The Theories of Crime

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Theories of Crime   2.Feminist Criminology/Law:The criminal defence of “Battered Woman Syndrome” is founded on gendered stereotypes of helpless women. Discuss. Domestic violence and the result of continuous domestic violence against women is a multifaceted issue.

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Despite the obvious physical injuries that victims sustain, victims of domestic violence also suffer psychological issues that can vary considerably from minor anxiety and stress to debilitating mental illness. On occasion, victims retaliate due to the violence sustained. Criminal courts are now recognising a plausible excuse of this retaliation to domestic violence as the ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’. (NRC, 2014) However, this is also a controversial topic as courts including the lawyers, judges and jurors will have preconceived notions of women and gender stereotypes and the presentation of testimony towards battered women. In this essay I aim to define the Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS), the ‘helpless woman’ and how BWS is founded on the stereotypes of women. BWS was initially identified by psychologist, Lenore Walker as “a set of distinct psychological and behavioural symptoms that resulted from prolonged exposure to situations of intimate partner violence” (Walker 1984). Walker (1984) states that the emotional condition and mindset of a battered woman who has succumb to the cycle of prolonged partner violence is one of absolute helplessness. Furthermore, Walker (1984) states that the cycle of violence is often determined by the level and intensity of the violence. This cycle is therefore categorised in to three separate stages and are depicted below as: Stage 1 – Tension Building (Verbal and emotional abuse) Stage 2 – Acute Battering Incident (Physical violence and heightened sense of fear for the victim) Stage 3 – Loving Contrition (Abuser would attempt to convince victim of their intention to change) (Craven 2003) BWS is a manifestation of learned helplessness which derives itself from the perception of the ‘helpless woman’. Learned helplessness assists in explaining the battered person’s perceptions of the situation and why they do not flee from the abuser. The ‘helpless woman’ syndrome was an adapted theory by Walker from Martin Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness. Seligman used the theory to help explain how mental illness and subsequent vulnerability to inmate violence were associated with depression, low self esteem and helplessness. Walker (1984) utilised the base of this theory to explain how battered women also suffered similar mental conditions as a result of their battery. (Craven 2003) Seligman conducted a laboratory experiment on dogs which were continually shocked. Once given the ability to flee the torment the animals were unable to physically escape the painful situation. This helped Seligman argue that when sufferers of domestic violence are given the ability to escape it is apparent they develop distorted perceptions of their ability to alter their position.

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