Module 5: Risk Assessment and Safety Planning

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.


IMPRODOVA: Domestic violence in times of disasters


Risk Assessment and Safety Enhancement

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 over time become worse and happen more often.

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, as their situation changes.


Risk Assessment

Victims face many risks to their immediate and ongoing safety. These risks will be specific to the individual circumstances of each victim. Risk assessment and management can reduce the level of risk. Best practice risk assessment and management includes consistent and coordinated approaches within and between social, health and justices service systems.

The clients should be helped to assess his or her immediate and future safety and that of his or her children. Risk assessment according to good practice includes

  • collecting relevant facts about the domestic situation
  • asking about the victim’s perception of risk
  • a professional judgement on current risk factors

The client may need to be referred to a specialised service for domestic violence. The strongest indicator for future risks/violence is the perpetrator’s current and past behaviour. The client may also be advised to go to the police to ensure even greater protection. However, since this is always accompanied by a report to the perpetrator and the victim is expected to reveal himself or herself to a wider circle of people, this advice must be weighed up very carefully!

It is important that the client is involved in a conversation about his or her risk perception and security management in the past. All plans that have been made must be documented for future reference! Copies should be given to the victims, if possible. At the same time, they should be made aware that the risk is that the perpetrator might find the document and that the violence will escalate.

Some victims will know when they are in immediate danger and are afraid to go home. If they are worried about their safety, take them seriously. This is your responsibility.

Other victims may need help thinking about their immediate risk. There are specific questions you can ask to see if it is safe for them to return to their home. It is important to find out if there is an immediate and likely risk of serious injury.

The internationally most frequently used risk assessment instruments can be found under Teaching Materials on the page risk assessment tools.


Communication with victims about safety measures and risk assessment

For an initial risk assessment this must be done at least: Talk to the victim in a private setting and to assess immediate concerns:

Questions to assess immediate risk of violence
  • Has the 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 the following 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 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 them 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?”

Financial

“Do you have access to money if you need to leave? Where is it kept? Can you get 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 with assistance for you if they hear sounds of violence coming from your home?”

Be careful in cases of honour-related violence.

It will usually not be possible to deal with all their concerns at 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 they do not seem to be taking 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 Social Sector

Risk Assessment procedures and response strategies in different European countries in the Social Sector

The social work sector is the FLR area where the use of formalized risk assessment tools is predominantly in place in many European countries. In Germany, formalized tools are only used in some locations. In Berlin, a standardised risk assessment tool (“Düsseldorfer Gefährdungseinschätzungsverfahren in Fällen häuslicher Gewalt – D-GEV”) is currently being used in one women’s shelter. In response to an inquiry to the institution that was involved in the development of the tool, it was confirmed that this instrument is used in the social sector in Düsseldorf, but also in individual institutions all over the federal state of North- Rhine Westfalia. Further, in Berlin, a translated version of Campbell’s Danger Assessment will probably be available next year; social institutions that will cooperate with the police in case discussions have agreed on using the tool once it is accessible. In Finland and in Portugal formalized tools are only used in some of the locations. The countries vary in the scope of their risk assessment tools, some of them developed local, individual protocols used by each FLR’s, others use standardized protocols, used nation-wide in all institutions with the same profile.

Shortcomings

The following shortcomings are mentioned by the participating countries in the IMPRODOVA project regarding risk assessment tools used in the social work sector.

Practical problems of implementation

  • DYRIAS is regarded as requiring too much time (it takes about 4 hours) for daily use (Austria).
  • In Berlin, the instrument is excellently suited for obtaining valuable information from which ideas for effective approaches often can be derived. However, the actual result is rather ignored, as the victim’s assessment is not taken into account. This is not problematic as the intended objective to systematically obtain information is definitely achieved. (Berlin, Germany). There is often a great gap between the perception of risk assessed by the social worker and by the victim. Some signs are evaluated very differently by the social worker and by the victim. These ambiguities lead social workers to neglect standardised risk assessment tools (Hanover, Germany).
  • Time consuming nature of the risk assessment (UMAR), too much paperwork (Portugal).
  • Lack of proper weight of the risk assessment results (APAV) by other FLR’s (Portugal).

Methodological shortcomings

  • Women’s shelters identified a missing tool for DV cases concerning forced marriages and specifically for family violence (Austria).
  • Although the victim’s own perspective of the risk is important, women are often traumatized and distressed when arriving into the shelters, which makes it difficult to use standardized tools for including the victim’s individual perception of risks (Austria).
  • Some FLR’s used the MARAC form not according to instructions; some professionals working in shelters believe that the form makes the risk assessment process too mechanical, thereby not beneficial when discussing the violence with the victim (Finland).
  • Risk assessment does not have a judicial weight, if there is no judicial decision (e.g. a permanent restriction order), regardless of the risk assessment results by FLRs there are no proper measures to protect the victim in the shelter from the perpetrator (Hungary).
  • Children’s opinions are not considered during the risk assessment process (Hungary).
  • Risk assessment criteria are too strict. The risk assessment process does not consider the previous history and context of violence, but only the actual violent action that took place. As a consequence, they may filter out some DV cases (do not give access to shelters) that are in fact high risk (Hungary).
  • Risk assessment tool is not detailed and sophisticated enough, which results in difficulties to decide on the level of risk (Slovenia).
  • There are discrepancies (lack of clarity) between the level of perceived risk among police officer and social work sector (Slovenia).
Suggested improvements

A problem mentioned by more countries’ interviewees is that formalized risk assessment tools can narrow the perception of frontline responders and may result in “tick boxing”, less sophisticated categorization of the risks. Professional expertise and the thorough knowledge about DV cannot be replaced by any risk assessment tools, and are essential for the proper use of tools. Thereby a great emphasis should be put on the risk-related trainings of FLR’s who are using the risk assessment tools. Slovenia suggests specifying the risk assessment tool further, while some Hungarian interviewees (directors of shelters) try to compensate the rigidity of the formal risk assessment tool used by the National Crisis Telephone Information Service, which often results in misdiagnosing situations by making decisions being contrary to the formal assessment.

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. In this way you have – in short form – all information at a glance 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: