Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessment and Management

Article excerpt

While risk assessment is important in the management of intimate partner violence perpetrators, the science and practice of risk assessment in this field are still in early development. This article reviews the literature on intimate partner violence risk assessment. The original intent was to direct discussion to assist the Military Family Advocacy Program (FAP), U.S. Department of Defense, to develop guidelines for the treatment of domestic violence offenders. The article is divided into sections as follows: (a) Defining Risk; (b) The Risk Factors; (c) Models of Risk Assessment; (d) Existing Risk Instruments; (e) The Role of the Victim in Risk Assessment; (f) Qualifications to Conduct Assessments; (g) Communicating Risk; and (h) Managing Risk. Relevant issues and controversies are raised throughout the article.

Keywords: domestic violence; risk assessment; risk management; issues

Those working with perpetrators and victims of intimate partner violence regularly must deal with dangerous situations. Violence risk assessment is a method for managing those situations. Although risk assessments have been performed in the domestic violence field either formally or informally for decades, the practice of risk assessment has received relatively little attention in scientific and professional literature. However, this field is evolving rapidly, and there appears to be growing interest in the development of risk assessment technology (Bennett Cattaneo, 2007; Dutton & Kropp, 2000; Hilton & Harris, 2005). With this growth in technology emerge a number of important scientific, professional, and ethical issues that should be considered. This article reviews the literature on intimate partner violence risk assessment in an effort to highlight some of these issues. The original intent of the article was to direct discussion to help the Military Family Advocacy Program (FAP; U.S. Department of Defense) develop guidelines for the treatment of domestic violence offenders, but the discussion is relevant to the domestic violence field in general. The article is divided into the following sections: (a) Defining Risk; (b) The Risk Factors; (c) Models of Risk Assessment; (d) Existing Risk Instruments; (e) The Role of the Victim in Risk Assessment; (f) Qualifications to Conduct Assessments; (g) Communicating Risk; and (h) Managing Risk.

DEFINING RISK

Although this article is about risk, there is little consensus in the field about what is meant by the term. Most studies on intimate partner violence risk and recidivism appear to define risk in terms of the likelihood that some form of violence will take place sometime in the future (Dutton, Bodnarchuk, Kropp, Hart, & Ogloff, 1997; Hanson & Wallace-Capretta, 2000; Rosenfeld, 1992). In practice, however, decisions about risk likely involve consideration of the imminence, nature (e.g., emotional, physical, sexual), frequency, and seriousness of the violence, in addition to the likelihood that it will occur (Hart, 2001; Mulvey & Lidz, 1995). Thus, risk is a complex phenomenon; judgments must consider the who, what, where, when, and how of violence. For example, an offender could be at risk for imminent, relatively minor, physical violence against his spouse, such as pushing or shoving, but not at risk for long-term, frequent, sexual violence. These are two rather different scenarios, and they present different implications for victim safety planning, criminal justice intervention, and treatment of the offender. Front-line professionals working with offenders and victims often must consider these nuances. However, research on risk assessment and recidivism rarely has made these distinctions.

These issues have been touched on in the spousal violence literature. Campbell's (1995) Danger Assessment asks potential victims to document in a calendar the severity and frequency of their partners' abusive behaviors during the past year. Investigators have also discussed the importance of distinguishing among risk for spousal homicide, "severe" violence, and less serious forms of violence (Aldridge & Brown, 2003; Campbell et al. …