American forensic psychologist, Lenore Walker, defines a battered woman as a woman who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behaviour by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do, without any concern for her rights.
What is the battered women syndrome?
The battered women syndrome (BWS) is a cycle of physical, mental or emotional abuse that usually incorporates the following three recurrent steps:
- Tension building stage (minor abuse)
- Acute battering stage (eruptions of violence)
- Loving respite stage (abuser begs for forgiveness with promises to change his behaviour)
This cycle is not present in all abusive relationships. For example, some men never apologise because they don’t think their behaviour is wrong but, if a woman experiences violence at least twice, Walker says she suffers from BWS.
Why don’t women in an abusive relationship just leave?
Battered women become psychologically dependent on their abuser. They develop survival instead of escape skills because they believe it will be too dangerous for them or their loved ones to leave, that they will not survive without the abuser, that they may loose their children etc. For example, they say ‘I have no means of support’ or ‘I have nowhere to go’.
She is constantly absorbed with whether the abuser is pleased or displeased and she becomes submissive to his demands. If he doesn’t harm her, she’s extremely grateful and believes he’s really a good person. Society, however, usually condemns battered women who bond with their abusive partners thinking they are either pathological or masochistic but this behaviour is, in fact, quite normal for someone who’s experiencing a life-threatening or captive situation.
What action can be taken?
The Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 makes it possible to obtain protection orders against abusive partners for physical, emotional, verbal, financial and psychological abuse – including stalking and harassment. Not only those married according to civil law are protected, but relationships between parents, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren as well as same-sex, domestic, common-law and customary partnerships and relationships perceived as romantic are also included.
If the abuser contravenes a protection order, the complainant can lay a charge with the police and the abuser will be arrested for committing a criminal offence.