Module 5: Risk assessment and safety planning

1. Risk factors for domestic violence
2. Risk assessment
3. Sex and gender aspects in risk assessment
4. Safety planning
5. Communicating safety measures and risk assessment
6. Aspects of best practice risk assessment

Sources

Introduction to the topic

Welcome to Module 5: Risk assessment and safety planning. In this module, you will explore the critical components of domestic violence risk assessment and safety planning. We will delve into identifying risk factors associated with domestic violence, how to conduct thorough risk assessments well, and the need to include sex and gender dynamics in risk assessment processes. Additionally, we will present strategies for safety planning and effective communication of safety measures and risk assessment.

Learning objectives

+ How to conduct comprehensive risk assessments.

+ Recognising sex and gender dynamics in risk assessment and taking this into consideration.

+  Understanding and developing safety planning strategies to support victims.


Risk management involves a collaborative set of strategies and measures aimed at bolstering the well-being of the victim/survivor in all age groups while reducing or eliminating the likelihood of the perpetrator committing further acts of violence.1 Risk management can include facilitating access to support and services, seeking secondary consultations, and continuously assessing risk.2 Last, but not least, integral to all risk management efforts is the incorporation of safety planning after disclosure of domestic violence.

Activities related to risk management encompass addressing diverse risks and associated needs, such as…3

  • Addressing immediate risks promptly
  • Safety planning (including children or young individuals)
  • Engaging in conversations with victim/survivors regarding available alternatives and linking them to pertinent services
  • Continuously assessing and managing risks over time, monitoring for any shifts or escalations
  • Collaboration with other services by sharing relevant information.

Please remember: Victims of domestic violence come from all social, cultural, economic, and religious backgrounds with different age, gender and sexual orientation, including people with disabilities. It affects people from all socio-economic backgrounds and education levels. It is important to understand, that there is NO “typical victim”.

Even though many example videos depict a female as the victim in heterogenous relationships, please do not be misled. Victims can be anyone, including men, children, individuals with disabilities, or non-binary persons. The same applies to perpetrators. For more information on perpetrators, check out Module 1. Also, domestic violence can occur between couples, same-sex couples, parent and child, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents or even roommates.


1. Risk factors for domestic violence

It is important to identify the presence of those risk factors which increase the likelihood of escalating the violence and can lead to ‘reassault‘.5 These factors encompass the psychological and psychosocial traits of both, perpetrators and victims, as well as the dynamics within the victim-perpetrator relationship.6 It is essential to emphasise that these factors are not causal factors.7 Understanding risk factors is an important part of responding appropriately to disclosures of domestic violence.8 Risk factors may not be direct triggers of domestic violence but rather play a role as contributing factors to domestic violence. It is essential to remember that these factors can interact in various intricate ways. Nevertheless, even though certain factors often coincide with domestic violence, none of them directly causes it.

Risk factors associated with domestic violence are often analysed through the ecological model lens9, considering that factors vary between individual, relationship, community, and societal levels. Certain risk factors are consistently found across studies, while others are context-specific, varying between and within countries, such as in rural and urban settings.

General risk factors:

Sources: 10, 11, 12,13,14,15,16


Possible indicators for high-risk: 17
· Sudden change in perpetrators’ behaviour: “he’s/she’s changed all of sudden”
· Victim tells you: “he/she gives me the creeps”, “He/she has that look in his/her eyes”
· Violence towards pets
· Substance abuse (e.g., alcoholism, drugs)
· Strangulation
· Pregnancy
· Separation and divorce
· Victim is in a new relationship
· Perpetrator lost custody of children
· Violation of restraining orders

  • Perpetrator/victim have shared children
  • Close-knit family network is utilised by the perpetrator to gather information about the victim, to involve family members or friends to maintain pressure, etc.
  • Data protection regulations hinder involvement of additional professionals
  • Lack of information and problematic protection for the victim after conviction and imprisonment

While there are several common risk factors across various forms of domestic violence, specific risk factors may also exist for certain groups.

Specific risk factors: Post-separation abuse

A common misconception is that when a relationship ends, the violence and conflict end too, but in many cases, it is the opposite. Instead of decreasing, violence can escalate and become more intense after separation. This means that many victims of domestic violence they still suffer repeated violence that continues also after separation. 19 That is in line with data showing that perpetrators of domestic violence often subject their victims to repeated violence and international research based on crime statistics shows varying results with a recidivism rate of 15-60%. 20,21

The term “post-separation abuse” delineates an enduring, intentional pattern of intimidation tactics directed towards a former partner after separation. In essence, it is about using various mechanisms to maintain and reinforce the power imbalance that already exists in the relationship. 22 Most of the research on post-separation abuse has so far focused on fathers’ violence against mothers, 23 but post separation abuse can happen to all victims of domestic violence.

