Immediate and coordinated responses to domestic violence: exploring the window of opportunity concept

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Mari BrännvallThe Västra Götaland Region Competence Centre on Intimate Partner Violence, Sweden

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Veronica EkströmMarie Cederschiöld University, Sweden

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This article examines the window of opportunity concept and its implications for police officers’ and social workers’ perceptions of abused women’s agency. The study consists of a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with eight police officers and eight social workers who have worked according to the so-called Icelandic model. This model is based on the assumption that a window of opportunity exists. It is thus a relevant case for analysing the concept’s implications for practical work with and support of abused women.

We found that the empirical basis for the window of opportunity concept was meagre. However, the professionals working with domestic violence thought that the concept was relevant, useful and in accordance with their experiences. During the time period they perceived as the window of opportunity, they attributed agency to abused women, and considered it important to offer support before the window closed. At the same time, they tended to underestimate women’s agency, and viewed a choice not to accept support as a sign that the woman had returned to the abuser.

Abstract

This article examines the window of opportunity concept and its implications for police officers’ and social workers’ perceptions of abused women’s agency. The study consists of a qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with eight police officers and eight social workers who have worked according to the so-called Icelandic model. This model is based on the assumption that a window of opportunity exists. It is thus a relevant case for analysing the concept’s implications for practical work with and support of abused women.

We found that the empirical basis for the window of opportunity concept was meagre. However, the professionals working with domestic violence thought that the concept was relevant, useful and in accordance with their experiences. During the time period they perceived as the window of opportunity, they attributed agency to abused women, and considered it important to offer support before the window closed. At the same time, they tended to underestimate women’s agency, and viewed a choice not to accept support as a sign that the woman had returned to the abuser.

Key messages

  • Although there are few empirical or theoretical studies concerning the window of opportunity concept, professionals working with domestic violence regarded the concept as relevant, useful and in accordance with their experiences.

  • During the time period perceived as the window of opportunity, professionals attributed agency to abused women, and felt it was important to offer support before the window closed.

  • Professionals also tended to underestimate women’s agency and to interpret a choice not to accept support as a sign that the woman had returned to the abuser.

Introduction

Effective interventions in domestic violence require professional collaboration among social workers, healthcare practitioners and police officers (Notko et al, 2022). Inspired by a study visit to Iceland, the authorities in the western region of Sweden have implemented a collaborative project involving the police, social services, prosecutors and healthcare services, for immediate and coordinated response to acute cases of domestic violence in families with children. A central idea was that there is an opening of a window of opportunity after a violent incident, during which conditions are improved both for prosecution and for offering support and help to the crime victim.

In short, police officers are required to contact social services when they respond to a domestic violence emergency. At the scene, the police officers follow a special checklist. It covers interrogation, documentation of injuries, information to the victim, documentation concerning the presence and status of children, as well as the victims’ degree of motivation to attend healthcare for medical treatment and documentation of injuries if necessary. Police officers determine whether the suspected perpetrator should be arrested.

The Icelandic model also includes social services visiting the family in their home in connection with the violent episode and before the police leave. The social workers speak with the children, provide support and information and assess the risk of further violence concerning both adult and child victims. They also assess the need for protection and whether the children should be taken into care. Furthermore, they motivate the victim to seek healthcare and they provide transportation if needed.

The purpose of this article is to analyse and discuss the implications of the window of opportunity concept for police officers and social workers and how it shaped their perceptions of abused women’s agency and actions. Since the Icelandic model builds on the assumption that there is a window of opportunity, it is a relevant case for analysing the concept’s implication for practical work with and support of abused women.

Inter-agency collaboration in cases of domestic violence

Inter-agency collaboration is generally assumed to be important in cases of domestic violence (Buchbinder and Eisikovits, 2008; Stylianou and Ebright, 2021), and there is evidence that such collaboration can have positive outcomes (Hester and Westmarland, 2005; Banks et al, 2008; Macvean et al, 2018). However, this assumption has been questioned. Research suggests that inter-agency collaboration might not always serve the interests of the abused (Visher et al, 2008; Stewart, 2020).

Inter-agency collaboration requires consistent effort, time and resources (Stevens et al, 2019). Other challenges are uncertainty and confusion about roles (Macvean et al, 2017; Stevens et al, 2019), professional differences and priorities (Peckover and Golding, 2017) and lack of communication and interest in collaboration (Langenderfer et al, 2018; O’Leary et al, 2018). Lack of competence can lead to victim-blaming (Langenderfer et al, 2018). Information sharing between agencies can be challenging due to confidentiality (Macvean et al, 2017).

Second responder interventions are an example of inter-agency approaches. However, a recent meta-analysis shows that second responder programmes do not produce significant reductions in victim-reported repeat violence, but more immediate responses are associated with greater reductions in victim-reported repeat abuse (Peterson et al, 2022). Evidence suggests that second responder interventions increase the usage of domestic violence services (Peterson et al, 2022).

Immediate interventions in cases of domestic violence

Previous research describes various policies that facilitate the police intervening immediately after a domestic violence incident, such as mandatory and pro arrest policies, pro charge and pro prosecution policies and pro go-order policies (Löbmann, 2006; Römkens and Lünnemann, 2008; Ryan et al, 2022). However, their effectiveness in preventing further violence, promoting perpetrator accountability and victim empowerment are contested (Diemer et al, 2017). In Sweden, the closest equivalent to go orders are restraining orders. However, there are important differences. Victims themselves apply for restraining orders from the Swedish Prosecution Authority. The prosecutors’ guidelines state that all applications should be handled quickly and decision should be made within one week (Strand et al, 2018).

The window of opportunity concept

There are few studies examining the window of opportunity concept in the context of domestic violence. Curnow (1995; 1997) developed her conceptualisation of ‘the open window’ by analysing interview data with abused women and by expanding on Walker’s cycle theory of violence. Walker’s cycle of violence comprises three phases: Phase one: tension-building, when the perpetrator becomes increasingly moody, controlling and critical of the woman. Minor battering incidents may occur, and the woman may try to be compliant, calm him down or stay out of his way; Phase two: the acute battering incident; Phase three: the honeymoon phase, when the batterer may apologise and promise that his violent behaviour will never happen again. Walker (1979) does not specifically mention an open window phase, but she writes that ‘there is some evidence that certain treatment interventions are more successful if they occur at one phase rather than at another’ (p 56) and that women are ‘most likely to flee’ (p 66) immediately after Phase two and at the beginning of Phase three. Curnow replaces ‘flee’ with ‘seek help’ and writes that women are more likely to seek help between Phases two and three. This is what she calls an ‘open window phase’. After acute battering, but before the honeymoon phase, women realise that they are victims, unable to stop the violence, and will therefore be most likely to seek help. It is thus during this period that they are most receptive to interventions, according to Curnow.

The cycle of violence is described by Curnow (1997) as difficult to break, and women may therefore leave and return to the abusive partner numerous times. However, according to Curnow: ‘Eventually, the positive support given to the battered woman during the Open Window Phase will give the battered woman the strength she needs to leave the violence’ (p 135). According to Curnow, support and positive affirmation are important, and it is during the open window phase that women are most receptive to interventions. Curnow’s open window phase is referred to in an article by McFarlane and colleagues (2002) describing an intervention to increase safety behaviours in abused women. They investigated safety behaviours after three and six months, finding a decrease after six months, which they interpret as an indication that the open window phase had ended. Vilhauer (2000) discusses the role of prosecutors and the importance of understanding at which phase they become involved in domestic violence cases. Prosecutors primarily encounter abused women during Walker’s honeymoon phase, when the couple have reunited, and the victim no longer feels that she is in any danger. This makes the prosecutor’s task difficult. With reference to Walker, Vilhauer points to the period shortly after an acute battering incident as that during which victims are most likely to be open to help.

In her study on expert testimony concerning domestic violence, Hamilton (2009) found the window of opportunity concept or slightly different versions (‘window of time’ or ‘trauma window’) in several legal opinions. Hamilton writes that ‘window’ is generally used to symbolise and refer to a time period during which women have an opportunity to escape the abusive relationship. Some of the expert witnesses claimed that the window provides a chance for the victim to escape, albeit only with outside assistance. Hamilton criticises how these expert witnesses downplay the agency of battered women.

In a systematic review of the effects of second responder programmes on repeat incidents of family abuse, Davis et al (2008) claim that there is a window of opportunity (see also Peterson et al, 2022):

Second responder programs are based on the premises that family violence often recurs and that victims are likely to be especially receptive to crime prevention opportunities immediately following victimization. That is, there is a ‘window of opportunity’ during the first hours or days after a crime during which victims feel vulnerable and are willing to consider seriously behavioral and lifestyle changes (Davis and Smith, 1994; Anderson, Chenery and Pease, 1995). (Davis et al, 2008: 6)

As shown in this quote, Davis and colleagues refer to an earlier article by Davis and Smith to support their claim concerning the ‘window of opportunity’. However, the article in question does not mention the concept at all; nor are time or timing mentioned, as suggested in the quote. Furthermore, the article presents a quasi-experimental study on crime prevention techniques among victims of burglary, robbery and assault. The other reference is to a study is on repeat burglary and car crime by Anderson, Chenery and Pease. These researchers do not discuss domestic violence and they found little empirical data to support the existence of a window of opportunity. They argue that there should be prompt responses to repeat victimisation because it often seems to occur soon after the first incident. In a report on repeat victimisation and implications for crime prevention, Farrell and Pease (1993) argue that the risk of revictimisation is greatest in the period immediately after victimisation and state that resources must be mobilised immediately following victimisation. From their analysis of, among other crimes, domestic violence, they draw the conclusion that resources must be in place within 24 hours.

