PSC 153 Lecture Notes - Lecture 10: American Psychiatric Association, Dsm-5, Learned Helplessness

35 views3 pages
4 Nov 2016
of 3
PSC 153 Lecture 10 Victimization: Syndromes in Court
Syndrome cluster of related symptoms that lead to significant dysfunction in normal
Usually used in clinical settings
mental disorders syndromes characterized by significant disturbance in cognition,
emotion, or behavior
Sometimes used to explain the actions of people involved in the legal system refers to
a set of psychological/emotional reactions to specific events
Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS)
Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS)
DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric
now in 5th edition
Commendable effort but: only reflects general acceptance in the field, diagnoses
still rely on subjective interpretation, work in progress
Neither BWS nor RTS is in the DSM-5 but sexual violence is explicitly included
among traumatic events that can cause PTSD
Battered Woman Syndrome
How common is physical abuse in intimate relationships?
Usually occurs in private and kept secret, so difficult to assess
Estimates: 20% of women vs. 7% of men abused by their partner
Men more likely to seriously injure or kill
Most cases ending in court feature male-against-female violence
Women more likely to report abuse (23% vs. 7%)
How does an abusive relationship play out?
Three-phase cycle of abuse (Walker, 1979)
Phase 1: Tension building increased tension, anger, blaming, arguing
Phase 2: Acute battering battering-hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, use of
objects or weapons, sexual abuse, verbal threats and abuse
Phase 3: Contrition calm stage (this stage may decrease over time), partner may
deny violence, say he or she was drunk, say he or she is sorry and promise it will
never happen again
What are the consequences of physical abuse in intimate relationships?
Battered Woman Syndrome BWS (Walker, 1979)
Intrusive recollection of trauma(s)
High levels of anxiety
Avoidance behavior and emotional numbing
find more resources at
find more resources at
Body image distortions
Sexual intimacy issues
Hypervigilance about abusers behavior
Shame and social isolation increased dependency on abuser
Learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975) learned belief and expectation that ones
negative outcomes do NOT depend on their actions the world is an
uncontrollable/unpredictable and therefore unpleasant place, leads to behavioral and
physical consequences, model for the development of depression
BWS and Legal System
BWS brought forward in cases of defendants who killed their partner after repeated
Can argue self-defense but must show: imminent bodily harm, reasonable and
proportional use of force, no alternative venue of escape
Jurors negatively inclined to acquit Why didnt she just leave?
BWS Critical Evaluation
Positive Effect on Legal System raised awareness, spurred research, exposed
limitations of self-defense doctrine
Limitations methodological flaws in original research, underestimates variability in
BWS experience and lacks standard definition, focus on mind of the victim might draw
attention away from the real problem (the abuser)
Possible Solution Switch focus away from “syndrome” by educating about
experience and psychological effects of abuse
Rape Trauma Syndrome
RTS Burgess and Holmstrom, 1974 cluster of symptoms shown by rape victims
Acute Crisis Phase initial recovery phase lasting at least a few weeks
Physical symptoms insomnia, loss of appetite, numbness
Severe emotional disturbance fear, shame, depression
Impaired intellectual functioning victims seem dazed, confused, in shock
Reorganization Phase Long process of recovery
Continued anxiety, depression, self-blame
Disturbed social and sexual relationships
25% of victims never recover
RTS and the Legal System
RTS usually brought forward in sexual assault cases typically about consent
Expert testimony is rarely allowed but can educate jurors about the reactions of
sexual assault victims might be unexpected and counterintuitive, double-edged
find more resources at
find more resources at
Expert testimony is often necessary to dispel widespread misconceptions about
sexual assault it is uncommon 1 in 4 female college students are sexually
assaulted, when women say no, they dont really mean it NO MEANS NO, it
typically involves a stranger only 15% of the time!
find more resources at
find more resources at