When is battered woman syndrome said to exist?

BTS is characterized by the so-called cycle of violence, which has three phases: (1) the tension-building phase; (2) the acute battering incident; and (3) the tranquil, loving (or, at least, nonviolent) phase.

During the tension-building phase, minor battering occurs — it could be verbal or slight physical abuse or another form of hostile behavior. The woman usually tries to pacify the batterer through a show of kind, nurturing behavior; or by simply staying out of his way. What actually happens is that she allows herself to be abused in ways that, to her, are comparatively minor. All she wants is to prevent the escalation of the violence exhibited by the batterer. This wish, however, proves to be double-edged, because her placatory and passive behavior legitimizes his belief that he has the right to abuse her in the first place.

However, the techniques adopted by the woman in her effort to placate him are not usually successful, and the verbal and/or physical abuse worsens. Each partner senses the imminent loss of control and the growing tension and despair. Exhausted from the persistent stress, the battered woman soon withdraws emotionally. But the more she becomes emotionally unavailable, the more the batterer becomes angry, oppressive and abusive. Often, at some unpredictable point, the violence spirals out of control and leads to an acute battering incident.

The acute battering incident is said to be characterized by brutality, destructiveness and, sometimes, death. The battered woman deems this incident as unpredictable, yet also inevitable. During this phase, she has no control; only the batterer may put an end to the violence. Its nature can be as unpredictable as the time of its explosion, and so are his reasons for ending it. The battered woman usually realizes that she cannot reason with him, and that resistance would only exacerbate her condition.

At this stage, she has a sense of detachment from the attack and the terrible pain, although she may later clearly remember every detail. Her apparent passivity in the face of acute violence may be rationalized thus: the batterer is almost always much stronger physically, and she knows from her past painful experience that it is futile to fight back. Acute battering incidents are often very savage and out of control, such that innocent bystanders or intervenors are likely to get hurt.

The final phase of the cycle of violence begins when the acute battering incident ends. During this tranquil period, the couple experience profound relief. On the one hand, the batterer may show a tender and nurturing behavior towards his partner. He knows that he has been viciously cruel and tries to make up for it, begging for her forgiveness and promising never to beat her again. On the other hand, the battered woman also tries to convince herself that the battery will never happen again; that her partner will change for the better; and that this good, gentle and caring man is the real person whom she loves.

A battered woman usually believes that she is the sole anchor of the emotional stability of the batterer. Sensing his isolation and despair, she feels responsible for his well-being. The truth, though, is that the chances of his reforming, or seeking or receiving professional help, are very slim, especially if she remains with him. Generally, only after she leaves him does he seek professional help as a way of getting her back. Yet, it is in this phase of remorseful reconciliation that she is most thoroughly tormented psychologically.

The illusion of absolute interdependency is well-entrenched in a battered womans psyche. In this phase, she and her batterer are indeed emotionally dependent on each other — she for his nurturant behavior, he for her forgiveness. Underneath this miserable cycle of tension, violence and forgiveness, each partner may believe that it is better to die than to be separated. Neither one may really feel independent, capable of functioning without the other.

Why Marivic Genosa is not a battered woman

The defense fell short of proving all three phases of the cycle of violence supposedly characterizing the relationship of Ben and Marivic Genosa. No doubt there were acute battering incidents. In relating to the court a quo how the fatal incident that led to the death of Ben started, Marivic perfectly described the tension-building phase of the cycle. She was able to explain in adequate detail the typical characteristics of this stage. However, that single incident does not prove the existence of the syndrome. In other words, she failed to prove that in at least another battering episode in the past, she had gone through a similar pattern.

How did the tension between the partners usually arise or build up prior to acute battering? How did Marivic normally respond to Ben’s relatively minor abuses? What means did she employ to try to prevent the situation from developing into the next (more violent) stage?

Neither did appellant proffer sufficient evidence in regard to the third phase of the cycle. She simply mentioned that she would usually run away to her mother’s or father’s house; that Ben would seek her out, ask for her forgiveness and promise to change; and that believing his words, she would return to their common abode.

Did she ever feel that she provoked the violent incidents between her and her spouse? Did she believe that she was the only hope for Ben to reform? And that she was the sole support of his emotional stability and well-being? Conversely, how dependent was she on him? Did she feel helpless and trapped in their relationship? Did both of them regard death as preferable to separation?

In sum, the defense failed to elicit from appellant herself her factual experiences and thoughts that would clearly and fully demonstrate the essential characteristics of the syndrome. – People v. Genosa

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