Victimisation and agency

In this study, our point of departure is that it is essential to acknowledge, if we want to understand abused women’s actions, that they are active in many ways, in order to stop the violence and improve their lives. Early typifications of battered women often portrayed them as suffering from repeated and extreme violence at the hands of batterers who escalated their violence over time (Dunn and Powell-Williams, 2007). Such understandings often emphasise that repeated violence causes fear and results in long-term psychological damage. According to Walker (1979), learned helplessness prevents women from leaving even when they have the opportunity. Women are also described as trapped in violent relationships by social–structural constraints, particularly gender inequality and a patriarchal criminal justice system that does not respond to them and, like the larger culture, blames them for their own victimisation. Furthermore, women’s gender-role socialisation keeps them prisoner in heterosexual relationships when they feel obligated to make their marriages work or emotionally responsible for their violent partners (Dunn and Powell-Williams, 2007). According to Dunn (2005), constructing battered women as pure or ideal victims fails to recognise the ways in which they are also agents making choices. This has led to the existing tension between representations of battered women as victims or as agents/survivors. Battered women have been increasingly portrayed less as helpless victims and more often as survivors. According to Rajah and Osborn (2020), the growing body of scholarship on women’s resistance to domestic violence reflects an evolution in scholarly perspectives on women who suffer partner violence.

Method

The study uses a qualitative design and is based on semi-structured interviews with eight police officers and eight social workers. Six of the social workers work at an emergency unit that operates when regular social services are closed. The additional two social workers were child welfare officers (CWO). The interviews took place in 2018 and 2019. Participants were recruited through managers at their departments.

We conducted three group interviews and three individual interviews, lasting 36–93 minutes. Participants were asked about their experience of the Icelandic model’s implications for their work. All interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim, followed by coding undertaken by both authors, using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006). Thematical analysis is characterised by theoretical flexibility, meaning that themes and patterns of meaning in an empirical material are identified, analysed and reported.

The coding process consisted of several steps. We started by reading all transcripts and choosing the relevant sections for this article. These sections were compiled into a document in which the coding was conducted. Finally, three main themes and five subthemes were identified.

Since the interviews did not include sensitive information or risk harming the participants, ethical approval was not required according to Swedish law. However, all participants were informed of the study’s purpose and methods and that their participation would be anonymous and voluntary. To protect their identities, fictitious names are given in the article. An overview of the participants and interviews is found in Table 1.

Table 1:

Participants

Name (fictitious) Profession Interview
Per Police officer Group 1
Jenny Police officer Group 1
Fredrik Police officer Group 2
Kjell Police officer Group 2
Ida Crime investigator Group 2
Sara Crime investigator Group 2
Agnes Crime investigator Group 2
Johanna Crime investigator Group 2
Tomas Social worker Group 3
Klara Social worker Group 3
Sofia Social worker Group 3
Margareta Social worker Group 3
Frida Social worker Group 3
Maria Social worker Individual
Thomas Child welfare offiicer Individual
Klas Child welfare offiicer Individual

Both authors have contributed equally to the study, including interviewing, analysing and producing the manuscript.

Police officers’ and social workers’ use of the window of opportunity

As mentioned earlier, the thematical analysis resulted in three main themes and five sub-themes. These are presented next.

Taking advantage of the window of opportunity

To the benefit of the professional tasks

Both the crime investigators and the CWOs said that cooperation at the crime scene contributed to them obtaining more detailed information, which was useful for their respective investigations. Thomas, a CWO, described the benefits he perceived:

In the initial phase, I think it’s better when you’re at the scene and social services talk to the children and parents at the scene, right after it happened. That makes it much clearer, at the beginning of the investigation, what happened and how it affected the child. I think it’s a clearer point of departure that makes it easier to investigate. (Thomas)

According to the social workers, they got to know the children earlier and could ask them directly about the abuse. Offering support to the woman shortly after the abuse was also described as increasing the possibility of good collaboration during the investigation and of getting her to agree to the children receiving support from social services. During the window of opportunity, the respondents assumed that abused women are more open to seeing that the children’s needs are met. In these accounts, agency is attributed to the abused woman – she talks about the abuse, cooperates and is aware of her children’s needs.

Johanna, a crime investigator, said that the immediate interrogation was useful for the criminal investigation as the woman’s spontaneous statement was, as Johanna’s understood it, more reliable than her statement the next day:

Then she’s calmed down and thought about what happened and might see things differently than she did right away at the scene. So it’s much better for the investigation to hear her spontaneous answers to the questions that are asked. (Johanna)

This quote shows that the woman, the following day after she had calmed down, was assumed to regard the violence as less serious than she did immediately after being subjected to it. Interestingly, the respondent assumed that the woman’s account of the abuse was less reliable when she had calmed down and thought through what had happened. However, the opposite might be true, that is, it may be more difficult to see one’s situation clearly when one is upset and in shock. The respondent’s assumption is based on the concept of the window of opportunity, during which abused women realise that they are victims and not able to stop the violence. The next day, the woman may have returned to trivialising the violence.

