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

G.R. No. 135981 People v. Genosa January 15, 2004

Facts:

Sometime in November 1995, after a heated argument between appellant Marivic and her husband, the former killed the latter. It was established, among others, that: a) the cause of death was the gunshot at the back of the victim’s head; and b) in different occasions prior to the killing, Marivic had been the subject of severe beatings inflicted by her husband. Appellant claimed Battered Woman Syndrome as a defense to exonerate her from criminal liability.

Issues:

  1. Whether or not appellant acted in self-defense and in defense of her fetus; and
  2. Whether or not treachery attended the killing of Ben Genosa.

Ruling:

  1. No. The Revised Penal Code provides the following requisites of self-defense, to wit: 1) unlawful aggression; 2) reasonable necessity of the means employed to prevent or repel it; and 3) lack of sufficient provocation on the part of the person defending himself. Unlawful aggression is the most essential element of self-defense. It presupposes actual, sudden and unexpected attack — or an imminent danger thereof — on the life or safety of a person. In the present case, and according to the testimony of Marivic herself, there was a sufficient time interval between the unlawful aggression of Ben and her fatal attack upon him. She had already been able to withdraw from his violent behavior and escape to their childrens bedroom. During that time, he apparently ceased his attack and went to bed. The reality or even the imminence of the danger he posed had ended altogether. He was no longer in a position that presented an actual threat on her life or safety.
  2. No. It is a rule that when a killing is preceded by an argument or a quarrel, treachery cannot be appreciated as a qualifying circumstance, because the deceased may be said to have been forewarned and to have anticipated aggression from the assailant. Moreover, in order to appreciate alevosia, the method of assault adopted by the aggressor must have been consciously and deliberately chosen for the specific purpose of accomplishing the unlawful act without risk from any defense that might be put up by the party attacked. There is no showing, though, that the present appellant intentionally chose a specific means of successfully attacking her husband without any risk to herself from any retaliatory act that he might make. To the contrary, it appears that the thought of using the gun occurred to her only at about the same moment when she decided to kill her batterer-spouse. In the absence of any convincing proof that she consciously and deliberately employed the method by which she committed the crime in order to ensure its execution, this Court resolves the doubt in her favor.

This case was one of its kind when decided in 2004. Admitting she killed her husband, herein appellant anchored her prayer for acquittal on a novel theory — the battered woman syndrome (BWS), which allegedly constitutes self-defense. The case could have been the first to use the syndrome as a self-defense had Marivic been able to convince the court that she was indeed a battered woman — and the ‘unlawful aggression’, which was wanting, would have been found to exist. This is the implication when the Supreme Court announced, thus: “Where the brutalized person is already suffering from BWS, further evidence of actual physical assault at the time of the killing is not required. Incidents of domestic battery usually have a predictable pattern. To require the battered person to await an obvious, deadly attack before she can defend her life would amount to sentencing her to murder by installment. Still, impending danger (based on the conduct of the victim in previous battering episodes) prior to the defendants use of deadly force must be shown. Threatening behavior or communication can satisfy the required imminence of danger. Considering such circumstances and the existence of BWS, self-defense may be appreciated.”