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Battered person syndrome
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 T74.1
ICD-9 995.81

Battered person syndrome is a physical and psychological condition that is classified as ICD-9 code 995.81 "Battered person syndrome" NEC. The condition is the basis for the battered woman defense that has been used in cases of physically and psychologically abused women who have killed their abusers.

Brief history

Battered person syndrome is derived from psychologist Lenore Walker's Battered Woman Syndrome, a theory she came up with in the late 1970s to explain domestic violence. A theory of multiple victimization, BWS used the "cycle of violence" and learned helplessness to explain the development of a psychological problem in women who are repeatedly abused by their husbands. The exclusionary nature of this definition is one reason BWS is no longer seen as a prominent theory. BWS later entered the legal realm when Walker began giving expert testimony about BWS at trials of women accused of killing their abuser. Although her intention was to show that the woman's actions may have been justifiable, the only way that translated in the courtroom was as an argument of self-defense. Despite not addressing any of the three prongs of the self defense law (use of an equal amount of force, being faced with immediate provocation, and being in imminent danger) defense attorneys would commonly call expert witnesses to the stand to testify about BWS and speculate how it may relate to the case at hand.

Eventually, as part of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, congress mandated a report on BWS's role in the courtroom, including its validity and usefulness. The report, The Validity and Use of Evidence Concerning Battering and Its Effects in Criminal Trials rejected Walker's syndrome terminology, saying the term "does not adequately reflect the breadth or nature of the scientific knowledge now available" (Rothenberg 781). Despite its official rejection by Congress, BWS is still sometimes invoked in criminal proceedings.


ICD9 code 995.81 [1] shows the syndrome as including "battered person/man/spouse syndrome NEC" and any person presenting with identified physical descriptors rather than psychological descriptors falls under the general heading of "Adult physical abuse", classified under "Injury and Poisoning" [2]. In lay terms, this is a reference to any person who, because of constant and severe domestic violence usually involving physical abuse by a partner, becomes depressed and unable to take any independent action that would allow him or her to escape the abuse. The condition explains why abused people often do not seek assistance from others, fight their abuser, or leave the abusive situation. Sufferers have low self-esteem, and often believe that the abuse is their fault. Such persons usually refuse to press criminal charges against their abuser, and refuse all offers of help, often becoming aggressive or abusive to others who attempt to offer assistance. Often sufferers will even seek out their very abuser for comfort shortly after an incident of abuse.

See also


  • Roth D. L. & Coles E. M. (1995). "Battered woman syndrome: a conceptual analysis of its status vis a vis DSM-IV mental disorders". Medicine and Law. Vol. 14(7–8): pp. 641–658.
  • Walker, Lenore E. (1979). The Battered Woman. New York: Harper and Row.
  • ICD-9-CM: International Classification of Diseases, 9th revision; Clinical Modification, 6th edition, 2006 / Practice Management Information Corporation (PMIC). Published Los Angeles, CA : PMIC, C2005. Online Edition. <>
  • Noh, Marianne. and Lo, Celia. "Medicalization of the Battered Woman: A Historical-Social Construction of the Battered Woman Syndrome" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Atlanta Hilton Hotel, Atlanta, GA (Aug 16, 2003) 2008-10-23 <>
  • Rothenberg, Bess. “The Success of the Battered Woman Syndrome: An Analysis of How Cultural Arguments Succeed.” Sociological Forum Mar. 2002: 81–103.
  • Rothenberg, Bess. “’We Don’t Have Time for Social Change’ Cultural Compromise and the Battered Woman Syndrome.” Gender and Society Oct. 2003:771–87.


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