The learning objectives of this module are to become familiar with the domestic violence risk assessment procedure, different risk assessment tools and high-risk moments that may increase the risk.
Risk assessment is a phase, during which the level of the risk and its nature are assessed. Start with reading how risks are assessed in Nora’s case. Then take a look at the general guidelines, risk assessment tools and high-risk moments.
Case scenario: Nora
One day Nora finds a phone number of an NGO that helps immigrant women. The phone service is also in Nora’s native language. Nora calls the service phone anonymously to ask for legal advice about what happens to her residence permit in the case of a divorce. The NGO worker asks Nora about her life situation. Nora discloses her difficult situation and anxiety.
The NGO worker meets Nora at the school after the language course since it is the only place where Nora can go alone. With Nora’s consent, the NGO worker contacts the police and a responsible social service worker.
In some EU-countries the legislation allows the professionals to share and exchange information for more comprehensive risk assessment, if it is necessary to protect a child, to prevent a violent act or if the victim has given her consent. In some EU-countries, however, there is no legislative support in relation to information exchange between the police, social work or health care sectors. Hence, multi-agency mechanisms within the EU range from the adoption of formal or informal referral mechanisms to the presence of multidisciplinary teams or conferences that are mandated by legislation or by policy documentation on risk assessment.
The Istanbul Convention requires the State parties to take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that an assessment of the lethality risk, the seriousness of the situation and the risk of repeated violence is carried out by all relevant authorities in order to manage the risk and if necessary to provide co‐ordinated safety and support.
The next example of how Nora’s case is brought into the multi-agency risk assessment process is based on the requirements of the Istanbul Convention. This may differ from your national legislation.
With the consent of Nora, the police, the social service worker, the NGO worker and a representative of the health care sector participate in a risk assessment conference. Nora has given her consent that the professionals can share and exchange information regarding Nora.
Look at the boxes to see what kind of information can be collected by multi-agency co-operation:
If Nora is asked about her situation, she may tell us this:
– Her speech issues developed four months ago after Peter had strangled her
– She fears that Peter will kill her if she separate from him
– She is worried that her residence permit will be cancelled if she separates; this is what Peter has told her
– She is worried that the police won’t believe her since she is an immigrant but Peter has the nationality of this country
– Peter has told that he will publish private sexual pictures of her if she tells anyone about the violence or tries to leave him
– Peter has said that he will make sure that no decent man will ever even look at Nora if she separates from Peter.
The identified risk factors
The purpose of risk assessment tools is to help frontline responders identify all the risk factors and to create a complete overview of the victim’s situation in order to ascertain whether she remains at risk of serious harm and can assist in the development of a safety plan.
A calculation of the probability of becoming a victim of serious violence does not help the victim, but the calculation and the frontline responders’ own judgment of the situation support the frontline responders in taking necessary action to protect the victim, and to prevent future violence. In this scenario, the frontline responders have identified the following risk factors and victim’s vulnerability factors:
• using violence more frequently
• using more intensive (harmful, injurious) violence
• strangled Nora
• used coercive control
• used physical violence
• used economic, digital and psychological violence
• previous criminal record entries
• is planning a divorce
• has an immigrant background
• strong fear
• social isolation
• mental health issues
The community of Nora and Peter is justifying violence by
In order to enable constructive and smooth co-operation between different agencies, the legislation should be clear and every partner should understand their roles and responsibilities.
(1) Do you know, in which situation you can share and exchange information with other agencies?
General guidelines for risk assessment
Key point: Risk assessment is needed in the safety planning of the victim and in managing the sources of risks.
- Collect as much information as possible about the identified risk factors
- Risk assessment needs to address both adult and child victim-survivors
- Risk assessment should be done with the victim-survivor, not to her/him
- Ideally, with the consent of the victim-survivor, information is shared e.g. with the police, prosecutor, social work, health care sector and relevant NGOs
- Respect the victim-survivors wish with whom to cooperate
- Assess the immediate risks to the safety of the client/patient or any children
- Use your national/local risk assessment tool to assess the risks and ask for training
- In case you cannot access national/local risk assessment tools, use internationally accepted risk assessment tools and ask for training. You find tools under “Risk assessment tools”
- If possible, also assess the risk based on the information you have about the perpetrator (for example as a probation officer, prosecutor or prison employees)
Risk assessment tools
Key point: There are several risk assessment tools for screening and documenting domestic violence as well as to assess the level of the risk. Appropriate use of these tools requires training.
There are different kinds of risk assessment tools used by the frontline responders. Some organisations have developed their own tools. However, below you can see some of the most widely used risk assessment tools.
The DASH risk assessment checklist is based on research of e.g. indicators of homicides. The form can be filled in by any public official (e.g. a police officer, a social worker, a nurse, a doctor, an NGO worker) who works with a victim of violence, however, training on this risk assessment tool should be undertaken before it is used.
DASH risk assessment form includes questions about financial, psychological and physical violence and as well as threats. If a certain number of the risk indicators is met, the professional will refer the case to his/her local MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference).