Post separation can take many forms and key include:

  • Judicial or legal violence, which means that the perpetrator uses their legal rights to continue perpetrating violence in various forms. It can include initiating legal proceedings against the victim in order to control or intimidate or pursuing child custody or visitation rights with the intention of exercising dominance and control over the victim during or after separation. 24, 25
  • Financial abuse as a means of control within the legal system. 26 The perpetrator may seek changes in child support arrangements, pursue full custody to avoid financial obligations altogether, prolong court proceedings to negotiate payments excessively, or refuse to fulfil their financial obligations altogether. 27 Those who resort to this type of abuse may deceive about their financial situation, hide assets, or change employment to avoid sharing resources. 28 Prolonging legal proceedings can also put a financial burden on survivors, as the longer the negotiations last, the greater the cost to them.
  • Threats to children’s safety: Research has shown that there are often children involved in relationships with domestic violence 29, which means that many children live in a dynamic where there has been violence between the parents and where post-separation abuse is ongoing. As this enables the perpetrator to exert power and control through the children, by e.g., using children as weapons to control or manipulate the other party, this may lead to a variety of negative consequences regarding the child’s physical and mental health and quality of life. 30
  • Traumatising and social isolation: Among victims of domestic violence, trauma symptoms often persist for many years after separation from the perpetrator 31. In this group a high proportion have been reported to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 32 It should be emphasised that different types of violence and seemingly milder violence can lead to traumatisation and not only severe physical or sexual violence. 33 In many cases, these symptoms can be interpreted as other types of psychiatric and somatic health problems, hindering adequate care and treatment. 34 In addition, people who have been exposed to repeated and prolonged traumatic events may develop more complex symptoms such as impaired affect regulation, somatisation, dissociation and problems related to attention, memory, identity and relationships. 35 When the victim is met with a lack of support, for example through questioning, blaming and suspicion in meetings with professionals there is a risk that traumatisation and other negative consequences of the trauma deepens. 36
  • Character defamation: is not uncommon that victims are further victimised in various social processes following the primary victimisation 37 38 this is sometimes referred to as secondary victimisation. Research shows that secondary victimisation occurs as a sense of betrayal linked to “the victim’s expectations that she/[he] will be believed, validated and protected when she/[he]  is instead met with blaming attitudes and ignoring or minimising her/[his]  victimisation”. 39
  • Persistent harassment or stalking: Threats, harassment, intimidation, power, control, intrusion, imprisonment and omnipresence, i.e., the constant presence of the perpetrator, which can persist for a long time after separation. 40

Society’s response to post-separation abuse has crucial implications for victims 41, as life after separation from a violent partner can be characterised by plenty of hardships. There is an urge need for increased knowledge among front line responders on the signs, patterns and consequences of post-separation abuse in terms of mental and physical health and quality of life.

It is crucial that society takes post-separation abuse seriously and offers resources and support to those affected. This includes access to shelters, counselling, legal assistance and other resources that can help victims regain their independence and safety.

Here you can download the “Post Separation Power and Control Wheel”: https://www.theduluthmodel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Using-Children-Wheel.pdf

Specific risk factors: Domestic violence against the elderly 42

Individual risk factors:

  • Being overburdened by the care duties due to poor or inadequate preparation or training for caregiving responsibilities
  • Inadequate coping skills for being stressed by the care
  • High financial and emotional dependence upon the  vulnerable elder
  • Past family conflict
  • Inability to establish or maintain positive prosocial relationships
  • Lack of social support
  • Lack of own’s financial resources
Specific risk factors for re-abuse 43
  • At the individual level there is evidence to suggest a significant negative relationship between the victim’s socioeconomic status and re-abuse.
  • At the interpersonal level, in exploring the type of relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, the length of time living together was a better predictor of re-abuse than marital status. The history of physical abuse in the relationship was an important predictor of re-abuse.
  • In considering the likelihood of re-abuse in domestic violence relationships, professionals should consider the history of violence in the relationship, rather than focusing only on the severity of the offense.

2. Risk assessment

Evidence shows that adult victim/survivors are often good predictors of their own level of safety and risk, and that this is the most accurate assessment of their level of risk.

Therefore, understanding and assessing risk begins with listening to the victim. Through listening, professionals can pick up on cues and ask questions about indicators of violence. Risk assessment helps to identify whether the risk is low or high. 45

When victims/survivors anticipate danger, it should be taken seriously. Psychological violence is a significant aspect of abusive relationships and should be considered in both contexts: as a potential precursor to future physical violence and as part of the spectrum of behaviours constituting domestic violence.

For more information on the responsibilities related to risk assessment and safety planning among different frontline responders (such as police, healthcare professionals, social workers, and NGOs), please refer to the country reports and cross-national comparison on the risk assessment tools and case documentation used by frontline responders.

Definition: Risk assessment46

Risk assessment is a point-in-time assessment of the level of risk. Risk is dynamic and can change over time. This means you should regularly reassess risk, and any changes should be part of future assessment and risk management. Your assessment should include the level of risk, as well as appropriate risk management actions and approaches. You should also take into account relevant information about a victim/survivor or perpetrator’s circumstances.

