Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Tools: A Review

5. The Use of Risk Assessment Tools in Cases of Intimate Partner Violence

Specialized risk assessment tools have been developed for cases of intimate partner violence to assess the risk that the offender will re-offend or that the situation will become fatal (Roehl and Guertin 2000). The use of risk assessment tools in cases of intimate partner violence increased as a result of policy change and research. First, in Canada and the United States, pro-charging policies introduced in the early 1990s in cases of intimate partner violence led to a large increase in the number of cases entering the criminal justice system (Bennett Cattaneo and Goodman 2003; Nicholls et al. 2006). This increase created a need to develop a mechanism for ensuring that scarce resources were directed to those most at risk (Roehl and Guertin 2000, Connor-Smith et al. 2011). According to Roehl and Guertin, “[t]he other force emanate[d] from the mental health field, where legal requirements and professional concerns […] encouraged clinicians to develop defensible estimates of a person's potential for violence in a given situation. These forces spurred research, leading to a growing scientific base of information on risk predictors for violence” (2000, 172).

There are a number of goals of using risk assessments in cases of intimate partner violence. According to Hart (2010), the primary goal is to prevent future harm against an intimate partner, which is accomplished through risk management strategies. Risk management strategies include: monitoring, which involves monitoring changes in risk; treatment; supervision, which involves restricting the offender's rights or freedoms in order to decrease the likelihood of further violent behaviour; and victim safety planning (Kropp 2008). The second goal is accountability, which increases the transparency and consistency of the decisions that are made in the criminal justice system (Hart 2010). Finally, the third goal is the protection of the accused's rights.

A number of risk factors for intimate partner violence have been identified, and many appear in intimate partner violence risk assessment tools. Some examples of these common risk factors include:

  • A history of violent behaviour toward family members;
  • A history of abusive behaviour toward intimate partners;
  • Escalation of violence;
  • Previous criminality;
  • General antisocial attitudes;
  • Substance abuse problems;
  • Mental health problems;
  • Relationship problems;
  • Attitudes that support violence towards women (Dutton and Kropp 2000; Hoyle 2008; Kropp 2004, 2008; Laing 2004).

Some risk assessment tools, such as the Danger Assessment (DA) and the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA), also include victim-focused risk factors. Victim-focused risk factors that are present in these tools include:

  • The victim's concern about future violence by the accused;
  • Victims who have a biological child with a different partner;
  • Victims who have been assaulted by the accused while pregnant; and
  • Barriers for the victim in accessing support (Campbell et al. 2009; Millar 2009).

5.1 Users of Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Tools and Settings of Use

5.1.1 Users of Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment Tools

Intimate partner violence risk assessment tools are used by a number of different professionals. The professionals who conduct such assessments include psychologists, nurses, victim service workers and criminal justice system professionals, such as police and probation workers (Kropp 2008).

5.1.2 Settings of Use

5.1.2.1 Offender Needs/Risks

Intimate partner violence risk assessment tools are used in a number of capacities. First, they are used in offender management and at many stages within the criminal justice system. For example, they are used at the pre-trial stage by police and prosecutors to assess the accused's likelihood of re-offending and to make recommendations for detention and release. They are also used at the pre-sentencing and pre-release stage to assist a judge in granting a diversion or discharge. Also at the pre-sentencing stage, risk assessments can be used by the court in setting conditions for sentencing and supervision and to determine the appropriate treatment for offenders. At the correctional intake stage, risk assessments can be used to develop treatment plans and to determine the suitability for various conditions. Finally, at the pre-release stage, risk assessments can be used when making parole decisions, setting conditions for release and developing treatments plans (Heilbrun et al. 2010; Kropp 2004; Kropp and Hart 1997; Roehl and Guertin 2000).

5.1.2.2 Victim Needs/Risk

Risk assessment tools can also be used in civil matters when determining child custody and access and to help set the conditions of civil or criminal restraining/protective orders (Kropp 2004; Roehl and Guertin 2000). Additionally, they are used by victim advocates, police, probation and parole officers in developing safety plans with victims, which includes providing the victim with information related to their safety that they can then apply to protect themselves (Braff and Sneddon 2007; Roehl and Guertin 2000; Laing 2004). Finally, in situations of intimate partner homicide, they are used in fatality reviews when assessing gaps in services and communication that led to the death of a victim (Kropp 2004).

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