Both the crime investigators and the CWOs stated that the woman’s statement shortly after the abuse was useful for their work if she were to change her story at a later stage and downplay the violence. Her initial statement could then be used in the investigation even if she subsequently declined to cooperate. For the crime investigators, it was important that the interrogation be videotaped:

If they take it back, this first material, that it’s videotaped or audiotaped, is really useful to you. Then they can’t claim that you wrote it down wrong or that ‘they misunderstood me’ or something else. (Sara)

Both the crime investigators and the CWOs focused on their investigative work. They wanted as much information as possible, so that they could do their jobs, including when the window had closed, and the abused woman might no longer want help. This approach may seem cynical – they wanted as much information as possible from an abused woman when she was at her most vulnerable and sensitive to external influences. At the same time, it is clear that the respondents believed that it was in the best interests of the abused woman and her children that the police and social services intervened in their lives, even if the woman might not realise it herself. In this context, her victimisation was emphasised. The respondents considered her to be trapped in the violent relationship and no longer capable of determining what was in her best interest. We will return to this sub-theme later in the article.

Helping abused women and children

By cooperating at the crime scene, both the police and social workers gained access to the family at a time when they assumed that the victim understood that she needed help to change her situation. They described how the window of opportunity could be used to offer support, help and protection to the abused woman and her children. When the window was open, the respondents assumed that the abused woman was receptive to outside influence. Or, as a social worker put it, at her most vulnerable:

I mean, you’re at your most vulnerable and it’s easiest to make contact and to make people think that this is important and so on, in the acute phase. If you wait until the next day, they’ll often back down a bit and feel that ‘this isn’t really necessary’ and so on. (Maria)

The police officers described how the window of opportunity could be used to ‘gain access to’ an abused woman and get her ‘on track’. To be ‘on track’ meant to cooperate with the criminal investigation and to accept the support, help and protection offered by the police and social services. The respondents had a notion that the authorities could make it easier for abused women to cooperate with the criminal investigation and obtain help. According to the respondents, this happened through, among other things, social workers accompanying women to healthcare facilities for medical examination and documentation of injuries. The crime investigators described something of an ideal in which the cooperating authorities form ‘a net’ and ‘a wave’ that ‘engulfs’ the abused woman and gets her ‘on track’. According to Ida, a crime investigator, the authorities, together, could make the abused woman feel like ‘part of the team’:

If everyone’s on the same page – social services, doctors, prosecutors, police. I feel it’s like a big wave carrying the plaintiff along. It’s like, ‘Ok, now we’re all going in this direction’. If everyone makes themselves clear and agrees that ‘this is how we’re going to work now’ and they all work together. If you have a lot of contact with each other, I think she… or the plaintiff understands that ‘Ok, this is what’s going to happen now. This is our goal now.’ She, like, becomes one of the team. (Ida)

The police officers and social workers expressed a strong belief that their interventions could offer women a way out of the violence. If they succeeded in convincing an abused woman to accept help, she could leave. Here is an underlying assumption that an abused woman, during the window of opportunity, can see the seriousness of her situation, realise that she needs help and obtain help, in order to change her situation. In other words, agency is attributed to her during the window of opportunity. She is regarded as rational, as making rational choices based on what the police officers and social workers regard as the best options, that is, to cooperate with the criminal investigation and receive support, help and protection from the agencies they represent.

According to the respondents, the arrest of an abuser could increase the possibility both of prosecution and of the woman accepting help. This second assumption was partly based on the fact that a woman is removed from the abuser’s influence as long as he is in custody. A crime investigator stated that an abused woman downplays the violence faster if the abuser is not in custody. Moreover, the respondents assumed that the situation is perceived as more serious after an arrest. According to one of the CWOs, an arrest creates a crisis, which makes the abused woman more inclined to accept help:

And then, it isn’t every case that leads to prosecution, but it’s really important for us in social services that they do get arrested and maybe held in custody, as far as the need for risk, protection and support goes, because it creates a crisis that we can then address and provide confirmation in and establish a relationship that makes the parent more prone to accept help from supporting agencies, get some insight, be able to see their children’s needs from a different perspective and say, ‘OK, this wasn’t good and it’s affected my kids. And I, as a parent, want my kids to be OK and I need help for that. My kid needs for me to get help.’ And then it’s really important, the part about getting arrested or held in custody, so that you’re not still at home, because a night can go by and then it’s ‘Oh, no, it wasn’t so bad. We’ll just close the door and deny that anything happened.’ (Thomas)

While a woman is out of the man’s sphere of influence when he is arrested, she is under the influence of the authorities. The respondents assumed that an arrest provided a woman with a longer respite, during which she was protected from abuse, as well as providing the authorities with a longer period during which they could offer support, help and protection. According to the informants’ accounts, an arrest seemed to extend the window of opportunity.

