Graduation Year

Spring 2011

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Kenneth Miller

Reader 2

Daniel Krauss

Rights Information

© 2011 Meredith Doyle


Dr. Lenore Walker developed battered woman syndrome to address the issue of domestic violence and to give battered women a defense in situations in which they kill their abusive partners when they are not overtly threatening them. Self-defense law is based on male on male combat. Women are less able to protect themselves in an attack by a man, and so they may preemptively attack their sleeping partners to avoid a situation in which they cannot adequately protect themselves. Battered woman syndrome explains why these battered women act in a way that is irrational to a non-battered person. Walker's theory of learned helplessness explains why the woman does not leave the abusive relationship, and the cycle of violence theory explains why she perceives an imminent threat. Battered woman syndrome is problematic in its legal application because of problems with its scientific validity and reliability. It also furthers gender stereotypes and blurs the line between a justification and an excuse defense. While, Dr. Walker's intentions were good, battered woman syndrome is inadequate. Women's difference from men still have to be acknowledged in cases in which battered women kill their husband's, but social agency framework is a more effective way to acknowledge gender differences. This framework takes into account social circumstances that would explain a woman's actions rather than including pathology. This would explain why the woman did not leave an abusive relationship. To avoid the pathology of BWS while explaining why the woman felt an imminent threat, the defense can turn to a pattern of abuse that helps her reasonably recognize when violence is likely.