Skip to content
Amanda Jansson
View original picture , opens in new tab/window

The pandemic has made it more difficult to work with abused women

Published: 1 July 2021

The physical meeting between the social secretary and women exposed to violence is crucial for creating trust, which in turn is a prerequisite for the social secretary to be able to give the client the help she needs. Creating trust has therefore become more difficult during the ongoing pandemic according to Amanda Jansson in her master's thesis in sociology.

The conclusions in the essay are based on interviews with social workers who work with women exposed to violence. Originally, her intention was to interview social workers only from Uppsala municipality. But unfortunately they did not have time. She therefore changed her approach and contacted 50 municipalities throughout Sweden. In the end, she interviewed eight social secretaries in seven different municipalities.

– It was definitely not about reluctance or disinterest from each municipality's social services. Several of them had already agreed to participate in other bachelor's theses and in an extensive research project. They simply did not have time to answer my questions, says Amanda Jansson.

Open interview questions

She used a so-called semi-structured interview method. The questions were not of the type that the respondents could give well-defined answers to, as in a survey. The answers often promted Amanda Jansson to ask follow-up questions. The two basic questions were:

  1. Can you describe what you work with?
  2. What has it been like in the workplace since the pandemic was started?

To analyze the material collected, she used Michael Lipsky's theory of street bureaucrats and Randall Collins' theory of interaction rituals. Street bureaucrats are defined by the fact that they are public employees who have a regular interaction with citizens in their professional role and a large margin of maneuver in the performance of their action tasks. Examples of street bureaucrats, in addition to social workers, are teachers, police officers and employment agents. Although they have different tasks, they are united according to Lipsky in an experience of having insufficient resources, that demand increases when supply increases, that the authorities' goals are vague, ambiguous and contradictory and that goal fulfillment is difficult to measure and that clients have become clients, rather out of necessity, due to the circumstances than of free will.

According to Collins, the criteria for an interaction ritual is that a group of at least two people is in a place where they can influence each other, that there is a clear, conscious, boundary between the group and those who do not belong to it, that the participants have a common focus and that there is a common emotional experience between the participants in the interaction. Collins stresses the importance of the participants' physical presence in order for the interaction ritual to take place.

– My interviews with the social secretaries confirm that the physical presence is very important. It is incredibly important to have eye contact and to be able to read body language when helping a person who has to talk about the worst experi

The mask became a barrier

Amanda Jansson states that, in order to create a trusting atmosphere, all interviewed social secretaries have circumvented the recommendations to refrain from physical meetings with the client. However, they have followed the recommendations to wear a face mask, but several of them state that they experience the mask as a barrier. Telephone conversations also have the disadvantage that the social secretary cannot ensure whether the woman is safe, or if the person who has subjected her to violence is nearby, or alternatively intercepts the conversation.

The interviews show that the social secretaries must be able to adapt to the individual woman's needs and conditions for a successful interaction ritual to be possible. Because it is required that the social secretaries have a great deal of room for maneuver. This in turn requires sufficient financial resources. In this respect, there are large differences between the municipalities surveyed.

Furthermore, many of the social secretaries feel that the room for maneuver has been limited due to a lack of information and guidelines from the municipalities concerning the ongoing pandemic, both to the social secretaries themselves and the women exposed to violence.

– The media reports that domestic violence has increased during the pandemic. But the social secretaries believe that they will receive more visits from abused women when the pandemic is over because it is only then that they can get away from their perpetrator.