Too late when the window has closed

Staying or going back

Both the police officers and social workers said that it was important to act immediately after the abuse, as it might be too late the following day. The woman would no longer be ‘with’ them or ‘on track’. They said that abused women often subsequently downplayed the abuse or did not want to talk about it. A police officer said:

’Cause it often happens afterwards that the woman refuses to cooperate any more, or glosses over it a bit. (Jenny)

The respondents explained this behaviour by assuming that women who did not want to cooperate subsequently stayed with or returned to the abuser. Under his influence, they no longer took the abuse seriously, but downplayed it and were trapped in the violent relationship again. The next time the police were called, the man’s violence against her might be even worse:

If we have a woman, she often won’t cooperate afterwards. So it feels like you’re doing a lot of work that nothing comes out of. And next time it will be even worse when we arrive at the scene. (Jenny)

The respondents thus assumed that women who subsequently refused help from the authorities had remained in the violent relationship. The window of opportunity, during which the woman was receptive to help, was thus assumed to have closed. At this point, agency was no longer attributed to her. Instead, her victimisation was emphasised. She was described as passive, trapped in both physical and mental violence and not comprehending what was best for her and her children: that is, to receive help from the authorities. Maria, a social worker, said that abused women who return to the abuser choose to be exposed to violence again:

During the first days there’s always a major risk that the individual will choose to go back home. And I think that the right support and someone to talk to will minimise that risk, so to speak, that they will go home and put themselves in harm’s way again. (Maria)

In mentioning a woman’s choice to put herself in harm’s way, both her agency and victimisation were emphasised. By choosing to return to the abuser, she was also (made) responsible for her victimisation. But with support during the window of opportunity, she could, according to this respondent, be helped to make a better choice resulting in her not being abused.

It is worth noting that the respondents did not discuss alternative reasons that an abused woman might not want to cooperate with a crime investigation and accept help afterwards, other than that she had stayed with the abuser. However, another conceivable reason could be that she wanted to leave but chose to do so without help from the authorities.

Timing is not crucial

As mentioned earlier, the police officers and social workers stated that they must act quickly and offer help to abused women at an early stage, as it might be too late the next day. Sometimes, however, they did not have the window of opportunity in mind, stating instead that timing was not crucial.

No need for emergency care

According to the Icelandic model, both police officers and social workers are required, shortly after the abuse, to motivate women to seek healthcare for medical examination and documentation of injuries. However, this routine did not seem to have been fully implemented. The respondents said that most women did not want to seek healthcare. The police officers mainly tried to convince victims to do so if they had serious injuries that required medical attention. One of them explained this by referring to himself:

I think there have to be quite serious injuries before you go to a medical facility. It’s often my feeling that if you arrive at a scene and see bruises then you just take pictures there on site and don’t go to a healthcare facility, although it would have been good to get it documented and so on. So it’s just like I wouldn’t go to the health… GP myself if I had bruises. (Kjell)

The respondents talked about respecting women’s choices. If an abused woman did not want to seek healthcare, they thought they should not force her. Here, agency was attributed to abused women; they were described as making conscious choices that must be respected. In this case, they were attributed agency even when not ‘on track’ and declining to have their injuries documented, although it would have been important for the prosecution. This contrasts with the previous sub-themes, in which the choice not to be ‘on track’ was associated with the consequences of victimisation. The respondents’ attitudes towards emergency healthcare visits can be understood as an expression of their stressful work situations. They felt that healthcare visits were time-consuming and could wait until the next day. Sofia, a social worker, said that she would prefer not to have this task:

It’s quite a lot of work for us, but for them, or rather the people we help, I’m sure it’s good, but it’s almost impossible. Or, well, it isn’t possible for us to do that for everyone. And then I think, this is an emergency service. I mean, going with them to the hospital to have everything documented, it takes… but I guess that’s what’s meant by making the most of the opportunity. Otherwise, I think it could be… you could wait eight hours till the social services office opens. But I guess it’s so we can reach families when they’re at their most open to accepting help. (Sofia)

As is evident from this quote, this social worker felt ambivalence regarding the task of accompanying abused women to healthcare. While this might have been an opportunity for gaining an opening to the family at the moment, it was not a practically feasible task.

Healthcare visits were thus described not only as difficult for abused women, but also for police officers and social workers. They were apparently not regarded as important, unless the woman had serious injuries. The idea of acting quickly during the window of opportunity was less prominent when it came to seeking healthcare than in the case of other interventions.

Support can wait until tomorrow

A central part of the Icelandic model is that social services staff must visit the scene shortly after the abuse to offer support and to talk to the abused woman and the children. However, the social workers stated that it sometimes took several hours before the police informed them about the case. When this happened, they sometimes refrained from visiting the family, instead handing the case over to regular social services staff the next day.

The respondents’ justification for this deviation from the Icelandic model was that it might be better to let the family sleep until the next day or that the children were safe when someone in the family’s social network had been called. Sofia, a social worker, explained:

The children may be most secure knowing that Granny and Granddad are coming, rather than have social services barge in, and they don’t know who they are and it’s the middle of the night. (Sofia)

According to this respondent, social services support shortly after the abuse, during the window of opportunity, did not seem to be crucial, and it might suffice to await the following day. In this context, agency is attributed to the women the day after the abuse as well. This can be understood as a perception that the window of opportunity is not closed the next day, or as a way for the social workers to legitimise that they do not follow the Icelandic model routines, given their limited resources.

