More Than Victims: Battered Women, the Syndrome Society, and the Law

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 1, 1998 - Family & Relationships - 317 pages
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Battered women syndrome, unheard of several decades ago, is now the subject of heated debate in courtrooms across America. In "More than Victims, " Donald Downs offers a sympathetic and powerful analysis of the injustices behind the logic of battered women syndrome, ultimately revealing how that very logic harms those it is trying to protect.

Battered women syndrome proposes that battered women suffer from "learned helplessness, " a condition affecting the way these women think, feel, and behave. Downs argues that the syndrome's logic denies women their reason and will, reinforcing their victimization. Drawing on extensive research as well as on personal interviews with abused women and professionals in the field, he attempts to distinguish the syndrome from the reality of domestic abuse.

Downs shows that battered women often adopt heroic means of survival, retaining accurate, reasoned perceptions concerning the actions and intentions of their abusers. To portray battered women as lacking reason and will undermines otherwise valid self-defense claims and hurts women more generally. Courts that have relied on battered women syndrome in child custody cases, for example, have often deprived mothers of custody, declaring them incapable of responsible parenting.

Addressing our "syndrome society" more generally, Downs concludes that we can achieve justice without stripping victims of reason and personal responsibility, the very attributes that make citizenship possible. By taking into account specific situations and accurate perceptions of danger rather than psychological incapacity, battered women can find justice without being reduced to victims.

A persuasive account of howconstitutional freedom and individual justice can be threatened by current legal standards, this thorough yet accessible work presents a dramatic rethinking of the criminal justice system.

 

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Contents

The Syndrome Society Justice or Illegitimate Excuse?
3
The Rise of the Syndrome Society A New Perspective on Criminal Culpability
17
The Nature of Domestic Abuse
53
Theories of Battering Relationships
76
Positive Aspects BWS and the Narrative of Abuse in Law and Society
103
Legal Critiques of Battered Woman Syndrome
138
Syndromes and Political Theory The Twilight of Considered Judgment and Citizenship
182
A New Framework for Battered Women SelfDefense and the Necessity of the Situation
223
Notes
251
Index
301
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About the author (1998)

Donald Alexander Downs, an undergraduate at Cornell during the uprising, is the Alexander Meiklejohn Professor of Political Science, Law, and Journalism and the Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin Madison. His other books include More than Victims and Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus.

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