argue that killing in self-defense is a crime. The bottom line is that a person must feel suitably threatened that their own course of action is to lash out. In effect, it’s a kill or be killed scenario.

Of course, this doesn’t specifically help someone with BWS, as women tend to tackle men when domestic abuse isn’t occurring.

However, self-defense has become a valid argument for those with BWS because the act of killing a husband may not seem spontaneous, but it is the result of a cumulation of violence. In effect, the tension has built to a point where the women see no other way out.

If a woman is only capable of defending herself when a man is being contrite and calm, then this is the time they will strike. But, it still remains a desperate action committed by someone with no other option. 

Does BWS Work As A Self Defence Argument

The first step will be to prove that the woman has BWS by cataloging the numerous violent incidents against her and that she had no other option available to her. This frequently allows the women to be found innocent of murder.

There are critics who argue the woman should have left the relationship or spoken to the authorities. But, in a truly abusive relationship, these options are fraught with danger and generally not seen as viable. 

In other words, there often seems no way out other than to tackle the husband when he is contrite. That’s what makes BWS a viable self-defense strategy. 

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