Critical Duty to Victims

Critical Duty to Victims- predicting recidivism and lethality
The field of intimate partner violence risk assessment (predicting recidivism, lethality) is active, while some states would appear to not have or not be implementing the procedure. Risk assessment is intended to be used by the judicial system to evaluate and predict the potential risk of repeated abuse.
Of course, the first step is to implement a sound risk assessment program. After that there is potential for the program to work effectively to protect victims, depending on the skill and motivation of those that use the tool. Our experience ranges from excellent, to complete failure. While we see a broad spectrum of applications, we see as many failures and we see successes. Of course, we, at Fix The Hurt, are extremely interested in risk assessment because that determines if the victim is safe when the abuser is released on the streets.
Commenting on two with which we have been closely involved: In El Paso, Texas the program was implemented with close to perfect results. In Kissimmee/St. Cloud, Florida use of the tool appears to run the gamut from enforcement ignoring the program entirely, to manipulation due to personal bias by local officials. In any event, after multiple offenses to various female victims, one offender still enjoys the freedom to abuse others.
Sound risk assessment programs, applied properly, are effective in protecting victims from repeated domestic violence attacks.
Below is a sample of the points covered in a risk assessment program used in the State of Minnesota.

  • Also included is a guide for how to use the guide

    Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Bench Guide
    A research-based bench guide for use by Minnesota judges
    at all stages of family, Order for Protection, civil or criminal involving domestic violence
    Note:  The presence of these factors can indicate elevated risk of serious injury or lethality.  The absence of these factors is not, however, evidence of the absence of risk of lethality.

    1.               Does alleged perpetrator have access to a firearm, or is there a firearm in the home?
    2.               Has the alleged perpetrator ever used or threatened to use a weapon against the victim?
    3.               Has alleged perpetrator ever attempted to strangle or choke the victim?
    4.               Has alleged perpetrator ever threatened to or tried to kill the victim?
    5.               Has the physical violence increased in frequency or severity over the past year?
    6.               Has alleged perpetrator forced the victim to have sex?
    7.               Does alleged perpetrator try to control most or all of victim’s daily activities?
    8.               Is alleged perpetrator constantly or violently jealous?
    9.               Has alleged perpetrator ever threatened or tried to commit suicide?
    10.             Does the victim believe that the alleged perpetrator will re-assault or
    attempt to kill the victim?    A” no” answer does not indicate a low level of risk, but a “yes” answer is very significant
    11.       Are there any pending or prior Orders for Protection, criminal or civil cases involving this alleged perpetrator?

    How To Use The Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Bench Guide

    Obtain information regarding these factors through all appropriate and  available sources

  • Potential sources include police, victim witness staff, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court administrators, bail evaluators, pre-sentence investigators, probation, custody evaluators, parties and attorneys
  • Communicate to practitioners that you expect that complete and timely information on these factors will be provided to the court.
  • This ensures that risk information is both sought for and provided to the court at each stage of the process and that risk assessment processes are institutionalized.
  • Review report forms and practices of others in the legal system to ensure that the risk assessment is as comprehensive as possible.
  • Expect consistent and coordinated responses to domestic violence.
  • Communities whose practitioners enforce court orders, work in concert to hold alleged perpetrators accountable and provide support to  victims are the most successful in preventing serious injuries and domestic homicides.
  • Do not elicit safety or risk information from victims in open court.
  • Safety concerns can affect the victim’s ability to provide accurate information in open court.
  • Soliciting information from victims in a private setting (by someone other than the judge) improves the accuracy of information and also serves as an opportunity to provide information and resources to the victim.
  • Provide victims information on risk assessment factors and the option of consulting with confidential advocates.
  • Information and access to advocates improves victim safety and the quality of victims’ risk assessments and, as a result, the court’s own risk assessments.
  • Note that this list of risk factors is not exclusive.
  • The listed factors are the ones most commonly present when the risk of serious harm or death exists.
  • Additional factors exist which assist in prediction of re-assault.
  • Victims may face and fear other risks such as homelessness, poverty, criminal charges, loss of children or family supports.
  • Remember that the level and type of risk can change over time.
  • The most dangerous time period is the days to months after the alleged perpetrator discovers that the victim
    *   might attempt to separate from the alleged perpetrator or to terminate the relationship
    *   has disclosed or is attempting to disclose the abuse to others, especially in the legal system

    We encourage each of you to investigate what the courts in your area are doing and to take appropriate action to ensure that the tools are in place and the parties are properly utilizing them to protect the victims.

John L King