This article examines the status of battered woman syndrome (BWS) testimony in Canadian courts and assesses the impact of the leading decision, Regina (R.) v. Lavallee. Acknowledging the test of reasonableness in criminal trials was constructed on a male model, the Supreme Court in Lavallee corrected the gendered interpretation of women in abusive relationships by admitting the BWS evidence. Feminist legal scholars questioned whether Lavallee had succeeded in dispelling the stereotypes around battered women. These concerns were partially addressed in R. v. Malott, but some tough issues remain: applying the reasonableness test to women of color and the narrow base of BWS evidence. Some directions are discussed: discarding BWS testimony, framing a redefined and expanded BWS testimony, introducing a new defense based on self-preservation, and adopting an alternative interpretative frame such as "coercive control." The strengthening of BWS testimony would call for the judges' referencing of latest empirical research on battered women.
Literature on battered woman syndrome is examined with a view to validating the use of the word 'syndrome'. It is concluded that there is now sufficient information to justify its serious consideration as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, as that diagnosis is defined in DSM IV: and that this has significance for the legal defence of battered women who react aggressively towards their abusers.
The present study investigated the impact of two variables relating to general expert testimony pertaining to battered women on juror decision processes. Specifically, the gender of the expert, as well as the timing of the presentation of the testimony, were investigated in a simulated homicide trial involving a battered woman who had killed her abuser. Results indicated that when the expert was female and the testimony was presented prior to the defendant's testimony, juror's verdicts were more lenient. Moreover, across a range of case judgments, male jurors' perceptions were more favorable to the defendant when the expert was female as opposed to male. On two of the judgments this latter pattern of results was only evidenced when the testimony was presented early as opposed to late. The significance of these findings is discussed.
As in other countries, woman abuse is a leading public health issue in Canada. In recognition of its seriousness and the need to interrupt the cycle of violence, several jurisdictions outside of Canada have enacted mandatory reporting laws for woman abuse that require health care workers to report cases. This article reviews the major debates surrounding mandatory reporting of woman abuse with an emphasis on where knowledge is incomplete but would be of benefit when weighing the pros and cons of such laws. We conclude with comments and recommendations with respect to Canada and its health legislation.
Participants (N = 200) were presented with a criminal homicide trial involving a battered woman who had killed her abuser. Within the trial, both the response history (passive, active) and presence of expert testimony pertaining to battered woman syndrome (present, absent) were systematically varied. As well, half of the participants in each of these conditions were provided with a nullification instruction informing them that they were free to disregard the law and acquit should a strict application of the law result in an unjust verdict. Results indicated that, compared to the passive response condition, the mock jurors were no less receptive to the expert testimony in the active response condition. The impact of the testimony on participants' verdicts, however, was moderated by the nullification instruction. That is, although the presence of the testimony did result in greater verdict leniency, this only occurred when the mock jurors had been released from a strict application of the law. The implications of these findings are discussed.
The Canadian government has introduced numerous policies, guidelines, and mandates at the federal and provincial levels that recognize woman abuse as a serious social problem and violation of the law. Nonetheless, recent feminist research continues to expose laws and practices that fail woman abuse victims. The present study examined the experiences of women victims in domestic violence cases and the barriers they faced in dealing with the police, the courts, and social service agencies. Despite government initiatives, the study results corroborate previous findings indicating that many battered women feel further traumatized by ambivalent or discriminatory attitudes and practices prevalent within the system.
The main aim of the Swedish Women's Peace reform in 1998 was to enhance criminal legal protection for women exposed to violence in heterosexual relationships and to promote gender equality. However, these ambitions risk being contravened in a masculinist criminal legal system. One problem concerns how the victim is constructed in criminal legal cases. The author argues that moral balancing and discourses of responsibility and guilt in Swedish cases constrain the agency possible for women and suggest that a more comprehensive policy in Sweden must be developed to include violent men, their agency, and their responsibility for the violence.