Intimate Partner Battering and Its Effects

It is essential for the judge or jury to understand how people who suffer domestic violence, usually women, respond to it. Without this understanding, the determination of whether violence actually occurred, or why a person who suffered abuse acted as the person did, could hamper the ability of a judge or jury to determine whether violence actually occurred.


1980’s: ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’

Beginning in the late 1980s, in various proceedings, both criminal, civil and in child custody cases, courts began to apply scientific approaches to help explain the actions of women who had suffered violence at the hands of a husband or someone close to them. The behavior of those who suffered violence was given a name by psychologist Lenore Walker: “battered woman syndrome,” which she described in 1989 as having elements of PTSD and learned helplessness.

1990’s: Our Society and Our Legal System Matures

In 1992, Evidence Code section 1107 was enacted in California. This statute allowed expert testimony in criminal cases regarding “battered women’s syndrome, including the physical, emotional or mental effects upon the beliefs, perceptions or behavior of domestic violence.” The purpose of Evidence Code section 1107 was to dispose of the issue of whether testimony on the subject was reliable; such evidence was to be admitted when relevant.

2000’s: ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ REPLACED BY ‘Intimate Partner Battering’

In 2005, the term “battered women’s syndrome” was replaced by the term “intimate partner battering and its effects” in Evidence Code section 1107 because the older term was confusing to juries and judges. The term was also criticized as demeaning to women for a number of reasons, including the fact that victims of domestic violence do not normally suffer from a pathological condition.


Dispelling Misconceptions About Battered Women

Intimate Partner BatteringIn response to arguments that testimony related to the effects of domestic violence on a witness should not be admitted, the California Supreme Court has noted expert testimony was relevant to a witness’s credibility because it would assist the jury “by dispelling many of the commonly held misconceptions about battered women.” It has also been used to explain the reluctance of a parent to report child molestation as well as in other cases where the subsequent behavior of a battered witness could be interpreted to cast doubt on that witness’s account of domestic violence.

Often, expert testimony is used to explain the behavior of a person attempts to minimize previously reported domestic violence or to change what happened. It is common for a number of reasons for persons who are battered, either emotionally or physically, to recant their allegations or change their stories. These witnesses may be afraid of reprisals, or worry about the economic impact of a criminal charge or how it would look to their friends and colleagues if a partner were publicly accused of committed domestic violence. Expert testimony is also used to explain the cycle of violence that is common in dysfunctional relationships.

Today, both in criminal cases and in civil contexts, including family law cases, experts are permitted to testify about domestic violence and its effects on the person who endured the violence. Having an expert to explain behaviors that could, at first, appear to undermine claims of violence, is invaluable.

Reach Out for Advice

As experienced San Diego family law attorneys, we are available to help with advice about domestic violence, and, if necessary, with action to obtain restraining orders, along with expulsion of the abuser from the home. You should not have to live in an environment in which you or your children are at risk of physical or emotional abuse.


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