Discussion

In this article, we have analysed the window of opportunity concept’s implications for police officers and social workers and how their application of the concept shaped their view of abused women’s agency and actions. The Icelandic model is an example of inter-agency collaboration, which is required to effectively counter domestic violence (Buchbinder and Eisikovits, 2008; Stylianou and Ebright, 2021; Notko et al, 2022). Policies promoting rapid responses such as mandatory and pro arrests and go orders have been implemented (Löbmann, 2006; Römkens and Lünnemann 2008; Ryan et al, 2022), but their effectiveness has been questioned (Diemer et al, 2017). A recent review suggests that second responder programmes show better results when interventions are offered immediately (Peterson et al, 2022). The Icelandic model combines inter-agency collaboration and immediate responses. As we have shown, the empirical basis for the window of opportunity concept is meagre. Most common is feminist research that builds on Walker’s cycle of violence, which has been criticised for lacking empirical evidence and for downplaying women’s agency (see for example, Dutton, 1993; Stark, 1994; Dunn, 2005). However, as the interviews in our study showed, professionals working with domestic violence found the concept relevant, useful and in accordance with their experiences. Concurring with previous criticism of how professionals have emphasised abused women’s victimisation and failed to recognise them as agents making choices (Dunn, 2005), they alternately emphasised victimisation or agency, depending on the situation. In Table 2, we present how agency is respectively related to each identified theme.

Table 2:

Summary of the analysis

Main theme Subtheme Emphasis
Taking advantage of the window of opportunity To the benefit of the professional tasks Agency
Helping abused women and children Agency
Too late when the window has closed Staying or going back Victimisation
Timing is not crucial No need for emergency care Agency
Support can wait until tomorrow Agency

As shown in the table, the professionals emphasised abused women’s agency shortly after the abuse, while they did their jobs at the scene. They considered it important to work efficiently, as it might be too late the next day, when the woman might have returned to the abuser, downplaying the abuse and not knowing what was best for her, that is, to accept help from the authorities. The respondents thus constructed her as a helpless victim. Here is an example of a window of opportunity shortly after the abuse, during which the woman’s agency was emphasised, that could be used to help her and the children, as well as to obtain information from her that would be useful for one’s investigative work. This window was considered to be extendable if the abuser was arrested. Interestingly, the professionals working at the scene did not consider it equally important to work quickly when they deviated from the Icelandic model. In those cases, agency was also attributed to the abused women when the case was handed over to the crime investigators and CWOs the next day.

That women were also attributed agency the day after the abuse, in the event of deviation from the Icelandic model, was linked to the fact that the police officers and social workers worked with emergencies under time pressure. Their focus was on offering support, help and protection. According to them, they could not prioritise non-urgent, time-consuming tasks that could wait. If the abused woman had no serious injuries, a healthcare visit could wait until the next day, as could support from social services if she had already been given support by her network. On the other hand, the crime investigators and the CWOs were focused on their respective investigations and wanted those working at the scene to work effectively during the window of opportunity so that they could obtain as much information as possible.

In the interviews, an overall idea was expressed that abused women could leave the perpetrators with the aid of the authorities, which is similar to what Hamilton (2009) found in her study. Abused women should therefore accept support from the authorities; it was considered the right thing to do. Women who did not accept help were presumed to have returned to the abuser and be under his influence, no longer seeing their situation clearly or knowing what was in their best interest. Therefore, the respondents thought it was right to gather information shortly after the abuse in order to be able to pursue the case without the woman’s subsequent cooperation. There was no mention of the possibility of other reasons for the woman declining to cooperate than that she had returned to the abuser. The same applied to the possibility that there might be other ways to leave violence than with the help of the authorities.

We have shown how police officers and social workers emphasise the victimisation of women who do not follow the ‘right’ path, that is, accept support and leave the man with the help of the authorities. This is in line with previous criticisms of the cycle of violence theory (Dutton, 1993; Stark, 1994; Dunn, 2005; Hamilton, 2009). However, we also found that both police officers and social workers emphasised women’s agency in some situations. This was especially evident when they deviated from the Icelandic model, but also when working according to the model during the presumed open window phase.

The Icelandic model is an example of the development of important and necessary cooperation between the police and social services. Immediate and coordinated responses can improve support for abused women and their children (Hamilton et al, 2021; Stylianou and Ebright, 2021; Macvean et al, 2017). However, it is nonetheless essential that we keep women’s agency in mind and remember that they are probably making rational decisions, even if they do not concur with what different professionals think they should do. By responding quickly and resolutely, and in a coordinated fashion, to the violence and by offering adequate and appropriate support for both women and children, we can hopefully expand their choices.

Limitations

One limitation of this study is that the narratives of police officers and social workers were analysed; our empirical material consists of their own depictions of how they worked. If, instead, we had made observations of their practical work, the results might have been different. There is a possibility that the respondents chose to give responses which they believed were representations of good work. Another important limitation is that we cannot know whether these police officers and social workers had actually experienced, for instance, women who changed their stories the following day. These reports might have been the result of being taught by the project leaders about the window of opportunity and how abused women behave. We do not know if the window of opportunity exists or how long it remains open. However, our respondents seem to agree that the Icelandic model makes sense and that immediate and coordinated responses in cases of domestic violence are important and helpful.

