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Call the Police?

A study of social networks' responses to domestic violence

Domestic violence has often been described as a hidden crime as the police and the legal system seldom get involved. However, even if the violent incidents occur without others’ witnessing it the violence does not occur in a social vacuum. The surrounding social network knows very well: children, relatives, friends and neighbors are often well aware of such troubles in close relationships; a knowledge that has resulted in various responses. One such response is to call the police.

When the police are called, various parties in the network have usually on numerous occasions tried to hinder and prevent the violence. The starting point of the proposed investigation is to study the ‘response networks’, that the persons in the troubled relationship are embedded in, with the focus on the meaning and social consequences of involving the police.

The various versions will be investigated according to the different framing of the event, as the same problematic situations are often described differently. How do the different parties describe and retell the event that instigated the decision to call the police? How do they describe the consequences of this decision? Involving a third, official party means changes in troubles from open-ended and variable in meaning, to more fixed categories; it contains interactional and definitional processes where responsibility and guilt are clearly demarcated, the events are designated and solutions are recommended.

By way of interviewing abused women and people in their network (family members, friends and other involved) we will be able to analyze the versions of social processes resulting in the decision to call the police, as well as the interpretation of the social consequences of this decision. This study will contribute to an understanding of the support given to those involved in violent relationships.

Researchers on the project

Department of Sociology:

Margareta Hydén, Linköping University