1. Dimensions of risk assessment

Subject of evaluation: several tools try to evaluate the

  • probability of lethal violence,
  • severity and frequency,
  • escalation of violent dynamic,
  • future violent behaviour.

In the field of domestic violence checklists to assist practitioner’s judgement are widely used. Several instruments have been developed to assist domestic violence service providers in determining the cases most likely to escalate to severe or lethal violence. The first checklists had been developed by Daniel Sonkin 1985 and Barbara Hart 1988. But for the most part they had been psychological “clinical” risk factor lists, usually based on DSMR personality profiles. In contrast to mental health practitioners conducting clinical assessment, social service providers like family centres or counselling services who come into contact with perpetrators and victims of domestic violence are not primarily and specifically trained in clinical assessment. Therefore, new methods needed to be developed to support them in their work. Nowadays a tendency can be observed from using complex psychological based clinical assessment instruments to easier to handle and sociological based methods of risk assessment.
This instrumentation is based on empirical item selection with fixed, explicit and validated formulas for assignment of risk categories (risk markers) and decision making (for example, “Cohens Kappa”, a formula to measure the extent of concordance of assessment results of two “raters” – interrater reliability).

Cohens Kappa Formula

Those formal risk assessment methods are different from the usual psychological tests in that combining common methods of instrument item selection with psychometric evaluation are less relevant.
None of the methods guarantees a 100% efficacy. There always is a risk of failure. Thus, various empirical methods can be combined in order to reduce risk or a further, very important indicator, the victims risk assessment, could be added. Research shows that their perception of danger is a very strong indicator to assess risk of re-assaults (Saunders/Tolman/Weisz 2000).
The following key indicators refer to male perpetrators of domestic violence and need to be discussed and supplemented with key indicators referring to female/lesbian perpetrators. 

Key indicators for re-assault of male perpetrators

strong indicators

  • substance abuse
  • unemployment
  • violence in family of origin
  • age (‘younger, jobless men’)

less significant indicators

  • stress
  • depression
  • low self-esteem
  • status inconsistency
  • personality disorders
  • traditional sex role attitudes

Key indicators for high risk of lethality (male perpetrators)

Strong indicators

  • prior domestic violence
  • access to weapons (e.g. police officers)
  • estrangement
  • stepchild in home
  • unemployment
  • suicidality is particular risk factor for homicide
  • prior mental health problems
  • separation

Less strong indicators

  • violence outside home
  • alcohol abuse
  • cultural issues and sensitivity

Key indicators for severe abuse of male perpetrators

  • lack of remorse
  • violence outside home

General key indicators for risk of opposite-sex domestic violence

  • child abuse victimization
  • witnessing domestic violence in childhood
  • alcohol abuse
  • stalking
  • sexual assault

Substance abuse is more of a risk factor in domestic assault and re-assault than in domestic homicide while perpetrator suicidality is more of a risk factor in murder of intimate partner; Female Perpetrators are far less likely to have had a history of perpetrating any kind of violence.
Risk assessment is linked to anger management. The goal of anger management is to reduce emotional feelings and the physiological arousal that anger causes. The tools of risk assessment and anger diagnostic are usually applied to male batterers but use different ways of getting relevant information. Nowadays there are various tools for assessing risk. Because there is only little research on the efficacy of those tools (Dutton 2000, Campbell/Webster/Mahoney et.al. 2005), naming some of them does not mean we presume  they are more effective than others.  The “Spousal Assault Risk Appraisal Guide” (SARA) for example is designed to screen risk factors in male suspects and is used with male adults. Another Risk Assessment tool is called “Danger Assessment” (DA) and uses information from the victim.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It can arise as a reaction to other emotions. There are several anger assessment tools like the “Novaco Anger Inventory”, developed by Raymond W. Novaco (1975). The long form contains 90 items intending to measure the degree of provocation or anger people would feel if placed in certain situations. The short version contains 25 items covering situations of daily life; an adaptation to couple interaction is missing. Another tool is named STAXI and an expanded version STAXI 2 – State Trait Anger Expression Inventory. Both versions have been developed by Charles D. Spielberger in the 90th of last century. The instrument consists of six scales, Trait Anger, Anger Expression-Out, Anger Expression-In, Anger Control-Out, Anger Control-In, and State Anger. The STAXI-2 also includes five subscales and an Anger Expression Index. It will be explained further in chapter 2, “Tools for professionals”. A tool for volunteers and/or less trained people may be the “DVI” – Domestic Violence Inventory. It contains 6 scales measuring thruthfulness, violence, control, alcohol, drugs and stress coping abilities. It will be described in chapter 3.

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European Commission and the German Federal Ministry of Family, Seniors, Women and Youth.

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