Battered Woman Syndrome Law & Legal Definition


Battered woman syndrome is a criminal defense involving a pattern of psychological dependency among women caught in long-term relationships with abusive male partners. Over time, abuse produces an irrational mental state of "learned helplessness," limiting free choice and placing victims of abuse in a spiral of conflict that occasionally results in a violent and sometimes fatal response over which they have no rational control.

The traditional legal concept of self-defense is based on a contest of equals more typical of fights between males. The proponents of the defense argue criminal intent issues in the conventional standards of self-defense is inadequate to explain male-female conflicts. While the battered women syndrome defense has been argued successfully in many cases, it has been contested by forensic psychologists and legal scholars.