In a domestic violence context, risk is assessed with an aim to prevent further violence. Risk assessment tools are administered and scored facilitate and document the assessment of risk. Results can inform recommendations regarding intervention for the accused, and assist in the development of effective safety plans for woman abuse survivors and their children. Risk assessment tools used by criminal justice professionals and community-based VAW advocates in the Thunder Bay District include:
The B-SAFER tool considers the context of the violence, and points to options for further assessment and mitigation of risk to improve victim safety. A manual and interview guide accompanies the tool, and the checklist is designed for quick and efficient use.
The tool focuses on these ten factors (the first five relate to history of intimate partner violence, while the latter five take into account psychosocial history):
- Serious physical/sexual violence
- Serious violent threats, ideation, or intent;
- Escalation of physical/sexual violence or threats/ideations/intent;
- Violations of criminal or civil court orders;
- Negative attitudes about spousal assault.
- Other serious criminality;
- Relationship problems;
- Employment and/or financial problems;
- Substance abuse;
- Mental disorder.
In the District of Thunder Bay, B-SAFER is used, often collaboratively, by women's shelters, counselling agencies, and other VAW advocates to assess risk and create plans to keep women and their children safe.
BAIL SAFETY PROGRAM INTERVIEW
In Thunder Bay, the Bail Safety Program is a collaboration between the Victim/Witness Assistance Program (V/WAP), Thunder Bay Police Service and the Crown Attorney's Office (MAG). Prior to the bail hearing, the Bail Safety Officer and V/WAP staff interviews the victim to gather information about the history of the relationship, identify high risk situations, and provide immediate support, education and referrals to increase the safety of the victim. The interview responses are recorded on a questionnaire utilized by the Crown Attorney to inform recommendations to the Justice of the Peace in bail court regarding victim/community safety. The victim is subsequently informed of the bail court outcome and is provided with copies of court orders.
An investigative checklist utilized by front-line Police Officers investigating domestic violence cases. According to the Department of Justice Canada, "Supervisors are required to sign off on all forms and are consulted on high risk cases regarding next steps and established protocols. Some of the identified risk factors include past history of violence, access to firearms, sexual abuse and bizarre and unexplained behaviour. Once an interview is completed, the Crown examines the results which assist in informing decisions on bail issuance for individuals accused of domestic violence."
The Domestic Violence Unit of the Thunder Bay Police Service administers the ODARA, a tool originally designed for Ontario Provincial Police, to assess the likelihood of repeat violence, as well as the frequency and degree of severity. "Although it was not designed to predict risk of lethality, the authors have found a correlation between higher ODARA scores and more severe assaults in the future" (Millar, Code and Ha, 2013, p.22).
The ODARA considers the following 13 factors in assessing risk:
- Previous Domestic Incident
- Previous Non domestic Incident
- Prior Correctional Sentence of at least 30 days
- Failure on Previous Conditional Release
- Threat to Harm or Kill Anyone at the Index Assault
- Confinement of the Partner During/at the Index Assault
- Victim Concerned/Fearful of Future Assaults
- Two or More Children
- Victim has a Biological Child from a Previous Partner
- Perpetrator’s Violence Against Others
- Perpetrator’s Substance Abuse
- Assault on Victim when Pregnant
- Any Barrier to Victim Support.
For a more detailed inventory of risk assessment tools used across the country, see Millar, Allison, Ruth Code, and Lisa Ha. Inventory Of Spousal Violence Risk Assessment Tools Used In Canada. 2nd ed. Research and Statistics Division, 2013. (Accessed: 30 Apr. 2015).
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DEATH REVIEW COMMITTEE (DVDRC)
The Bail Safety Program and the ODARA were developed in response to recommendations from Coroner's Inquests into the deaths of Arlene May/Randy Iles and Gillian and Ralph Hadley. In 2003, the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) was also established following those recommendations. The DVDRC operates as an advisory panel of experts who assist the Office of the Chief Coroner in the investigation and review of domestic violence deaths, and make recommendations for prevention. Published DVDRC reports can be found here.
How can you help a woman create and implement her personalized safety plan?
Her plan needs to reflect her own needs and choices, and there are plenty of online resources and local organizations that offer a wealth of useful information. As leaving an abusive partner can often put a woman's and her children's safety at greatest risk, having an effective plan in place can truly be lifesaving. For direct assistance with safety planning, women's shelters offer support 24 hours a day to women and their children in Northern Ontario (there is no requirement to reside in a shelter in order to receive help).