Funding

This work was supported by the Västra Götaland Region Competence Centre on Intimate Partner Violence, Sweden.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Viveka Enander for thoughtful and encouraging comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for a thorough reading and useful comments and ideas on how we could improve our work.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buchbinder, E. and Eisikovits, Z. (2008) Collaborative discourse: the case of police and social work relationships in intimate violence intervention in Israel, Journal of Social Service Research. Taylor & Francis Group, 34(4): 113. doi: 10.1080/01488370802162251

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peckover, S. and Golding, B. (2017) Domestic abuse and safeguarding children: critical issues for multiagency work, Child Abuse Review, 26: 4050. doi: 10.1002/car.2392

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Petersen, K., Davis, R.C., Weisburd, D. and Taylor, B. (2022) Effects of second responder programs on repeat incidents of family abuse: an updated systematic review and Meta-analysis, Campbell Systematic Reviews, 18: e1217. doi: 10.1002/cl2.1217

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rajah, V. and Osborn, M. (2020) Understanding women’s resistance to intimate partner violence: a scoping review, Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 23(5): 115.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Römkens, R. and Lünnemann, K. (2008) Getting behind closed doors: new development in legislation to prevent domestic violence, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 2(32): 17394.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ryan, C., Silvio, D., Borden, T. and Ross, N.M. (2022) A review of Pro-arrest, Pro-charge, and Pro-prosecution policies as a response to domestic violence, Journal of Social Work, 22(1): 21138. doi: 10.1177/1468017320979956

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stark, E. (1994) Re-presenting woman battering: from battered woman syndrome to coercive control, Albany Law Review, 58: 9731026.

  • Stevens, C., Ayer, L. Labriola, M., Faraji, S.L. and Ebright, E. (2019) Detecting and reducing Post-traumatic stress among children exposed to domestic violence: a multi-agency early intervention program, Children and Youth Services Review, 101: 26169. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.03.055

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stewart, S.L. (2020) Enacting entangled practice: interagency collaboration in domestic and family violence work, Violence Against Women, 26(2): 191212. doi: 10.1177/1077801219832125

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strand, S., Fröberg, S. and Storey, J. (2018) Protecting victims of intimate partner violence: Swedish prosecutors’ experiences of decision-making regarding restraining orders, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 19(2): 17086. doi: 10.1080/14043858.2018.1450547

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stylianou, A.M. and Ebright, E. (2021) Providing coordinated, immediate, Trauma-focused, and interdisciplinary responses to children exposed to severe intimate partner violence: assessing feasibility of a collaborative model, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(5–6): 277399. doi: 10.1177/0886260518816320

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vilhauer, J. (2000) Understanding the victim: a guide to aid in the prosecution of domestic violence, Fordham Urban Law Journal, 27(3): 95363.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Visher, C., Harrell, A., Newmark, L. and Yahner, J. (2008) Reducing intimate partner violence: an evaluation of a comprehensive justice system–community collaboration, Criminology & Public Policy, 7: 495523.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walker, L.E. (1979) The Battered Woman, New York: Harper & Row.

  • Anderson, D., Chenery, S. and Pease, K. (1995) Biting Back: Tackling Repeat Burglary and Car Crime, Crime Detection & Prevention Series Paper 58, London: Home Office.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Banks, D., Dutch, N. and Wang, K. (2008) Collaborative efforts to improve system response to families who are experiencing child maltreatment and domestic violence, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(7): 876902. doi: 10.1177/0886260508314690

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2): 77101. doi: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buchbinder, E. and Eisikovits, Z. (2008) Collaborative discourse: the case of police and social work relationships in intimate violence intervention in Israel, Journal of Social Service Research. Taylor & Francis Group, 34(4): 113. doi: 10.1080/01488370802162251

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curnow, S.A. (1995) Battered women in the critical care setting, Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 14(3): 16067. doi: 10.1097/00003465-199505000-00011

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curnow, S.A. (1997) The open window phase: helpseeking and reality behaviors by battered women, Applied Nursing Research, 10(3): 12835. doi: 10.1016/S0897-1897(97)80215-7

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, R.C. and Smith, B. (1994) Teaching victims crime prevention skills: can individuals lower their risk of crime?, Criminal Justice Review, 19(1): 5668.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, R.C., Weisburd, D. and Taylor, B. (2008) Effects of second responder programs on repeat incidents of family abuse, Campbell Systematic Reviews, 2008:15. doi: 10.4073/csr.2008.15

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Diemer, K., Ross, S., Humphreys, C. and Healey, L. (2017) A ‘double edged sword’: discretion and compulsion in policing domestic violence, Police Practice and Research, 18(4): 33951. doi: 10.1080/15614263.2016.1230853

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dunn, J.L. (2005) ‘Victims’ and ‘survivors’: emerging vocabularies of motive for ‘battered women who stay’, Sociological Inquiry, 75(1): 130. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2005.00110.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dunn, J.L. and Powell-Williams, M. (2007) ‘Everybody makes choices’: victim advocates and the social construction of battered women’s victimization and agency, Violence Against Women, 13(10): 9771001. doi: 10.1177/1077801207305932