Scoring a certain number of points on the checklist is not an absolute requirement for referral to a MARAC since the professional may refer the case to a MARAC if s/he has concern for a victim.
A third criterion for referral to a MARAC is the escalation of recent violence, which is measured in terms of the number of domestic disturbance calls made to the police over the last twelve months. A common practice is to submit a case to a MARAC if at least three domestic disturbance calls have been made within a single year.
See also VS-DASH 2009 – The Stalking Risk Identification Checklist
DA (Danger Assessment)
The series of 15 questions on the Danger Assessment is designed to measure a woman’s risk in an abusive relationship.
The tool can with some reliability identify women who may be at risk of being killed by their intimate partners. According to studies, almost half of the murdered women studied did not recognise the high level of their risk. Thus, risk assessment tools like the Danger Assessment may assist women and the professionals who help them to better understand the potential for danger and the level of their risk. Completing the Danger Assessment can help a woman evaluate the degree of danger she faces and consider what she should do next. Practitioners are reminded that the Danger Assessment is meant to be used with a calendar to enhance the accuracy of the assaulted woman’s recall of events. Read more: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/jr000250e.pdf
The Danger Assessment can be printed from http://www.son.jhmi.edu/research/CNR/homicide/DANGER.htm, which also gives directions regarding permission for use.
The violence risk appraisal guide (VRAG) is an actuarial instrument. It assesses the risk of further violence among men or women who have already committed criminal violence. It is empirically supported actuarial method for the assessment of violence risk in forensic populations.
The VRAG is a 12-item actuarial instrument that assesses the risk of violent recidivism among men apprehended for criminal violence. The recommended basis for scoring the VRAG for research and individual assessment is a comprehensive psychosocial history addressing childhood conduct, family background, antisocial and criminal behavior, psychological problems, and details of offenses. Adequate psychosocial histories include more than past and present psychiatric symptoms and rely on collateral information (i.e., material gathered from friends, family, schools, correctional facilities, the police, and the courts). Scoring the VRAG is not a clinical task in its typical sense because it does not require contact between the assessor and the person being assessed. Nevertheless, compiling the required psychosocial history clearly is a clinical task, and expertise is required to score VRAG items from psychosocial histories.
The PATRIARCH assessment tool is a victim-focused checklist. It is based on the structured professional judgement approach to assess the risk of honour-based violence and forced marriage. The tool is comprised of 10 risk factors and five victim vulnerability factors. Its goal is safety planning.
Proper use of the PATRIARCH risk assessment tool requires specialised education and training. http://www.rpksundsvall.se/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/PATRIARCH-4.pdf
The ODARA is an actuarial risk assessment tool that calculates whether a man who assaulted his female partner, will repeat it in the future. The 13 ODARA items include domestic and non-domestic criminal history, threats and confinement during the index incident, children in the relationship, substance abuse, and barriers to victim support. Each is scored 0 or 1 and the total score is simply the sum of the items.
The ODARA is considered simple to use and can be used by a wide range of service providers e.g. police officers, shelter workers, victim services workers, health care professionals and social workers. It can be used in safety planning with the victims. The use of such a tool allows service providers from a wide variety of backgrounds to share a common language when talking about risk. ODARA training has improved scoring accuracy.
SARA (Spousal Assault Risk Assessment) and B-SAFER (Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk)
The B-SAFER is a condensed version of SARA. It is a structured risk assessment instrument designed to identify persons who are at risk from intimate partner violence. B-SAFER is constructed specifically for police officer use because of their role as frontline responders in domestic abuse incidents. SARA has been considered time-consuming for police officers to complete. Therefore SARA’s 20 items were reduced to 10 items in the B-SAFER.
The B-SAFER 10 items are divided into two subsections: Perpetrator Risk Factors (items 1-5) and Psychosocial Adjustment (items 6-10). Each subsection has an option to note an additional risk consideration that the assessor believes may be important to a particular case.
The purpose of B-SAFER is to “guide and structure an assessor’s decision-making regarding a perpetrator’s future intimate partner violence risk through evaluation of risk factors that are empirically associated with spousal violence”.
High-risk moments and triggers for increasing risk
Key point: Be aware of high-risk moments and triggers for increasing risk. Agencies should be aware of the need for additional safety planning and support for victims around events that may contribute to risk.
- Perpetrator is given a (court) decision of
- a restraining order
- a divorce/obligation to share assets
- a negative residence permit
- different than desired child custody decision/child contact arrangements
- The perpetrator realizes that the situation was reported to police
- The perpetrator is released from custody
- The perpetrator is being charged
- Trial is scheduled/occurred
- Lead-up to a trial
- Sentence reading is scheduled/occurred
- Release from a prison sentence
- Expiry of a court order
- A previously violent perpetrator wants to meet “one last time”
- The perpetrator discovers the new address of the victim
- The victim declares intention of leaving/separation
- The victim attempts to leave for separation
- The victim starts a new relationship