Best-practice approaches to risk assessment with a victim/survivor enables them to share their story with you by you believing them about:

  • … their experience of violence
  • … the relationship
  • … how this has affected any children in the family (that is, understanding the risk experienced by children as victim-survivors in their own right, which may also be informed by direct assessment of children)
  • … patterns of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours of the perpetrator.

Risk assessment means making a professional judgement about the risk factors that are present combined with the victims own assessment of risk to determine the likelihood of future violence, and the potential for harm, including serious injury or death, from future violence. 47

More information on risk assessment can be found in Module 7.

As the strongest indicator for future risks/violence is the perpetrator’s current and past behaviour. It is important that the patient is being asked about his/her risk perception as well as his/her security management in the past and his/her plans in the future. Often, victims may recognise when they are facing imminent danger and may feel apprehensive about returning home. It is crucial to acknowledge and take seriously any concerns they have about their safety. For other victims, assistance may be needed in assessing their immediate risk. Specific questions can be posed to determine whether it is safe for them to go back to their homes. The primary goal is to ascertain if there is a tangible and imminent risk of severe harm. 48

If there is an immediate high risk, you can express your concern for their safety and engage in a conversation about protective measures to prevent harm. You can say: “I’m concerned about your safety. Let’s discuss what to do so you won’t be harmed.49

This video shows a practitioner conducting a comprehensive risk assessment, using structured professional judgement with an intersectional lens. It includes identifying evidence-based risk factors for the victim-survivor, assessing children’s experience of risk, and conducting secondary consultations as required.

Tasks for reflection

(1) List the evidence-based risk factors that the practitioner identifies for the victim-survivor in the video.
(2) Reflect on the importance of evidence-based approaches in risk assessment.
(3) Explore how the practitioner applies an intersectional lens during the risk assessment. See Module 1 for further information on intersectionality.
(4) Examine how the video addresses the assessment of risk concerning children.

Download: IMPRODOVA-Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Checklist (PDF, 0.3 MB)


Some people fear that the question of suicide might provoke the victim to commit it. On the contrary, talking about suicide often reduces the victim’s fear of suicidal thoughts and helps him or her to feel understood. The findings of a study demonstrated a clear correlation between documented cases of domestic violence and a heightened likelihood of self-harm. During the study period, almost a quarter of individuals who experienced domestic assault engaged in self-harming behaviour. 50

Further it is important to provide documentation indicating an immediate risk of suicide and self-injury, to facilitate effective communication among colleagues and ensure consistency.

Example: Suicide Risk Screening Tool (asQ) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/sites/default/files/documents/research/research-conducted-at-nimh/asq-toolkit-materials/asq-tool/screening_tool_asq_nimh_toolkit_1.pdf

In cases where there is an imminent danger of self-harm or suicide, it is crucial that the victim not be left alone, particularly if…

  • … the victim has current thoughts or plans to commit suicide or to harm himself/herself or
  • … there is a history of thoughts or plans for self-harm in the past month or a record of self-harm in the past year, and the victim now appears extremely agitated, violent, desperate, or uncommunicative,

In these cases, the victim should be sent to a psychiatric hospital immediately. You should call an ambulance for transfer. In case of non-compliance ask for an immediate psychiatric consultation. Breaking confidentiality is not a legal issue in this case; reporting acute self-endangerment is obligatory.


3. Sex and gender aspects in risk assessment 51

The majority of risk assessments do not explicitly consider sex/gender aspects. Often, these instruments either lack provisions for both sexes in their checklists or exclusively use the masculine form when referring to perpetrators. Consequently, if professionals harbour gender bias, they may overlook men as victims of domestic violence.

The perception and assumptions about one’s own and the other sex and gender are important for specific aspects regarding risk assessment as well. For example, the perception of a female professional can be influenced by her sex (being female), her gender (e.g., how she sees her own role as a woman) and her own mind-set and expectations (e.g., women can be very aggressive, too). This may have an impact on how she speaks with other women and with men (e.g., strong voice, holding eye contact). This can also influence how she assesses the risk, the aspects recognised as significant (e.g., who started the incident), and how she perceives the victim (what cues are most important to her e.g., outward appearance). Moreover, it also affects how she is perceived by the victim (male or female) and other frontline partners. For instance, a female professional could be seen as less threatening by a female victim who may then more willingly share information.

Furthermore, biased communication may arise when frontline responders perceive women as the “weaker sex” needing protection. In this scenario, gendered perception runs the risk of re-victimising the victim through using derogative words and not considering the victim as an autonomous individual for example. This might be responsible for victims not sharing all information that are relevant for the risk assessment because they do not feel as being taken seriously. Alternatively, a professional may not take male victims’ complaints seriously and may downplay the incident, because in this frontline responder’s worldview, it is almost impossible to conceive those men can also become victims of domestic violence, which might end in an escalation of violence because the professionals do not intervene to end the violence against the man.

Another scenario is that the professional may not ask a male victim if he is financially dependent of his wife because in this socio-cultural context it is assumed that men are breadwinners and earn more money than women. Therefore, they might not be aware that the male victim is financially dependent on his wife, and this is not reflected in the risk assessment of the victim.

Hence, integrating sex and gender aspects into risk assessment instruments is imperative for professionals. They must acknowledge legislative and ethical requirements on gender equality, reflecting on their behaviour and judgment to mitigate biases that could affect risk assessment outcomes. Even if sex/gender aspects are included, professionals must be trained to consider them during assessments, ensuring that questions are asked and interpreted appropriately. For further insights, refer to Module 8.


4. Safety planning

Creating a safety plan can be approached in various ways, tailored to individual circumstances. It should address immediate safety concerns and remain adaptable to changes in circumstances. While a victim cannot control their partner’s abusive behaviour, they can implement measures to safeguard themselves and their children. A safety plan is a personalised and practical strategy that identifies specific actions a victim can take to enhance their protection and minimise the risk of harm.

Many victims who have been subjected to violence have fears about their safety. Other victims may not think they need a safety plan because they do not expect that the violence will happen again. Explain that domestic violence is not likely to stop on its own: it tends to continue and may escalate over time and may happen more often. 52

When making a safety plan with someone experiencing violence, it is important to start by listening. First, listen for, and ask questions about, what has been happening. Find out what they already do to increase safety and use this as a basis for helping them to think about what else might increase their safety. 53

Assessing and planning for safety is an ongoing process – it is not just a one-time conversation. You can help them by discussing their particular needs and situation and exploring their options and resources each time you see them and as their situation changes. Discuss whether it is safe for them to return home.


5. Communicating safety measures and risk assessment

For an initial risk assessment talk to the victim in a private setting and assess immediate concerns. For further information on how to communicate with victims, see Module 3.

Questions to assess immediate risk of violence 54, 55

  • Is it safe for you to go home?
  • What are you afraid might happen?
  • What has the perpetrator threatened?
  • What about threats to the children?
  • Has physical violence happened more often or gotten worse over the past 6 months?
  • Has he/she had a weapon and has he/she ever used a weapon or threatened you or other family members with a weapon?
  • Has he/she ever tried to strangle you?
  • Do you believe he/she would kill you?
  • Has he/she ever beaten you when you were pregnant?
  • Is he/she violently and constantly jealous of you?
  • Has the perpetrator threatened to commit suicide? (risk for femicide!)

Victims who answer “yes” to at least three of the questions may be at especially high immediate risk of violence.


Making a safety plan 56

Even a victim who is not facing immediate serious risk could benefit from having a safety plan. If they have a plan, they will be better able to deal with the situation if violence suddenly occurs. The following elements are part of a safety plan and questions you can ask to help them make a plan.

Safe place to go“If you need to leave your home in a hurry, where could you go?”
Planning for children“Would you go alone or take your children with you?”
Transport“How will you get there?”
Items to take with you“Do you need to take any documents, keys, money, clothes, or other things with you when you leave? What is essential?”
Financials“Do you have access to money if you need to leave? Where is it kept? Can you get to it in an emergency?”
Support of someone close by“Is there a neighbour you can talk to about the violence, who can call the police or come help you if they hear sounds of violence coming from your home?”

Be realistic: you can help by discussing the victim’s needs with them, telling him/her about other sources of help, and assisting him/her to get help if they want it. It will usually not be possible to deal with all their concerns during the first meeting. Let the victim know that you are available to meet again to talk about other issues.
Do not expect the victim to make decisions immediately. It may seem frustrating if you think he/she will not take any steps to change their situation. However, the person will need to take it’s time and do what he/she think is right for them. Always respect the wishes and decisions of the other person.


Discuss how to stay safer at home 57

If the victim finds it challenging to avoid discussions that might escalate with their perpetrator, it is advisable to suggest having those conversations in a space where they can easily exit if needed. Emphasise the importance of avoiding rooms where weapons may be present for added safety.

In situations where immediate leaving is considered the best option, encourage the victim to plan and execute their departure to a secure location before informing their perpetrator. This approach is crucial to minimising the risk of violence towards themselves and any children involved.


Avoid putting the victim at risk 58

Minimise the risk to the victim’s safety by addressing violence concerns only in private settings, ensuring that no one can overhear the conversation. Avoid discussing it if the partner, family members, or anyone accompanying the victim may be within earshot, even friends. Create opportunities for private conversations, perhaps by sending someone on an errand or assigning a task. If children are present, arrange for a colleague to supervise them during your discussion.

Maintain the confidentiality of her/his records by storing them securely, away from public view. Discuss how she/he will explain her/his whereabouts and, if necessary, determine the plan for any paperwork she/he needs to take with her/him.

This video shows risk management including safety planning at a comprehensive level. It demonstrates how to lead collaborative case coordination and how to centre a victim-survivor in risk management planning.

Tasks for reflection

(1) List the key risk management strategies and safety planning techniques presented in the video.
(2) Consider how the video emphasises centring the victim in the risk management planning process.
(3) Reflect on the importance of empowering and involving victims in decision-making.
(4) Identify potential challenges or barriers to effective risk management and safety planning.

Taking care of your own needs 59

Recognise that your needs are just as significant as those of the person you are assisting. Engaging in discussions or hearing about violence may evoke strong reactions or emotions, particularly if you have personally endured violence in the past, or if you are currently facing such challenges. Acknowledge and understand your emotions, using this as an opportunity for self-reflection. Seek the necessary help and support to address your own needs and ensure your emotional well-being. Further information can be found in Module 9: self-care (soon available)


6. Aspects of best practice risk assessment

A best practice risk assessment would be a tool that helps front line practitioners to identify high risk cases and provide opportunitied to refer victims to support services in a timely manner. A risk assessment tool should also raise awareness of the fact that certain behaviours are abuse, and abuse is wrong.

Assessing the risk of domestic violence is an important task of frontline responders as victims need to be prevented from further extreme violent or fatal (re-)offences. Several domestic violence risk assessment tools already do exist. All of these tools build on empirically derived risk factors of domestic violence victims’ revictimisation and provide systematic checklists of items related to these risk factors. The risk is calculated by summarising these items.

For the use of a risk assessment, it is important to have an overview on all the aspects of the situation. This includes information about the perpetrator and the victim as well as the history of violence. Therefore, multidisciplinary and multiagency risk assessment is an important aspect of a best practice risk assessment. It is important to take the fear of the victim seriously, because it is an indicator for an increased risk.

Irrespective of how good a risk assessment tool may be – its effectiveness will depend on how it is used and how well it is linked to risk management processes. However, risk assessment tools always have the potential risk of being used as a justification of reducing resources and cutting costs.

Various tools are in use as follows.

Danger Assessment (DA)

The Danger Assessment is an instrument that helps to determine the level of danger for an abused woman of being killed by her intimate partner.

There are two parts to the tool: a calendar and a 20-item scoring instrument. The calendar helps to assess severity and frequency of battering during the past year. The calendar portion was conceptualised as a way to raise the woman’s consciousness and reduce the denial and minimisation of the abuse, especially since using a calendar increases accurate recall in other situations.60,61

The 20-item instrument uses a weighted system to score yes/no responses to risk factors associated with intimate partner homicide. Some of the risk factors include past death threats, partner’s employment status, and partner’s access to a gun.

The tool is currently available in English, Spanish, Canadian French and Brazilian Portuguese: https://www.dangerassessment.org/DATools.aspx

A short four-item version called the Lethality Assessment has been developed for use by law enforcement officials responding to domestic violence calls. Women at high risk are then referred to advocates who have been trained in the Danger Assessment.

Click here to learn more about the Lethality Assessment:

https://www.dangerassessment.org/inTheField.aspx?pageID=Law%20Enforcement

https://www.dangerassessment.org/About.aspx

Domestic Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (DVRAG)

The Domestic Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (DVRAG) contains the same items as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA), but also incorporates psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R) findings. The DVRAG is a 14-item actuarial tool which assesses the probability of Intimate Partner Violence perpetrated by males against a female partner62, and how this risk compares with that of other abusers. These tools may also predict the speed and number of recidivistic offenses and the severity of injuries caused. The general scoring criteria include the instructions for scoring and interpreting the ODARA in any setting. DVRAG is intended for use by forensic clinicians and criminal justice officials who can access in-depth information.

https://www.rma.scot/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/RATED_DVRAG_August-2019_Hyperlink-Version.pdf

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=p1JoYbAAN7QC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

DASH Risk Assessment

DASH stands for domestic abuse, stalking and ‘honour’-based violence. The risk assessment tool was the outcome of documenting 47 domestic homicides and cataloguing the key risk variables to develop the DASH risk model. The DASH checklist is used by a number of agencies in Scotland, including the police. However, it has not been introduced everywhere in Scotland. The DASH risk checklist is supposed to be a consistent and simple tool for practitioners who work with adult victims of domestic abuse. It is supposed to help them identify those who are at high risk of harm and whose cases should be referred to a MARAC meeting in order to manage their risk.

A MARAC (also referred to as multi-agency risk assessment conference) is a regular local meeting to discuss how to help victims at high risk of murder or serious harm. The participants are domestic abuse specialists, police, children’s social services, health and other relevant agencies. They talk about the victim, the family and perpetrator, and share information. The meeting is confidential. Together, the participants write an action plan for each victim.

Resources for MARAC meetings

Find a MARAC

FAQs about the Dash risk checklist

Further resources for identifying the risk victims face

BIG 26

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program (DAIP) in Duluth, Minnesota, USA, has developed 26 questions to assess the danger emanating from a perpetrator. The Duluth model emphasises the importance of an interagency cooperation and coordinated community response to battering, of victim safety and offender accountability. For more details see: https://www.theduluthmodel.org/.

DyRiAS Intimate Partner

DyRiAS stands for Dynamic Risk Assessment Systems. DyRiAS Intimate Partner has been in operation in Germany, Austria and Switzerland since January 2012. On the one hand, the instrument measures the risk of committing acts of serious violence against the intimate partner. In addition, a separate scale measures the risk of mild to moderate physical violence. DyRiAS-Intimate Partner only records violence in heterosexual relationships, starting with the male (former) partner. The duration of the current or former relationship is immaterial and can range from a short to a long-term relationship. In total, DyRiAS Intimate Partner comprises 39 items.

For more information on DyRiAS Intimate Partner, click here.

A comparative analysis table with various risk assessment tools can be downloaded here:



Risk assessment procedures and response strategies for the police in different European countries

Risk assessment protocols for domestic violence cases vary on a large scale concerning their methodological background in European countries – whether they have been developed individually and locally, or by scientists, or whether they are the implementations of standardised, national-level or internationally used tools. One third of the countries participating in the IMPRODOVA project, do not use formalised risk assessment protocols. In some countries where formalised tools are used, such as some parts of Austria (Vorarlberg) and Hungary, risk assessment tools are rather static, meaning that risk is examined and evaluated at a certain stage of the procedure and the timing of the risk assessment imposes certain limitations towards the procedure. In Finland, Portugal and Scotland as well as the city of Berlin (Germany), risk assessment is dynamic and is processed on an on-going basis as new information is received or incidents occur.

Detailed country-specific information

Austria

In Austria, a risk assessment tool, ‘SALFAG’, has been developed for a pilot project by the Ministry of Interior. Its mandatory use was restricted on a trial basis mainly to the state Vorarlberg between 2013 and 2014. Since then, it has been used discretionary in this location. It was designed primarily for the use by prosecutors and is therefore not specifically adapted to the needs of the police. In practice, it is predominantly used after the police officer has left the location at which a case of domestic violence occurred. Mainly due to issues in practical on-site applicability and lacking procedural refinement, the tool is rarely employed or able to provide guidance on decision-making, especially when filing charges or to issue a restraining order.

Germany

In Berlin, it is mandatory to classify domestic violence according to its threatening potential if further incidents of domestic violence are suspected. This risk assessment includes all relevant information about the affected parties and all observations of the police officers classified as relevant and thus depicts essential police expertise. A checklist integrated into POLIKS also provides additional information. The final classification is made on an eight-point scale, which can be updated at any time. The information on the case is also written down continuously. In Münster (federal state North-Rhine Westphalia), Hannover (federal state Lower-Saxony), in Mannheim and Freiburg (federal state Baden-Württemberg), there are no standardised tools to measure/indicate risk. As risk assessment is part of handling a DV incident, police officers do risk assessment as part of the documentation procedure without any specific, standardised guidelines or set of criteria.

Finland

In Finland, crime investigation units use risk assessment tools discretionally. Response operation units (patrol units who work with DV cases on site) do not use any formal, standardised risk assessment; police, however, use different risk assessment tools in different locations. In one of the locations MARAC is applied, a dynamic risk assessment process, used with the participation of different agencies; they are monitoring the victim’s situation regularly. Concerning MARAC, it is important to mention that it focuses on violence between intimate partners, excluding all other types of DV. Therefore, a large amount of violence within families and other close relationships is not covered by the MARAC risk assessment. At another location, a modified tool developed by The National Bureau of Investigation is used for screening and predicting serious and targeted violence (e.g., mass shooting), which is sometimes also used when investigating domestic violence cases. It is based on a checklist, considering risk factors such as changes in life situation, previously known violent behaviour, how persistently the suspect has tried to approach a person previously, if the suspect has damaged the victim’s property, if the suspect has done anything specific for preparing violent acts or hurting the victim.

Portugal

In Portugal, there is a DV risk assessment checklist, created as part of a project led by the Ministry of Interior. It is based on the review and implementation of the most frequent items of several risk assessment instruments, including DASH. The implementation process involved reliability tests, pilot applications and an experimental test phase. Since the tool’s implementation in 2013, its use has been mandatory.

Scotland

In Scotland, the police uses the DAQ questionnaire mandatorily. This is a standardised risk assessment tool based on the 24 DASH RIC questions, extending the DASH RIC with three additional questions relating to children and dependents. So, all in all, it consists of 27 questions.

France

In France, there is a generic procedure of risk assessment which is applied for all crimes, and not just domestic violence cases, under the terms of “personalised evaluation of the needs of the victim”.

This procedure is imposed by the code of penal procedure. The idea is that law enforcement pays attention not only to identifying and arresting suspects, but also to protect and accompany victims. Once the criminal complaint report is transmitted to the prosecutor’s office, the prosecutor can decide to further examine the victim’s situation, having recourse to a specialised NGO (funded by the Ministry of Justice) which has developed acknowledged expertise in conducting “social investigations” (that is examining the psychological and social aspects of the domestic violence situation with emphasis on victim security). In addition, all the French gendarmerie and some police units use domestic violence pre-hearing questionnaires. Nevertheless, these tools are not specifically designed for risk assessment. They are interview guides including details necessary to assess the risks and to define protection measures; to make sure that investigators don’t forget to ask important questions during the hearing of the domestic violence victim. The use of domestic violence pre-hearing questionnaires is a component of the case management software, their use is mandatory in the gendarmerie and discretional in the police.

Slovenia

In Slovenia, the police are a member of a multidisciplinary team, managed by the Centre for Social Work that has its own risk assessment tool, and the police receive the results of the Centre’s risk assessment. Some interviewees explicitly stated that there is no need for a second assessment by the police.

Hungary

In Hungary, there is a semi-formal risk assessment procedure related to the ordering of restraining orders. The police officer who is in charge of ordering a temporary (72 hour) restraining order (it can be a patrol or an investigation officer) has a checklist (regularity, time of the incident, physical injuries, residence of the perpetrator, emotional status of the victim, previous measures taken by the police, etc.) based on risk assessment tools used in the IMPRODOVA countries.

Shortcomings
Austria

A crucial challenge faced by the officers is that the application of the risk assessment tool is not integrated in the routine knowledge and practice of frontline responders (FLRs). Additionally, it takes a considerable amount of time. A further shortcoming mentioned is the timing of the risk assessment: as it is filled in after the decision to issue a restraining order, it is not providing any guidance during police actions; thus the patrol officers do not consider it as useful and rather see it as a “formality” to execute than a real tool for risk assessment. Moreover, on the one hand the validation of the outcomes seems fragmental in comparison to international best practices; on the other hand, the tool does not include the perspective of frontline responders on the case as part of the risk assessment.

Finland

Lack of regular, systematic use of the risk assessment tool is the main shortcoming mentioned by the interviewees. A further problem mentioned was that, as the power of MARAC lies in the multidisciplinary team, when using the MARAC method, the participation of the police is not mandatory. Even if there is no police officer present, the MARAC team meets and does the risk assessment without the involvement of the police.

France

The risk assessment and the choice of protection measures are performed by the prosecutor, while information necessary to take appropriate decision is gathered by the police. As a consequence, failures, distortions or misunderstandings in information sharing between investigators and prosecutors may affect the victim’s security.

Germany

In those parts of Germany where no specific risk assessment tools are used, the police do not mention any shortcomings about the risk assessment procedure. Those units are satisfied with the fact that they do not have to use any checklist of indicators/measurements to gauge the risk; they have no restrictions when assessing and documenting the risk and reflecting the specifics of a domestic violence incident. In Berlin, however, where a formalised risk assessment is applied, officers see the value of a structured procedure.

Portugal

Portuguese interviewees consider the risk assessment checklist very useful compared to the situation before 2013, which was characterised by strong subjectivity and the lack of a unified approach towards risk assessment. The only shortcoming mentioned was the nature of the risk assessment model, which is strongly contingent and is necessarily oriented towards the current situation, meaning that it captures only a snapshot of the domestic violence situation, and this circumstance restricts its validity.

Scotland

Using the DAQ tool, some police officers mentioned that answers of the DAQ are context dependent on a range of factors, including some features of the enquiring officer (gender, age, attitude), timing of DAQ questioning in relation to the incident, and the victim’s willingness to engage (some may be too fearful to make a disclosure). The DAQ is considered to be a valuable tool, but not one that can be used independent from other information and professional experience drawn upon by FLRs in their assessment of risk.

Suggested improvements

As part of the interviews, questions regarding possible improvements of risk assessment procedures were asked. In most participating countries, such as France, Germany, Finland, Slovenia, and Hungary, police officers do not recommend any specific aspects of a possible improvement of risk assessment procedures. Surprisingly, in those countries where formalised risk assessment protocols are missing, police officers typically do not express the need for such tools. In Scotland, officers highlight the lack of internal and external (further agencies) feedback about the pathway of cases after filing a DAQ risk assessment report and recommend improvements on that field. In Portugal, although the responders do not present any specific suggestions, the team came to the the conclusion that improvement concerning the risk assessment tool is needed due to the currently high number of homicides. They also mentioned that the risk assessment tool has not been updated since the beginning of its application in 2013. In Austria, the interviews’ outcome is that a multidisciplinary crisis team would be useful: it should share the responsibility of the risk assessment procedure and placing of restrainings orders. A further improvement of the procedure would be if the restraining orders were issued after the risk assessment procedure, and if it took the outcomes of the risk assessment into consideration. Right now, the speed at which restraining orders are issued does not allow for an elaborated risk assessment procedure in every case.

Further information about risk assessment procedures in different European countries can be found here:


Case study: Domestic violence increases in severity over time

Spring 2016

Family F. has been living with two small children in their own apartment for a short time when Mr. F. became unemployed. Mrs. F. is able to scale-up her office activities; she is working from home since she is self-employed, and thus, she can ensure that the loan on the house can continue to be paid off. She notices how much her husband suffers from the situation and supports him as best as she can.

August 2016

The situation between couple F. has become very tense in the meantime. Since the children have been in the day-care centre during the day, Mr. F. uninhibitedly unleashes his disappointment and anger about the turning-down of his job applications and related financial issues by criticizing and humiliating his wife.

Mrs. F. suffers so much from the accusations that she proposes marriage counselling. She has great hope that everything can be improved. She feels that her husband has changed in his behavior completely, but she firmly believes that he will be back to his old self if he can find work again.

To Mrs. F.’s surprise, Mr. F. reacts violently to her suggestion to get help and strikes his wife in the face. Mrs. F. is desperate but considers this to be a one-off slip.

October 2016

Slaps in the face, shaking and bumps are now part of the weekly routine. Mrs. F. defends her husband’s behaviour from herself, hides it from others and hopes for improvement through a new employment of her husband.

August 2017

Over the summer, the situation has relaxed a little with the children at home during the summer holidays. Mrs. F. is hopeful because her husband is now also starting to work short time.

September 2017

Mrs. F. can breathe a sigh of relief during the day because her husband is out of the house. In the afternoon and evening, she spends every minute with the children, and also mostly sleeps with the children at night; she almost convinced herself that the children have problems falling and staying asleep and that at least her husband has to sleep through.

December 2017

Mr. F. is once again unemployed and from one day to the next he resumes to the old pattern of accusations, humiliation, and assaults against his wife.

A poster in the day-care centre draws Mrs. F.’s attention informing her that there is a hotline that gives advice to women who are exposed to domestic violence. The advertisement seems familiar to her, she must have passed it countless times. But for the first time, she connects it with herself. However, she does not consider her situation serious enough that she would need help for herself.

February 2018

The incidents of domestic violence occur at shorter intervals, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Mrs. F. to explain or hide her erratic and desperate behavior, her broken relationship and her numerous injuries from her family, her circle of friends and her children’s social environment. She withdraws more and more.

September 2019

The F. family is now almost completely isolated: their social environment at first reacted more and more uncomprehendingly to the many cancellations, becoming increasingly disappointed and irritated as disputes arose. Finally, their environment withdrew with resignation. Many attributed the situation to the family’s noticeably tense financial situation and assumed that everything would be the same when this difficult phase was over.

After a particularly violent incident of physical assault in the bedroom in the evening, which Mrs. F. suspects the children may have heard, Mrs. F. calls the nationwide help line for violence against women. It helps her to have someone who listens to her with understanding.

October 2019

Again and again, Mrs. F. calls the hotline after incidents. Finally, she also asks to be referred to a local advice centre and comes under increasing pressure because she realises that her children now also know and understand more than she would like them to know. Nevertheless, the step to filing a complaint and/or a separation seems impossible for Mrs. F.

From another mother from her neighbourhood, Mrs. F. learns that the police also advise citizens anonymously. She has never been in contact with the police, she has great respect and rather little trust that someone there could understand her situation. Nevertheless, she finally calls her districts’s victim protection officer with a suppressed telephone number. Surprised to be informed calmly, not to be condemned or pressed to report the case, she finally takes more courage. The police’s advice made her all the more aware of what she actually knew long ago: there is no easy way out and her family life is too disrupted to continue hoping for change. At the same time Mrs. F. is aware that she will never have the strength to oppose her husband alone or to pronounce the separation.

November 2019

Mrs. F. is accompanied to the police by her counsellor from the women’s facility and files a complaint. Her counsellor has informed the police about this case in advance and so a police officer, who is trained for cases of domestic violence and has already dealt with a large number of such cases, takes up her complaint. Her counsellor stays with her the whole time. During the interrogation, in which the officer proceeds very carefully and emphatically, Mrs. F. senses that there is apparently a relationship of trust between the counselling centre staff and the police officer, which makes it easier for her to report her ordeal. The police officer also asks her about her current and her children’s current situation of danger. Mrs. F. cannot assess the situation and is afraid of confrontation with her husband. She is informed about her rights as a victim, the further course of the criminal proceedings and the police protection possibilities. The police officer informs the youth welfare office about the situation with Mrs. F.’s knowledge.

Mrs. F. takes the courage to call her brother from the police station and informs him of the situation. He immediately leaves his workplace to take her and the children in overnight.

After the report was filed, Mr. F. was visited by the police and expelled from the shared flat. Mr. F. appears completely surprised and extremely angry to the police officers. He cannot believe that he is being expelled from the flat. After he has been made aware of the legal situation and has received information from the police officers about emergency shelters as well as counselling possibilities, he firmly agrees to stay away from his wife and children until further notice.

Mrs. F., supported by her counsellor in the women’s protection centre, takes the opportunity to apply to the Family Court for a protective order.

December 2019

During the three-week police investigation, Mr. F. exercised his right to refuse to give evidence and was represented by a lawyer. Mrs. F. is able to conclusively demonstrate the longstanding violent relationship in her renewed interrogation; again, she is accompanied by her advisor from the women’s protection agency. A hearing of the children is waived due to their age. After the release from medical confidentiality, medical documents from Mrs. F.’s family doctor are included in the procedure, which substantiate the information provided by Mrs. F.

After completion of the investigation, the police will send the criminal complaint to the competent department of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for cases of domestic violence for further decision.

A family court will decide on the rules of contact concerning the couple’s children. In later court proceedings, Mr. F. is convicted of multiple bodily harm and is instructed to take part in anti-violence training.



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