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dutton, M. (1993) Understanding women’s responses to domestic violence: a redefinition of battered woman syndrome, Hofstra Law Review, 21(4): 1191242, https://scholarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu/hlr/vol21/iss4/2.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Farrell, G. and Pease, K. (1993) Once Bitten, Twice Bitten: Repeat Victimisation and its Implications for Crime Prevention, Police Research Group, Crime Prevention Unit Paper 46, London: Home Office Police Department.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hamilton, G., Harris, L. and Powell, A. (2021) Policing repeat and High-risk family violence: police and Service-sector perceptions of a coordinated model, Police Practice and Research, 22(1): 14156. doi: 10.1080/15614263.2019.1697267

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hamilton, M. (2009) Expert Testimony on Domestic Violence, El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

  • Hester, M. and Westmarland, N. (2005) Tackling Domestic Violence: Effective Interventions and Approaches, London: Home Office.

  • Langenderfer, M., Alven, L., Wilke, D. and Spinelli, C. (2018) Getting everyone on the same page: child welfare workers’ collaboration challenges on cases involving intimate partner violence, Journal of Family Violence, 34(7): 2131. doi: 10.1007/s10896-018-0002-4

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Löbmann, R. (2006) New police responses to domestic violence: the Go-order in Germany, Swiss Journal of Psychology, 65(2): 101105.

  • Macvean, M., Humphreys, C. and Lucy, H. (2018) Facilitating the collaborative interface between child protection and specialist domestic violence services: a scoping review, Australian Social Work, 71(2): 14861. doi: 10.1080/0312407X.2017.1415365

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McFarlane, J., Malecha, A., Gist, J., Watson, K., Batten, E., Hall, I. and Smith, S. (2002) An intervention to increase safety behaviors of abused women: results of a randomized clinical trial, Nursing Research, 51(6): 34754. doi: 10.1097/00006199-200211000-00002

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Notko, M., Husso, M., Piippo, S., Fagerlund, M. and Houtsonen, J. (2022) Intervening in domestic violence: interprofessional collaboration among social and health care professionals and the police, Journal of Interprofessional Care, 36(1): 1523. doi: 10.1080/13561820.2021.1876645

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • O’Leary, P., Young, A., Wilde, T. and Tsantefski, M. (2018) Interagency working in child protection and domestic violence, Australian Social Work, 71(2): 17588.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Peckover, S. and Golding, B. (2017) Domestic abuse and safeguarding children: critical issues for multiagency work, Child Abuse Review, 26: 4050. doi: 10.1002/car.2392

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Petersen, K., Davis, R.C., Weisburd, D. and Taylor, B. (2022) Effects of second responder programs on repeat incidents of family abuse: an updated systematic review and Meta-analysis, Campbell Systematic Reviews, 18: e1217. doi: 10.1002/cl2.1217

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rajah, V. and Osborn, M. (2020) Understanding women’s resistance to intimate partner violence: a scoping review, Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 23(5): 115.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Römkens, R. and Lünnemann, K. (2008) Getting behind closed doors: new development in legislation to prevent domestic violence, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 2(32): 17394.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ryan, C., Silvio, D., Borden, T. and Ross, N.M. (2022) A review of Pro-arrest, Pro-charge, and Pro-prosecution policies as a response to domestic violence, Journal of Social Work, 22(1): 21138. doi: 10.1177/1468017320979956

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stark, E. (1994) Re-presenting woman battering: from battered woman syndrome to coercive control, Albany Law Review, 58: 9731026.

  • Stevens, C., Ayer, L. Labriola, M., Faraji, S.L. and Ebright, E. (2019) Detecting and reducing Post-traumatic stress among children exposed to domestic violence: a multi-agency early intervention program, Children and Youth Services Review, 101: 26169. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.03.055

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stewart, S.L. (2020) Enacting entangled practice: interagency collaboration in domestic and family violence work, Violence Against Women, 26(2): 191212. doi: 10.1177/1077801219832125

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Strand, S., Fröberg, S. and Storey, J. (2018) Protecting victims of intimate partner violence: Swedish prosecutors’ experiences of decision-making regarding restraining orders, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 19(2): 17086. doi: 10.1080/14043858.2018.1450547

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stylianou, A.M. and Ebright, E. (2021) Providing coordinated, immediate, Trauma-focused, and interdisciplinary responses to children exposed to severe intimate partner violence: assessing feasibility of a collaborative model, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(5–6): 277399. doi: 10.1177/0886260518816320

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Vilhauer, J. (2000) Understanding the victim: a guide to aid in the prosecution of domestic violence, Fordham Urban Law Journal, 27(3): 95363.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Visher, C., Harrell, A., Newmark, L. and Yahner, J. (2008) Reducing intimate partner violence: an evaluation of a comprehensive justice system–community collaboration, Criminology & Public Policy, 7: 495523.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walker, L.E. (1979) The Battered Woman, New York: Harper & Row.

Mari BrännvallThe Västra Götaland Region Competence Centre on Intimate Partner Violence, Sweden

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Veronica EkströmMarie Cederschiöld University, Sweden

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