Battered Child Syndrome: Symptoms & Court Cases

Instructor: Dawn Young

Dawn has a Juris Doctorate and experience teaching Government and Political Science classes.

This lesson examines the concept of battered child syndrome, including its indicators and symptoms. You'll also have the chance to examine some court cases where battered child syndrome was used as a defense in homicide cases.

What is Battered Child Syndrome?

For years, Roy Rowe's stepfather beat him with a paddle, belt and a two by four. Neighbors called the police when the screams from the beatings got too loud. Teachers reported their suspicions of abuse, but each time the police or social workers came to the home, nothing was done. At 17, when Roy realized no one was going to help him, he shot and killed his stepfather on the front porch. Roy was tried and convicted of killing his stepfather, but at the time, many believed that Roy was suffering from battered child syndrome.

Battered child syndrome is defined as a collection of injuries sustained by a child as a result of repeated mistreatment or beatings and the psychological and physiological effects.

Indicators of Battered Child Syndrome

Although the indicators for battered child syndrome can vary, they may include a delayed visit by the caretaker to the emergency room with an injured child and a far-fetched explanation for the cause of the child's injury. Repeated visits to the emergency room are also indicators. Battered children may exhibit bruises that match the shape of a hand, fist or belt; cigarette burns and bite marks. Some other indicators of battered child syndrome can also include unexplained unconsciousness and the presence of injuries at different stages of healing.

Symptoms of Battered Child Syndrome?

Symptoms associated with battered child syndrome include poor performance in school, anxiety, panic and irritability. Abused children may act younger than their age, anger more quickly, cry more often and show signs of clinginess. They may lose weight or fail to weigh what is appropriate for their age. Some abused children may become withdrawn or claim to be accident prone to protect their abuser.

To hide the abuse, children suffering from battered child syndrome may wear too many clothes and exhibit low self-esteem and depression. In addition, children who experience abuse over a long period of time can develop psychological problems, such as hyper-vigilance, or the feeling of constantly having to be on guard, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and learned helplessness.

Court Cases

According to one estimate; approximately 2.9 million cases of child abuse are reported each year; in 2012, 80% of those committing the abuse were parents. Occasionally, abused children kill one or both of their parents in what is known as parricide. These instances accounts for about 2% of all homicide cases. Below are some cases where abused children killed their parents and used battered child syndrome as their defense.

Andrew Janes: When Andrew Janes was 17 years old, he shot and killed his stepfather, Walter Jaloveckas, after which he was charged with murder. In his own defense, Andrew claimed he had battered child syndrome. At his trial, at least 14 people testified that, since age 7, Andrew had been abused by Walter. Witnesses testified that they had seen Walter beat Andrew with a belt, hit him in the mouth with a mop, punch him in the face and strike him in the head at least twice, knocking him unconscious each time. Besides physical abuse, Walter also verbally and emotionally abused Andrew, threatening to nail his hands to a tree or break his fingers with a hammer.

At the trial, an expert agreed that Andrew was hyper-vigilant and suffering from PTSD as the result of Walter's abuse. The expert also believed that Andrew saw no other way out of his situation besides killing Walter. Initially, Andrew was convicted of murder. Andrew appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court of Washington, which threw out his conviction because he had not been allowed to use battered child syndrome as a defense. When Andrew was re-tried, the jury was unable to reach a verdict.

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