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Develop common risk assessment processes

Last edited: March 07, 2019

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Professionals must learn to accurately assess victims/survivors’ level of risk of future violence to determine how best to coordinate services in order to increase their safety and hold offenders accountable.  Conducting a common risk assessment is important to get all service sectors to operate with a shared understanding.  Examples of common risk assessment models, include: The Australian Family Violence Risk Assessment and Risk Management Framework and the United Kingdom Multi-agency Risk Assessment Conference.

Every agency involved in the coordination effort should be prepared to conduct risk and/or lethality assessments.  For example, police officers should investigate the level of risk in each case of domestic violence. That assessment should be passed on to the advocate for safety planning purposes, to the prosecutor and judge for consideration in bail recommendations, and to the probation/parole officer tasked with monitoring the offender’s compliance with court orders.  See: Case Study on Duluth Pocket Card.

There are different types of risk assessments which have been developed for domestic violence survivors (lethality assessments, risk of re-assault), although the tools cannot scientifically predict whether violence will reoccur. Key considerations to maximize the safety of women and girls when using a risk assessment include:

  • The risk assessment should be done in collaboration with any woman or girl perceived to be at risk of future violence. The woman should be comfortable and understand the purpose of the assessment and why certain questions are being asked, which is important to gain her trust in sharing information on the abuse and to help address her fears. As with other interviews, it is essential that police officers follow ethical guidelines and exercise sensitivity when asking about any type of abuse or assault. They must also be aware of the vulnerability of survivors and how their security may be further affected by issues such as unequal social and family status, discrimination and other barriers related to economic, education, language and/or immigration status.
  • Risk assessment instruments should be selected based on the specific purpose (identifying risk of femicide or threat of future abuse by intimate partners), and tailored to the context in which they are being used, with validation from survivors and their advocates.
  • Women are at increased risk of violence, particularly lethal attacks, when they are about to leave a relationship or have just left the abuser, during pregnancy, or when they have previously been strangled or sexually abused. Past abuse, criminal history and substance abuse are factors associated with risk of reassault by a partner. Risk assessment should be done regularly as the dynamics affecting a woman or girl’s risk of violence change with time.
  • While women can provide important insight into their risk of violence, they may minimize the potential lethality of violence committed by their partner, which is why it is important to use assessments to complement women’s perceived level of safety and determine a plan to minimize her risk of future harm.
  • Risk assessments generally review the:
    • history of abuse (physical, sexual, stalking or harassment, controlling behaviour and emotional abuse), including frequency and changes in severity over time;
    • intimidation and threats made by the perpetrator;
    • use or access to weapons; and
    • other relevant issues the woman may note (separation/child custody issues, substance abuse, history of witnessing or experiencing abuse as a child, abuse of animals, etc.).

(Campbell, 2005; IACP, 2006; Metropolitan Police Service, 2003)

Resources:

For additional risk assessment factors, see: Assessing Risk Factors for Intimate Partner Homicide (2003).  See section on Lethality or risk assessments in the Legislative Module in Criminal Law Provisions and in the sections on Duties of prosecutors and Duties of judiciary.

See also the Resources on the National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence website.

See the section on Risk Assessment in the Security Module.