Behaviorally Specific Detailed Assessment Tools Uncover More Intimate Partner Violence Victimization

Behaviorally Specific Detailed Assessment Tools Uncover More Intimate Partner Violence Victimization

Forensic-Training-AcademyBehaviorally specific, detailed assessment tools with more items inquiring about different violent behaviors uncover more cases of IPV victimization than broader, less specific assessment tools with fewer items. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

ppplFeatured Article | Psychology, Public Policy, and Law | 2015, Vol. 21, No. 3, 329-251

Detection of Intimate Partner Violence and Recommendation for Joint Family Mediation: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Two Screening Measures


Fernanda S. Rossi, Indiana University–Bloomington
Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Indiana University–Bloomington
Amy G. Applegate, Indiana University–Bloomington
Connie J. A. Beck, University of Arizona
Jeannie M. Adams and Darrell F. Hale, 
Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court, Washington, DC


Given controversy about whether mediation is a safe option for parties with a history of intimate partner violence (IPV), there is agreement that staff should conduct systematic IPV screening prior to conducting family mediation sessions; yet, measures to do so are limited and new. The present study is a randomized controlled trial comparing use of a standardized, behaviorally specific screen (Mediator’s Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns, MASIC) to a less specific mediation clinic IPV screen (Multi-Door screen) for rates of IPV detection. We also examined rates of recommendation to joint mediation resulting from use of the 2 screens. The sample was 741 divorcing or never married parties seeking mediation at the D.C. Superior Court’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division. Results indicated that parties were at greater odds of reporting IPV and IPV-related risk factors (i.e., injury, fear) on the MASIC compared with the Multi-Door screen. However, overall, neither screen was more likely than the other to lead to a case not being recommended for joint mediation. Regardless of screen, cases identified as higher risk were less likely to be recommended for joint mediation, and relative to the Multi-Door screen, the MASIC identified more high risk cases. Thus, a greater percentage of high risk cases were not recommended for joint mediation when the MASIC was used. In exploratory analyses, findings suggest that type of IPV behavior reported, level of IPV and abuse victimization, and the recency of such behaviors significantly impact recommendation decisions.


intimate partner violence, assessment, divorce mediation, mediation recommendation, joint mediation

Summary of the Research

“The question of whether cases reporting intimate partner violence (IPV) should be recommended for mediation has stirred an important and ongoing debate. Evolving from this debate has been an agreement that screening for IPV in the mediation setting is a necessary first step for making recommendations to offer mediation to parties or not. But discussion continues regarding which assessment tools are most effective in detecting IPV and related issues, such as fear and injury, in the mediation context” (p. 240).

The current study sought to compare detection rates of two instruments that are used to assess IPV. One instrument is The Mediator’s Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns (MASIC). The MASIC is complied of 37 items that gauge different forms of abuse through specific behavior questions (i.e., As a result of the other parent’s behaviors, did you ever feel fearful, scared, or afraid of physical harm to yourself or to others?). The other instrument used in this study was the Multi-Door Screen. The Multi-Door is complied of broader questions that do not ask about specific violent behavior (i.e., Are you afraid of the other person?). The researchers posited that the utilizing the MASIC would result in more individuals reporting being a victim of IPV as well as IPV related issues as it is a more intricate measure of screening than the Multi-Door Screen.

Further this study examined how recommendations for joint mediation are made from the information that is obtained during IPV screenings. Specifically, the researchers hoped to develop data on why parties are not commended for join mediation when IPV is reported. “Limited research has examined whether IPV screening information influences the decisions of mediation staff responsible for determining whether cases should be included in traditional joint mediation, and few empirical studies have examined the rate at which mediators screen cases out of mediation due to concerns about IPV” (p. 240).

“We hypothesized that, compared with parties completing a more general IPV assessment tool, fewer parties completing a behaviorally specific assessment tool would be recommended for joint mediation, given that this tool is hypothesized to yield more reports of IPV victimization. We also conducted exploratory analyses to determine which factors (e.g., number of IPV-related risk factors, type of IPV behavior, level and recency of IPV victimization), regardless of the screen used, are related to recommendation decisions. We offer no hypotheses as no previous research has examined the factors related to decisions in recommending joint mediation” (p. 241).

