Second responder programs were originally developed in the 1980s to help victims of repeat incidents of family violence (including intimate partner abuse, abuse within families or households, and elder abuse). The programs consist of home visits by a crisis response team who follow-up on the initial police response to reports of family violence. Second responder programs were developed from the understanding that incidents of family violence are often recurring and that victims are likely to be receptive to opportunities to prevent recurrence immediately following victimization.
The purpose of the programs is to reduce the likelihood of recurring abuse by working directly with victims to provide them with information about their options so they can develop long-term solutions for their situations. The programs also try to establish greater independence for victims by connecting them to counseling and other social services that may help to lessen their dependence on their abuser. Second responder programs operate under the assumption that victims of family violence can be empowered through information about their situation, available services, and legal options. Therefore, new abuse can be reduced as victims leave abusive relationships or work with social services and criminal justice practitioners who can help them develop strategies to end the abuse while staying in the relationship (Davis, Weisburd, Hamilton 2010).
The primary targets of second responder programs are the victims of family violence. Most programs focus on incidents of intimate partner violence, but victims of elder abuse may also be targeted. The majority of individuals that would be served by second responder programs are female. From 1994 to 2010, about 4 in 5 victims (85 percent) of intimate partner violence were female (Catalano 2012).
Second responder teams usually consist of a law enforcement officer and a family violence specialist. The specialist could be a victim advocate or a specially trained police officer.
Second responders visit homes where family violence incidents were recently reported to the police and work with victims to help them find long-term solutions to recurring abuse. Victims are provided with information about their legal rights and options, the cyclical nature of family violence, developing a safety plan, obtaining a restraining order, and seeking shelter or other relocation services. In addition, the second responder teams may try to connect victims to social services, such as counseling, job training, public assistance, civil legal assistance, and other service referrals.
As part of some second responder programs, there may even be a conversation with the abuser (if they are present at the visit) to make sure they understand that assaulting a family member or intimate partner is a criminal offense and that further abuse will result in (additional) sanctions.
The response time of second responders varies by program. Some responses may occur while the responding police officers are still at the scene of the incident. Some home visits may occur within 72 hours of a report to the police, while other responses occur 7–14 days after the incident. The amount of time second responders work with victims also varies by program, and usually depends on the victim’s receptiveness.