Module 5: Risk Assessment and Safety Planning

Domestic violence in times of COVID-19
Aspects of best practice risk assessment
Specialised Risk Assessment for the Police
Safety and Protection at the end of the process
Communication with victims about safety measures and risk assessment
Information about the usage of risk assessment tools in Europe regarding the Police
IMPRODOVA Checklist for risk assessment of domestic violence
IMPRODOVA Risk Assessment Integration Module

Learning objectives

This module presents what needs to be considered when assessing the risk of victims of domestic violence and what steps are necessary to improve the safety of victims. The learning materials are not tailored to the needs of every country; they include generic cases that need local adaptation.


IMPRODOVA: Domestic violence in times of disasters

The video highlights the influence of disasters on the rate of domestic violence.


Domestic violence in times of COVID-19

Quarantine, restrictions, closed schools, home office, short-time work, financial worries, and fear of the future – all these factors have the potential to cause increased stress in relationships and family life. It is therefore suspected that there has been and will continue to be a significant increase in violence at home.


Risk factors

  • Health and mental health problems can increase during a lockdown situation, as health-related services are only accessible to a limited extent. This in turn can have a negative impact on the health status of individuals, increase their stress levels and encourage an increase in violent assaults.
  • Economic insecurity or unemployment is accompanied by financial worries that can reinforce destructive coping mechanisms.
  • Violence always has to do with power. In times of crisis and isolation and the associated feelings of helplessness, loss of control and powerlessness, violence is supposedly a means of regaining control and power.
  • Language barriers, closures of contact points or the fact that social workers are only present on site to a limited extent due to the protective measures can make access to support services considerably more difficult.
  • Victims may also be reluctant to take advantage of support services for fear of contracting COVID-19.
  • Social distancing can limit the social contacts of individuals to such an extent that victims may not dare to seek help without the closeness and encouragement of caregivers. Similarly, caregivers, acquaintances, or outsiders, such as employers or educational staff, do not become aware of the problem and cannot act as supporters. On the other hand, neighbours are more alert and present and, due to the initial restrictions, must be considered a protective factor.

Light and dark field

During the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase of domestic violence was reported in EU countries.

Especially in cases of domestic violence, reports to the police are often received with some delay or not reported at all. Also, incidents are more often reported by people victims relate to. However, the COVID-19-related restrictions prevented reporting because of the lack of social contacts. Therefore, more cases than usual may have stayed undetected. As a result, it can be assumed that there is a high number of unreported cases.

This logic can explain why, in addition to an increase in reported cases of domestic violence in many areas, there was a decrease in numbers in others. This could be due to the fact that the perpetrator was always present at home so that the victim had no opportunity to call for help and/or report a crime without risking an escalation.


Domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic in EU countries

Each individual country has taken measures to support victims of domestic violence during the pandemic and to protect them from further violence.

National Action Plans

The document “The COVID-19 pandemic and intimate partner violence against women in the EU” offers a preliminary overview of the measures undertaken across the EU to support victims of violence during the COVID-19 outbreak (from March until the end of September 2020). It identifies examples of promising practices and provides initial recommendations for the EU and Member States on how to better support victims during the pandemic, as well as in other potential crises.

Although more research is needed to fully assess the extent of the emerging challenges, the findings from this study can be used to further explore the issues and contribute to the development of governmental strategies on prevention of gender-based violence and on crisis preparedness.

The study found that the introduction of counterpandemic measures across the EU created at least seven main challenges for service providers.

  • Ensuring continuity of service delivery
  • Finding new ways of providing support
  • Meeting a surge in demand for services
  • Dealing with strain on service provider staff
  • Reaching victims
  • Identifying the risk level of victims
  • Inadequacy of funding

All EU Member States implemented changes or established new measures to support and protect women victims of intimate partner violence and their children in response to COVID-19. However, comprehensive action plans specifically addressing the issue of intimate partner violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic or detailed guidance on emergency action were identified in few EU Member States. In addition, all these national policies and action plans were reactive responses that were developed and implemented after the COVID-19 outbreak, and were rarely accompanied by additional funding.

Only three Member States introduced action plans to specifically address issues relating to intimate partner violence in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ireland, Spain, and Lithuania are among the EU countries that have introduced a national action plan to tackle domestic violence during the pandemic. While Spain and Lithuania have strengthened coordination between their health, police and justice services, Ireland has gone one step further and has contributed € 160,000 to support shelters and hotlines for victims of domestic violence. Irish courts have given priority to domestic violence cases and increased the number of remote hearings. The police also checked on women who have experienced violence in the past.

Legislation

New legislation or amendments to existing legislation in response to COVID-19 were adapted in 14 Member States. The most common type of legislative change was intended to ensure continuity of services to support women victims and their children, either specifically during the lockdown situation or in emergency situations more generally. Legislation aiming to prevent victims from being trapped with perpetrators in the context of a lockdown or quarantine was less common. Even where such legislation was introduced, Member States focused more on providing alternative accommodation to victims and ensuring no criminal liability for victims travelling despite lockdown orders than on removing the perpetrator from the home or changing police procedures or justice systems to continue criminal proceedings. Like national policies and action plans, most legislative or judicial interventions were introduced during lockdown and intended to be temporary.

In Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia and France, governments are now legally obliged to provide alternative shelters for women who are exposed to violence at home. Estonian courts are empowered to issue injunctions against violent partners to protect the victim from homelessness and bring the perpetrator to justice.

Awareness campaigns

Almost every EU country has conducted awareness campaigns to inform victims of domestic violence about available support. In Greece, Finland, and Portugal, for example, these were targeted specifically at refugees and people with a migrant background, while other countries targeted women from Roma communities, LGBTIQ+, and women or people with hearing loss. Awareness campaigns can also encourage witnesses of domestic violence to support victims by providing clear guidance on how they can support victims.

Shaky support systems

Member States generally recognised the importance of increasing the availability of communication and support tools for victims throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, more digital channels to help women victims of intimate partner violence to reach out for help were established. Examples include mobile phone apps, various forms of instant messaging services and new email services, with service providers increasing their hours of operation and their capacity to assist victims in different languages. However, measures offering tailored support to children affected by domestic violence were scarce.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that support systems for victims of domestic violence are shaky in most EU countries. The staff of shelters and counselling centres was overwhelmed by the increased demand and the increased suffering of victims. They did not feel prepared for the situation of providing support from a distance and not being able to help the victims face-to-face. At the same time, they themselves had to adapt their work to the new situation (e.g., home office, reducing contacts, looking after children).

Conclusions
  • Very few EU Member States adopted a comprehensive national policy or action plan addressing potential spikes of intimate partner violence in the context of COVID-19.
  • To ensure continuity of service delivery throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, legislation was used to classify victim support services as essential in a limited number of EU Member States.
  • Legislative measures providing additional accommodation for victims were more common than those removing perpetrators.
  • Shortages in shelter accommodation caused by COVID-19 restrictions sparked cross-sectoral initiatives.
  • Lack of sufficient funding and guidance in EU Member States placed an additional burden on service providers.
  • All EU Member States recognised the need to raise awareness of the risk of a spike in intimate partner violence in the context of the pandemic.
  • There was a limited focus on providing specialised support for children and disadvantaged groups affected by intimate partner violence.

Source: The COVID-19 pandemic and intimate partner violence in the EU.


