Home > Effects of second responder programs on repeat incidents of family abuse: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.

Petersen, Kevin and Davis, Robert C and Weisburd, David and Taylor, Bruce (2022) Effects of second responder programs on repeat incidents of family abuse: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 18, (1), e1217. https://doi.org/10.1002/cl2.1217.

External website: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/c...

Background: Family abuse is a recurrent phenomenon within a select population of households. This form of abuse can include any physical or psychological harassment that occurs between family or household members, and often involves complex mental and emotional issues that are resistant to intervention. Traditional criminal justice strategies for combating this issue have evolved over time but have frequently demonstrated limited success. Within the past few decades, multiagency programs to address repeat family abuse have gained popularity. One such program, termed “second responders,” teams police officers with social service workers, victim advocates, or counselors to conduct follow-up visits with victims of family abuse following a complaint. Second responders seek to educate victims about the cyclical nature of family abuse, engage in safety planning, and/or provide service referrals. These interventions are based on the premise that victims are more likely to be receptive to crime prevention opportunities immediately following victimization. Second responder interventions have received support from the US Department of Justice and their adoption has spread in both the United States and internationally, however, there remains little conclusive evidence on their effects.

Results: These analyses suggest that second responder interventions produced no significant effects on either police or victim-reported measures of repeat family abuse, in aggregate. However, findings from the more rigorous experimental studies indicated that second responder interventions were associated with a statistically significant 22% (95% confidence interval [CI] [1.04, 1.43]) increase in the odds of a police-reported repeat family abuse incident, with no significant variability in individual study results. Additionally, studies that measured the use of victim services as a secondary outcome were associated with a statistically significant 9% (95% CI [1.02, 1.16]) increase in the odds of service use for treatment groups relative to control groups. Several study characteristics also proved to be important moderators of treatment effects. Increases in the speed of the second response were associated with significant decreases in the odds of a victim-reported repeat incident, and studies that measured repeat family abuse using households were associated with significantly higher odds of a police-reported repeat incident, compared to studies that used the same victim or victim/offender pairing more generally.

Authors' conclusions: Second responder interventions are undoubtedly appealing based on their logic and intentions. Yet, well-intentioned programs with sound logic can still backfire, and the results of this updated review provide evidence that may be suggestive of a backfire effect. Even so, any firm conclusions from this review are limited by a lack of knowledge on the mechanisms operating in between the implementation of the second response intervention and the observed effects, as well as the small sample sizes involved in many analyses. While it seems clear that these programs are not producing any broad reductions in self-reported victimization, the increase in police-reported violence seen in experimental studies could indicate either a true increase in abuse or an increased willingness to call the police. The lack of observed impact on victim-reported violence would suggest the latter, but without more specific measures, such conclusions should be avoided. If these results are indicative of increased reporting, however, many may consider this a desirable outcome, particularly given the often-underreported nature of family abuse and the potential for increased reporting to lead to long-term reductions in abuse. Furthermore, these results provide an indication that second responder programs can produce other intended effects, such as increasing the retention of victim services, and that the specific characteristics of these interventions may moderate their effects. It is unclear why elements such as the immediacy of the second response or the unit of analysis being evaluated would impact study results, but these observations are consistent with the theory that domestic violence interventions must capitalize on short windows of opportunity and create separation between victims and offenders to reduce exposure and subsequent victimization. This potential indicates a need for more research on second responder programs, but specifically research that examines these moderating characteristics and mechanisms. Even in light of this potential, second responder programs do not, on average, appear to reduce the prevalence of repeat family abuse. Given the presence of alternative (and possibly more effective) domestic violence interventions that now exist (e.g., Safe Dates, Shifting Boundaries, Green Dot, etc.), it seems that policymakers may wish to look elsewhere for efforts to reduce family abuse.

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