The safety needs of survivors or women and girls at risk of violence will vary based on their particular circumstances and the forms of violence they have experienced. Police and other security personnel can take various actions to address the women’s ongoing safety needs, including mitigating the risk of future violence. This involves conducting adequate risk assessment and mitigation and putting in place a personal safety plan for the survivor.
Risk assessment is a critical tool to help police establish how safe or at risk of future violence a survivor might be, in order to ensure she receives appropriate protection and to help her develop a plan to secure her future safety and the safety of any relatives or other dependents (children, extended family, etc).
There are different types of risk assessments which have been developed for domestic violence survivors (lethality assessments, risk of reassault), 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).
Examples of assessment instruments examining the potential for reassault by intimate partners include (Campbell, 2005):
Domestic Violence Screening Inventory-Revised (Williams & Houghton, 2004; Williams and Grant, 2006)
Ontario Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (Hilton et al.,2004), by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Ontario Ministry of Health, involves 13 questions to rank abusers within a seven-category scale of risk for reassault.
Spousal Abuse Risk Assessment (Kropp, 2004) and the related, more-police oriented Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER) (British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence, P. Randall Kropp, Ph.D., Stephen D. Hart, Ph.D., Henrik Belfrage, Ph.D. and the Department of Justice Canada, 2004)
Instruments examining lethality or risk of murder:
Danger Assessment: questionnaire and calendar (Campbell, 2001)
Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Model (United Kingdom Metropolitan Police Service, 2003). The tool is for police, but based on a victim-led intelligence approach to ensure the victim’s needs are met by the police. Inputs from survivor focus groups have further informed the relevance of the tool.
DV-MOSAIC (de Becker, 1997; Gavin de Becker & Associates, 2000), a computerized system for law enforcement and other professionals to conduct a threat assessment for potential of serious domestic violence, including in school, university and workplace settings.
Risk assessment for other forms of violence
Trafficking: Anti-Human Trafficking Manual for Criminal Justice Practitioners: Module 5: Risk assessment in trafficking in persons investigation (UNODC, 2009).
Forced marriage and Crimes Committed in the Name of "Honour": Domestic Abuse, Stalking and 'Honour'-based Violence Risk Identification Checklists (available in 13 languages) and Guidance (United Kingdom: Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse, 2009).
Police may conduct risk assessments as part of their investigation, or may coordinate with other service providers and agencies in the process, when there is agreement by the woman or girl at risk (Jaffe and Macquarrie, 2010). For example, in Canada, the Alberta Relationship Threat Assessment and Management Initiative (ARTAMI) is a unit involving four municipal police, a government prosecutor, a family law expert, a victim safety specialist, and a children’s services liaison, with access to a forensic psychologist. It coordinates the efforts of justice officials and community organizations to more effectively address threats posed in violent, high-risk relationships and stalking situations, based on analysis of risks undertaken by individual agencies. It also serves as a resource for police, domestic violence shelters, corrections officials, mental health workers, and communities for developing safety strategies and other supports to survivors (Millar, 2009).
Example: Uganda’s Police Manual: Risk Assessment Interview Guide (for Domestic Violence)
Have you ever been seriously injured? Please describe what happened and when it happened
Have you ever talked to someone about this problem? If yes whom did you talk to?
Do you have children? If yes do they also experience violence from their father? If yes can you tell me what has ever happened to them?
Does the suspect have any weapons (e.g. gun, big stick, knife, spear, bow and arrow)? If yes can you tell me the type of weapon that he has?
Has the suspect ever threatened you with the weapons mentioned above? If yes what did he do?
Has the suspect ever threatened to kill or hurt you? If yes when did he threaten you last? How did he threaten you?
Does the suspect have a history of violence with others? If yes can you give some examples of his violence?
Has he prevented or stopped you from going out or associating with other people?
Does he get very upset if you talk to other men or accuse you of having affairs?
Does he drink alcohol or use any other drugs? If yes does he become violent when he’s drunk?
Has the suspect ever forced you to have sex?
Has he ever abused the children?
Has he ever abused pets/livestock?
Has he ever strangled you?
Is there an increase in the frequency and/or severity of the violence?
Is there any other information you would like the police to know about the danger you may be in? (An event, a specific threat, a feeling you may have)?
Based on the above questions, evaluate the level of risk for survivor.
Ranking Level of risk
1 - 4 At risk
5 - 7 At High risk
8 - 10 At Extreme risk
Do whatever is necessary such as referring her to other services for abused women, arrest suspect, and find alternative housing.
Source: Turyasingura. 2007. “Responding to Domestic Violence: A Handbook for the Uganda Police Force”. Center for Domestic Violence Prevention. Kampala.
Special Collection: Intimate Partner Homicide (National Online Resource Centre on Violence against Women, 2011). Available in English.
Inventory of Spousal Violence Risk Assessment Tools Used in Canada, (Millar, A. for Department of Justice, 2009). Available in English.
Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Validation Study, Final Report (J. Roehl, Ph.D.; C. O’Sullivan, Ph.D.; D. Webster, ScD; J. Campbell, Ph.D. 2005). Available in English.
Risk Assessment (Turkish Police, UNFPA, 2007). Available in Turkish.
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