Special role of police, health, and social sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic

Police
  • In times of lockdown and pandemic, the attention of the police is focused on compliance with and control of state-ordered measures.
  • Especially at the beginning of the lockdown, police forces may have refrained from expelling an offender from their home if he or she was in quarantine because it was unclear how to proceed in such cases.
Health sector
  • The attention of medical staff during the pandemic is mainly focused on pandemic-related medical interventions. Cases of domestic violence can thus be more easily overlooked. Victims of domestic violence are also afraid to catch COVID-19 when going to a hospital. In some cases, access to hospitals during a lockdown is only possible in severe acute cases.
Social sector
  • School closures took place in about 190 countries worldwide. Apart from the direct loss of education, there was also a loss of social contacts. Indicators and direct signs of domestic violence thus have a high risk of being overlooked.
  • In the social sector, appointments with clients can no longer take place in person. Many contact points had to close, and appointments were cancelled or greatly reduced.
  • NGOs, victim support and counselling services reported an increased demand for counselling and/or support. Further analysis is needed to obtain reliable data on which services are in high demand and need to be strengthened and which services are less in demand and may need to be better adapted to the existing situation.

Recommendations to combat and better detect domestic violence during the pandemic

The lockdown measures to contain COVID-19 in spring 2020 also brought the issue of domestic violence increasingly into the public and police attention.

It was reported in the media, in politics and by NGOs that under COVID-19 conditions, especially women and children experience increased violence. The Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights has called on the states not only to protect women during the pandemic, but “to strengthen their measures to end violence against women in the future”. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has also supported calls for the EU and its Member States to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to step up their efforts to protect women’s rights (Source: https://eige.europa.eu/printpdf/news/eu-rights-and-equality-agency-heads-lets-step-our-efforts-end-domestic-violence).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UN women have underlined the importance of data collection during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a crucial tool to mitigate adverse effects on women and girls affected by violence, and to develop prevention strategies for future crises (Source: https://www.unwomen.de/aktuelles/corona-eine-krise-der-frauen.html; https://www.unwomen.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Corona/gender-equality-in-the-wake-of-covid-19-en.pdf). For the future, it is crucial that research provides immediate and longer-term policies and practical responses.

The following recommendations were phrased:

  • Law enforcement authorities must ensure that domestic violence incidents are given high priority and that the manifestations of violence associated with COVID-19 are addressed.
  • The health sector must always ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to sexual and reproductive health information and services.
  • Social sector support services should provide more online crisis support services such as hotlines and chats. Emergency care/day care services should be extended to all families – not only to parents working in systemically important jobs.

Aiming to reduce violence against women in different crisis situations and including women-specific needs in emergency and recovery plans

  • Adopt national action plans to improve the long-term response to gender-based violence in times of crisis.
  • Implement measures to protect victims and their children from perpetrators through rapid removal of the perpetrator.

Improving access to support services and limiting the impact of COVID-19 – and other potential crisis situations – on the functionality of support services

  • Adopt national legislation to ensure that support services for women victims of intimate partner violence and their children are recognised as essential services during states of emergency.
  • Introduce helplines and communication tools that provide victims with the means to discreetly access support in times of crisis.
  • Provide additional funding to expand the capacity of support services to support women victims of intimate partner violence and their children in times of crisis.
  • Update service providers’ procedures for risk assessment of victims to include remote service delivery rather than in-person settings only.
  • Evaluate measures to protect women victims of intimate partner violence and their children in times of crisis to improve future action.
  • Address the strain on service provider staff by adopting practices that support the staff’s well-being.
  • Use awareness-raising campaigns to inform victims about where and how to access support services in times of crisis.
  • Provide comprehensive initial vocational and in-service training for professionals supporting victims of violence.
  • Share knowledge and practices among the staff of support services to facilitate the effective delivery of remote counselling to women victims and their children.

The COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, jointly launched by UN Women and UNDP, provides a comprehensive overview of the political measures being taken worldwide.


