Battered Women’s Syndrome and Domestic Violence: Abusive Relationship Dynamics and How To Find Freedom

Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted; and one in every six women has been raped in her lifetime. Approximately two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim—often by her partner or a loved one. According to Representative Mark Green (R, Wisconsin), “If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms, and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”

It is estimated that 60% of sexual assaults are not report to the police.

Or not until there is a trial for something else, that is—like the Battered Women ending the life of her batterer and finding herself up for murder, risking a 25-to-Life sentence.


According to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, BWS is “a pattern of signs and symptoms, such as fear and a perceived inability to escape, appearing in women who are physically and mentally abused over an extended period by a husband or other dominant individual."

While it remains a controversial topic for the time being, as it is used in court proceedings to justify even murder against a batterer, Battered Women’s Syndrome [BWS], discovered by the research of Dr. Lenore E. Walker, “describe[s] the mindset and emotional state of a battered woman […] who has experienced at least two complete battering cycles as described in dating and domestic violence.” Associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a the hallmark trait of BWS, which causes women to stay have intrusive flashbacks, but remain in dangerous relationships for a plethora of reasons, including still being positively reinforced by the “honeymoon” phase of the battering cycle; economic dependence upon the batterer; belief that they can keep the peace; fear of danger if she were to leaves; threats made by the batterer to hurt her or her children if she left; loss of self-esteem; and depression and loss of psychology energy necessary to leave.” Additionally, BWS are too often afflicted with toxic self-shaming and –blaming, and thus often believe the violence is her fault (which is commonly reinforced by the batterer as a means of garnering and retaining power and control); and express a markedly inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere. She typically fears, and frequently justly so, for her life and that of her children, and is also afflicted with the irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

As well as placing women in highly precarious psychiatric and psychological positions, including a greatly amplified perception of an external locus of control, BWS sufferers are also commonly the victims—and ultimately survivors—of sexual assault. The consequences of such a harrowing experience, frequently occurring ad naseum in the relationships, leaves the sufferer open for heightened possibilities of developing PTSD (including horrifying flashbacks), substance abuse, self injury/self-harm, Stockholm Syndrome (i.e., a victim’s emotion “bonding” with their capturer on a subconsciously and involuntary basis; depression; sleep disorders; eating disorders, Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID); Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD); and suicide.

Battered Women’s Syndrome was predicated on Dr. Martin Seligaman’s theory of “learned helplessness”— the view that clinical depression and related mental illnesses may be resultant of perceived or real absence of control over the outcome of a situation. Animal experiments have been exceedingly telling, as they showed a clear pattern among those tested.* Firstly, an animal is repeatedly hurt by an adverse stimulus from which is cannot escape, until, ultimately, the animal will stop trying to escape in order to avoid the pain, and the respective behavior illuminated that the animal then behaved as if its situation was utterly hopeless to transcend. Even when additional opportunities for escape were presented, this learned helplessness prevented the animals from taken action. The sole coping mechanism the animals used was to become exceptionally stoic in character, and tolerate the extreme discomfort, resisting the expenditure of energy on a perceived lost cause. Frighteningly, humans also have the capacity to become a victim of learned helplessness by observation. This places children in homes were violence is occurring at violent and grave disadvantage; and helps us better understand why cycles of violence are remarkably prevalent. It is another learned trait of power and control, or of victimhood, and plays out in a vast quantity of instances. Intervention into this matter is absolutely as critical as it gets—lets we risk having a society that teaches out youth to either inflict fear or being chewed to death by it. After all, “fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” (G. K. Chesterton)

Every year in the United States, between one and two million are beaten by their partners. Over time, the episodes increase in frequency and severity; and as a means of acquiring power, the beater will switch his (though Domestic Violence affects men as well, it is most prevalent for women, hence my choice of the feminine pronoun) attitude from one of tender loving to acute violence, thus evoking the “honeymoon” phase feelings to give his partner false hope and another “reason” to stay. His anger is typically justified by placing the blame on the woman, classifying the shouting, insults, and beatings as in her best interest; that he is “teaching her a lesson” or “showing her how to act” or stating she “made me do it.” The violence is very often coupled with myriad apologies and promises to change, which is, at root, simply another way of employing deceptive power, and claiming complete control.

Sadly, these men are routinely victims of violence themselves, as the majority of batterers grew up in a household where all classes of abuse took place on a regular basis; and thus such traits are highly likely to be transferred via continual observation. There are programs available, such as that offered by Safe Horizon (Domestic Violence Accountability Program/DVAP), which is an educational program for domestic violence perpetrators; it is most often for court-mandated for men to engage in the 26-week program. According to Safe Horizon, “DVAP’s course includes information about the historical, social, and cultural aspect of domestic violence with an emphasis on accountability and personal choice. This is because men’s abuse of their female partner’s is rooted in history, laws and cultures that have entitled men to act abusively and violently toward women. Men’s abuse against their female partners will stop when the entire community recognizes domestic violence as a human rights violation and a social justice issue, rather than as an individual mental health or relational problem.” Still, batterers are actively choosing to engage in brutally violence and deliberately manipulative violence—and they have to make the serious choice to stop.

What Can I Do For a Loved One Who Is A Victim Of Domestic Violence?

• Learn the signs of domestic abuse and the dynamics of Battered Women’s Syndrome. It is helpful to carefully examine the way the batterer and the battered interact. The abuser may appear kind in person in order to hide his behavior, which allows him to continue it—but do not fall for this staged attitude. Listen carefully: the batterer may be controlling and coercive, answer questions for the woman his is abusing, while she remains quiet and very passive. She may even show outward signs of depression and other behavioral health illnesses (i.e., constant crying; poor eye contact; flat affect; chronic fatigue, anxiety; increase in the use of alcohol or drugs; and suicidal ideation and/or planning).
• Injury types most commonly seen in domestic violence injuries (though they may be blamed on something else to disguise the abuse) include Tympanic membrane (eardrum) rupture; rectal or genital injury; facial scrapes, bruises, cuts, or fractures; neck scrapes or bruises; abdominal cuts or bruises; teeth loose or broken; head scrapes or bruises; body scrapes or bruises; arm scrapes or bruises; cigarette burns; bite marks; rope burns’ welts with the outline of a recognizable weapon (often a belt or even finger/handprints). Serious and repeated injuries to the head and neck account for approximately 50% of abusive injuries.
• Constant delays or outright refusal to seek medical attention for injuries may indicate either the victim’s reluctance to involve doctors or her inability/fear to leave home to seek needed care.
• Your friend may deny what is happening to her, but you must NEVER remain silent and NEVER evoke judgmental language or feelings (i.e., “Why don’t you just leave?” is a wildly unhelpful question, and show a wealth of ignorance regarding domestic violence, and will not help your friend open up). Try to persuade her to seek help because she deserves it, and if applicable, her children deserve it.
• ALWAYS BE THERE FOR HER. This may mean opening your home as a temporary safe house; saving money in case she needs funds to leave her house in an emergency; stay in daily contact. Let her know you love her and support her, and understand how complicated and frightening this must be for her. Help her diverse a personalized safety plan;
• If a period of time passes—and of course it is better to air on the side of caution—that you do not hear from her, you absolutely must contact the police.

I am a victim of Domestic Violence and I want to leave, but I am terrified. What can I do to better ensure my safety?

• Plan which doors and windows can provide for quick exit routes if immediate escape becomes essential. Also, establish a meeting place with a trusted friend beforehand and go there immediately. In case you need someone to call the police for you but are unsafe saying so because he is in the home, pick a key word that will alert your friend to the emergency.
• YOU CAN DO THIS! Many other women have successfully left their batterers, and were able to live the beautiful, loving life they truly desire and deserve. The change is likely to feel incredibly overwhelming, but remember that in the long run, your life can beyond a doubt be filled with joy, love, and safety. To make a hard thing a bit easier, here is a list of items you should have together so you can leave when essential. Perhaps you can make your exit when he is at work or sleeping—or maybe a quick escape is necessary. Again: YOU CAN DO THIS!
o Identification for you and your children (i.e., passport, driver’s license, green card, birth certificate);
o Any important documents (i.e., school and health records, insurance policies, car titles, mortgage papers, marriage license);
o Court documents (i.e., protective orders, divorce, custody papers);
o Supply of prescription medication, or barring that, a list with medications and dosages;
o Clothing, toys, and comfort items for you and your children;
o Extra sets of car and house keys;
o Telephone numbers and addresses of family, friends, and community resources (i.e., Safe Houses and Battered Women’s Shelters);
o Money, checkbook, and debt/credit cards;
o Anything else you know you will need;
o Once you are out of harm’s way, get yourself something to congratulate your bravery and self-love. You deserve it!

And never, ever forget: you are not merely a victim. YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!

US: National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224

US: Gay and Lesbian National Hotline: 1-888-THE-GLHN

US: Go online to the Family Violence Prevention Fund and click on “Getting Help” at the bottom of the page. This will help you locate a shelter in your area. You can also call 1-800-799-SAFE to find out how to contact a family violence program in your area.

• Canada: You can find assistance at Shelter Net. For immediate help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-363-9010.

UK: You can find information and help from the Domestic Violence Helpline; or call for urgently needed assistance at 0808 2000 247. 

*I do not support animal testing in multitudinous cases, and only when it I critically imperative. For example, I understand its use during the development and evaluation of new, essential medications and surgical procedures, as it is a requisite learning and safe precaution necessitated by both the studies themselves, and required for approval by the FDA. Animal testing for products such as cosmetics (i.e., rabbits used to test products such as nail polish, hair dye, shampoos, and even air fresheners and foodstuffs because the animals have less tear flow than other animals) is heinous, unnecessary, and will hopefully be eradicated quite soon. Often employed worldwide (i.e., 1/3 of the time) is the violent LD-50 (a.k.a “Lethal Dose 50%”), in which 50% of the test animal population is killed. For products not tested on animals, look for a small rabbit symbol on the bottle. And they’re usually better for you and quite high quality as well, as they are not filled with chemicals! Some popular brands are Avalon Organics, Kiss My Face, Nature’s Gate, and Jason Natural.