What happens when a man has battered man syndrome?
Tom Hayhurst grew up watching his mother throw phones and dishes at his dad. His dad never returned the beatings24 and was too emotionally dependent to leave. Finally, his dad fatally shot himself in the head.
Tom’s mom abused each of the children as well. The children eventually moved away, except for Tom’s sister, who was developmentally disabled But then Tom’s mother was seriously injured in a car accident. She asked Tom to return home to help her and his disabled sister. Tom left his job in Arizona and took care of his mom without pay. This left him with too little money to afford an apartment Because he knew he couldn’t handle living with his mother, he lived in a van in the driveway. However, as the court report reads, "She began verbal and physical abuse of him, brandishing a knife, and throwing objects at him.’’25 "Finally," Tom explains, “I just blew it. I grabbed a crowbar and hit her." The blow from the crowbar killed her.
Tom a slight-built man, was evaluated by the psychologist as "driven by a sense of duty’ and altruism. . . passive and nonaggressive. . . one who appreciates life’s aesthetics." Tom was given fifteen years to life in prison – meaning he would be subjected to convicts who typically seek slight-built men to rape. Unlike mothers who kill husbands and are freed on probation to care for their children, Tom was not freed to continue the care he had been giving his disabled sister.
Few humans could claim a more impeccable history of learned helplessness than a son who watched his dad kill himself rather than walk away or fight back. Few humans could feel more trapped than a son who was living in poverty so he could help a disabled mom and sister. And few people who kill can say that every family member was so severely abused prior to one defending himself.
What type of sentence would have been given had Tom been a Theresa – a daughter quilting her job to respond to the desperate call of an abusive dad and disabled brother’ If Theresa s dad had continued abusing her and she finally responded by hitting him and accidentally killing him, would she have gotten any sentence? Or been put on probation, given counseling, become a feminist hero, and had a TV movie made about her devotion in the face of abuse – a movie ending happily with her fighting back and breaking the cycle of dependence, with her freeing herself to take care of her developmentally disabled brother without the abusive dad around?