How can victims of domestic violence be supported during a pandemic?
  • If victims of domestic violence do not want to turn to the police or help services because they do not trust state institutions or have already had bad experiences, the first step out of the violent situation can be taken with help lines or chats if this can be done safely at home. Further help is possible afterwards.
  • It is important that victims are always made aware that the blame never lies with them, and that what is happening is wrong. A clear statement and condemnation of domestic violence in the media – especially in times of pandemics – helps those affected to seek further support.
  • Concerns about the economic consequences after separation can make it difficult for victims of domestic violence to find a way out of their situation. Some victims are financially dependent on their partner, for example because they are no longer able to go to paid work due to caring for family members and childcare, or because they were dismissed in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some countries, like Germany, have a functioning system of assistance to alleviate financial hardship for victims of domestic violence after a separation. This is not the case in other countries.
  • Written information on violence in intimate relationships and domestic violence should be available in public spaces in the form of posters and brochures or leaflets which are made available in private areas such as washrooms (with appropriate warnings not to take them home if the perpetrator is there). Offering a QR code that leads to a website with further information can help. The posters, brochures or leaflets should be aimed at female and male victims of domestic violence and not use stereotypes. The designation of concrete contact persons on site and the provision of telephone numbers of counselling centres or websites offering (anonymous) counselling can help victims of domestic violence to seek help.
  • In case of acute threat, victims should call the police emergency number. They should state their name, address, further information and, if necessary, the perpetrator’s possession of a weapon, and emphasise that help is needed immediately. Until the police’s arrival, victims and any children should take themselves to safety, for example to neighbours or shops.

What can perpetrators of violence do to change their behaviour?
  • Even during a pandemic, help is available for perpetrators of intimate partner violence: in the form of online counselling, therapy, and training programmes.


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 (Campbell, 1995; Ferraro et al., 1983).

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 partner (Rice, Harris and Hilton, 2010), 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:


Specialised Risk Assessment for the Police

Risk management involves several strategies to protect victims from further harm as well as to reduce the violent behaviour of perpetrators. Risk management by the police involves enforcing the law and pursuing criminal justice sanctions against the perpetrator as well as safety planning with the victim. By performing risk assessment, the threat posed by the perpetrator is reduced and the victim can be protected from further violence and abuse.

Risk assessment should be part of every step of the process as this is how further damage for victims can be prevented.

Source: Police Berlin

The following aspects are crucial.

  1. Ensure that risk assessment is supported by timely gathering of information:
    • gather information from multiple sources
    • seek victim´s perspective on potential threat by the perpetrator
    • develop and implement strategies to eliminate or reduce victim´s risk.
  2. Ensure that ongoing risk assessments identify changes in the victim’s vulnerability and ensure that appropriate measures are taken to keep the victim safe.
  3. Ensure that risk assessments are shared with relevant justice service providers for use in decision-making.
  4. Ensure that risk assessments include, at a minimum, an assessment of:
    • lethality risk and risk of repeated violence
    • level or extent of harm to the victim/survivor, her/his family or other relevant persons
    • prior victimisation
    • prior offences committed by the perpetrator in other realms/former relationships
    • the threats to which they are exposed and the presence of or threat to use weapons
    • evidence of escalating violence or intimidation
    • the perpetrator’s access to the victim’s communication, cell phone, passwords, and information on the victim’s whereabouts
    • the status of the relationship
  5. Ensure that risk assessments include the history of violence and ask for the fear of the victim.
  6. Additional to the use of a specific risk assessment tool, consider that your own perception about the situation and the level of risk involved is very important. This shouldn’t be ignored! Also, the risk must be reassessed regularly; special events that can aggravate the risk level must be considered risk triggers (e.g., trial date setting, divorce date setting).

Safety and Protection at the end of the process

If it is not safe for the victim to return home, support the victim in finding a shelter or safe housing, or work with them to identify a safe place they can go to (such as a friend’s home or church).

Protection measures for victims who have experienced domestic violence are critical to stop the violence and prevent reoccurrence, escalation, and threats of violence. Victims have the right to live free of violence and free of the fear of violence. This means that protection measures need to be available regardless of any previous initiation of a criminal, civil or family law case. They should be designed to empower victims in their access to justice and enable them to stay safe. Safety plans are based on risk assessment.

Access to immediate, urgent and long-term protection measures
  • Make protection accessible free of charge
  • Prioritise the victim’s safety when modifying protection measures
  • Ensure protection is specifically tailored to meet the needs of the victim, their family and other relevant persons
  • Ensure that protection measures are not dependent on initiation of criminal, civil or family law proceedings
Enforcement of protection measures
  • Protection measures are effective immediately
  • Copies of protection measures are shared with and retained for easy access by frontline officers and dispatch staff
  • Work with the victim to identify the options and resources available

Maintaining the safety of the victim, their family and relevant others is the primary focus of all justice actions.

Ensure all necessary information, including the risk assessment, is at hand before making any decisions pertaining to the arrest, detention, terms of release, probation, or parole of the perpetrator.

Coordinated protection measures

When other justice proceedings have been initiated, protection measures need to be coordinated between criminal, civil, family law and/or administrative proceedings.

  • Consider creating a registration system for protection orders to ensure all justice service providers have quick access to the relevant information
  • Ensure that information can be exchanged legally and safely, protecting confidentiality of the victim
  • Work with other service providers to develop and implement integrated protocols and effective referral networks
  • Ensure that the victim gets in touch with social service agencies to get assistance with securing support measures; make sure child support or alimony are available to assist the victim to safely rebuild their life
  • Ensure that a justice service provider is assigned to follow-up with the victim and provides them with contact information for immediate response in the event of anticipated or actual violence or breach of protection order

Communication with victims about safety measures and risk assessment

For an initial risk assessment: talk to the victim in a private setting and assess immediate concerns.

Questions to assess immediate risk of violence
  • Has physical violence happened more often or gotten worse over the past 6 months?
  • Has he/she ever used a weapon or threatened you 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?

Victims who answer “yes” to at least 3 of these questions may be at especially high immediate risk of violence.

Making a safety plan

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 able to better deal with the situation if violence suddenly occurs. The following elements are part of a safety plan, and questions you can ask them so that they can 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 tell about the violence, who can call the police or come help you if they hear sounds of violence coming from your home?”

Be careful in cases of honour-related violence.

You can help by discussing the victim’s needs with them, telling them about other sources of help, and assisting them to get help if they want it. It will usually not be possible to deal with all their concerns during the first meeting. Let them know that you are available to meet again to talk about other issues.

Do not expect them to make decisions immediately. It may seem frustrating if you think they will not take any steps to change their situation. However, they will need to take their time and do what they think is right for them. Always respect their wishes and decisions.


Information about the usage of risk assessment tools in Europe regarding the Police

Risk Assessment procedures and response strategies in different European countries in the Police

Risk assessment protocols for domestic violence (DV) 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 DV 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, Slovenia and Hungary, there are no formal, standardised risk assessment procedures designed for cases of DV in use by the police.

In France, there is a generic procedure of risk assessment which is applied for all crimes, and not just DV 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 DV situation with emphasis on victim security). In addition, all the French gendarmerie and some police units use DV 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 DV victim. The use of DV 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 France, Slovenia and Hungary, there are no formal, standardised risk assessment procedures designed for cases of DV in use by the police.

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 France, Slovenia and Hungary, there are no formal, standardised risk assessment procedures designed for cases of DV in use by the police.

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 DV 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 DV 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:


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IMPRODOVA Checklist for risk assessment of domestic violence

Within the framework of a sub-project of the EU project IMPRODOVA, the partners developed a checklist for risk assessment in the case of domestic violence (D 3.3), which can be downloaded and printed out. This way you have – in short form – all information when you need it.

IMPRODOVA Risk Assessment Integration Module

You can follow the whole risk assessment procedure for a specific case by downloading the following presentation. You will be introduced to Nora and learn a lot about the different roles of frontline responders.

You can check the Module online without using PowerPoint by clicking on this link:

If you want to use PowerPoint, please download the presentation by clicking this link: