East Asian Arch Psychiatry 2013;23:30


The Battered Woman Syndrome: 3rd edition

Editor: Lenore E. A. Walker
Springer Publishing Company, LLC.
US$51.70 (pb); pp488; ISBN 978-0-8261-4315-0

pdf Full Paper in PDF

Violence against women and girls causes pain, disability, and death to an untold number of individuals every day, in every country in the world. Battered woman syndrome (BWS) was first used in the title to a US National Institute of Mental Health research grant in 1977. Since the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980, BWS has been used in the psychological literature as a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder. Walker’s pathfinder book The Battered Woman Syndrome has provided a state-of-the- art perspective on the field of domestic violence for the last 30 years.

This concept-driven book is divided into 2 sections. The first section, comprising the initial 8 chapters, discusses general topics relating to BWS, including the definition and description of domestic violence, risk assessment, and sexuality issues. In the second section, special topics focus on attachment issues for battered women and the men who batter them, substance abuse and addiction, women in prison, and battered women who kill their abusive partners in self-defence, and the Survival Therapy Empowerment Program which helps women better understand how the violence has impacted on their lives.

The goal of this third edition of this seminal text has been to amalgamate newer scientific data with the literature on domestic violence. Authors describe several types of abusers: those who batter in order to get power and control, mentally ill people (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, substance use) who batter, and antisocial personality disordered abusers (portrayed as either ‘pit bulls’ or ‘cobras’). Structural changes in the midbrain causing autonomic failure and ‘cell memories’ are put forward to explain the aetiology of violence and aggression. Learned helplessness, learned optimism, and sex role socialisation are well described to explain how they maintain BWS. Psychoactive substance abuse in the context of BWS is also discussed. The connection between violence against women, violence against children, violence against the elderly, and street violence is introduced in this edition. It also includes a focus on culture and ethnicity, including research on African and Caribbean American women in a later chapter. This third edition presents data generated from the newly modified Battered Woman Syndrome Questionnaire. There is a singular mention of lesbian and gay relationships in the context of BWS which is interesting. The impact of physical abuse reported in the women’s childhood is examined in a critical manner. Although claimed in the book that violence does not come from provocation caused by vexatious personality traits of battered women, clinicians may find this not entirely fit with their own experience. There are also a few instances in the book where feminist explanations for events are provided which some may see as redundant.

The book paints a very dismal picture of efforts to help offenders stop their abusive behaviour in batterer treatment programmes. It discusses the social and interpersonal aetiology of BWS (e.g. efforts to reduce perceived relationship factors such as educational difference, attitudes towards women’s role, insecurity on the part of the men, etc.) as an aid to prevent violence. The authors highlight how men learn to use violence, what maintains it despite multiple consequences, and how to help them unlearn this behaviour. They provide an excellent outline of intervention and prevention programmes for domestic violence. The editor uses the brilliant analogy of prevention programmes for the eradication of malaria to describe the goal of necessary changes in social conditions that breed, facilitate, and maintain violence against women. It is a goal worthy of the attention of all who read this book.

Overall, this issue is an excellent introduction to the origins of domestic violence and brings together a large amount of recent work in a readable and critical manner. Notwithstanding, this field is relatively ignored by most clinicians. This book empowers readers to actively and sensitively engage in the multidisciplinary treatment of violence against women and girls, and is, in fact, a pleasure to read. We would recommend this book to all professionals involved in the social sciences, including policy-makers and advocates. It is ideal for those who want to know what is new in the science and treatment of BWS in an easy-to- read and jargon-free format.

Partha Sarathi Biswas, MD, DPM (email: drparthas@rocketmail.com)
Department of Psychiatry, Ranchi Institute of Neuro- Psychiatry and Allied Sciences, Kanke, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India
Devosri Sen, MSc, PGD (Rehabilitation Psychology)
Department of Clinical Psychology, Central Institute of Psychiatry, Kanke, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India
Jayati Simlai, MD
Department of Psychiatry, Ranchi Institute of Neuro- Psychiatry and Allied Sciences, Ranchi, Jharkhand, India

View My Stats