“Data were gathered by Multi-Door staff, de-identified, and then made available to the researchers for analysis; participants were thus not required to provide consent to participate. The research protocol was approved by the institutional review board at the researchers’ university. Parties included in the study followed Multi-Door procedures. Specifically, parties were asked to attend an intake appointment. A random assignment list was used to assign each case to be screened with either the MASIC or the Multi-Door screen; both parties in a case completed the same screen. IPV screens were administered separately to each party and recommendations for joint mediation were made by the DRS examining intake information from both parties, and then by the program officer after his review of information from both intakes” (p. 243).

Translating Research into Practice

“Results supported our hypothesis that participants would be more likely to report IPV victimization on the MASIC than on the Multi-Door screen. While Ballard et al. (2011) used different IPV screening measures than those examined in the present study, consistent with that study’s findings, over half of participants in our current sample reported physical violence victimization (55.38%) using the more detailed and behaviorally specific MASIC screening measure, while only 38.80% of parties reported IPV victimization on the Multi-Door screen. Across studies, findings demonstrate that behaviorally specific, detailed screens, with more items inquiring about different violent behaviors, uncover more cases of party reported IPV victimization than broader, less specific screens with fewer items” (p. 247).

“Results indicated no overall significant differences in the odds of recommending a case for joint mediation services depending on whether the MASIC or the Multi-Door screen was used. Instead, across both screens, cases identified as being at higher risk were more likely to not be recommended for joint mediation, and as the MASIC detected a greater number of high risk cases, due to the increased odds of parties reporting IPV risk factors, almost twice as many cases were both high risk and screened out of joint mediation when using the MASIC as when using the Multi-Door screen. This pattern of findings was true for both the program officer and DRS recommendations. Thus, in the context of family mediation, using a behaviorally specific screen, such as the MASIC, will likely lead to the appropriateness of joint mediation being carefully considered in more cases” (p. 248- 249)

“Further, exploratory analyses indicated that regardless of the screening measure used, the program officer and dispute resolution specialist’s (DRS) are considering parties’ reports of IPV, injury, fear, and use or display of weapon when making recommendations to joint mediation, with reports of fear being most related to not recommending joint mediation. Interestingly, sex of the party reporting IPV (male or female) did not predict recommendations in exploratory analyses. Cases reporting a greater number of IPV/A behaviors ever in the relationship and within the past year were less likely to be recommended to joint mediation by the program officer and DRSs, although findings suggest that the program officer gave greater consideration to behaviors that occurred at any point in the relationship while the DRSs gave greater consideration to behaviors that occurred in the past year. This difference among staff in the decision-making process further suggests the need for standardized criteria for making recommendations to joint mediation. The absence of such guidelines may result in variable and unreliable recommendation decisions across staff members both within a mediation program and across programs” (p. 249).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although we examined the MASIC, which was designed for use in a mediation setting, our goal was not to consider the MASIC as the only or even the optimal IPV screen in such settings. Other behaviorally specific screens are likely to be similarly effective in assessing for IPV but, to date, no researchers have compared the MASIC with other well-known IPV screening tools that were not designed for the mediation setting, such as the Conflict Tactics Scale. Such work is needed, as is an exploration of how formatting of IPV screens (e.g., interview, paper and pencil, or online administration) impacts IPV/A victimization reports in mediation settings” (p. 248)

“While not predicted, the present study finding of a non-significant difference between screens in the likelihood that individuals reported weapons may not be surprising; it is consistent with our overall conclusion, as both screens include only one question about weapons. Further research is needed to examine when parties decide to report weapons as the MASIC and Multi-Door screen questions differed in two ways. First, the Multi-Door screen asks about both partners, while the MASIC only asks the participant about the other party. Second, the Multi-Door screen asks about “displaying” a weapon, whereas the MASIC asks about “use” of a weapon.” (247-248)

“We recommend that researchers continue to examine the decision-making process of mediators or mediation staff; ideally, however, recommendation to mediation would be based on empirical data regarding the outcomes of cases with a history of IPV in mediation. Information is needed regarding whether excluding IPV cases from mediation is actually a favorable outcome for these families” (p. 250)

“Future researchers should examine whether the parties in cases with differing levels of reported IPV and IPV-related risk factors are able to safely complete mediation, feel safe in mediation, and make mediation agreements that protect victim and child safety. In this latter category, researchers should examine whether family arrangements developed in mediation adequately protect the safety of victims and children after separation or relationship dissolution, or whether traditional court proceedings instead offer greater benefits to such families” (p. 250)

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Authored by Amanda Beltrani3

Amanda Beltrani is a current graduate student in the Forensic Psychology Masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, specifically, criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.

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