What Is Intimate Partner Violence?
Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), sometimes referred to as spousal assault, partner assault, spousal violence, and domestic violence—is the actual, attempted, or threatened physical harm of a current or former intimate partner. It is a broad definition so that any type of violence in a sexual or romantic relationship is included regardless of the relationship's legal status or the gender of the individuals involved. However, severe IPV is most often perpetrated by males against females.
IPV is different from violent crimes committed against strangers. As a result of the close relationship between the perpetrator and victim, the violence is more frequent and severe. The access and proximity of the victim and the perpetrator of IPV increase the frequency of violence. Close emotional attachment increases the severity, and intense emotions can result in extreme physical or psychological harm. IPV results in victims experiencing a profound loss of safety and security.
Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessments
In general, violence risk assessments have multiple goals:
- Prevent Violence
- Guide Interventions
- Protect Patient Rights
Risk assessments specific to IPV are concerned with gathering information to make decisions regarding an individual's risk of perpetrating intimate partner violence. Evaluators are to speculate about how and why an individual would choose to commit violence and consider how past choices may impact future decisions.
An IPV risk assessment focuses on a person’s decision concerning IPV. Said differently, it is to understand what someone is trying to accomplish by committing a specific act of violence against a particular victim at a certain time – but not other acts- against other victims at different times.
It is difficult for criminal justice, physical and mental health, postsecondary, and victim support professionals to determine who has the greatest need for services and which services are most needed. Risk assessments are essential for effective case management. A thorough risk assessment can answer questions such as
- Who is appropriate for what kind of treatment?
- Who is most likely to assault a partner?
- Which victims should be advised to take protective measures?
- Can a perpetrator be safely managed in the community?
The Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide (SARA)
Development of the SARA
Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide Version 3 (SARA-V3) was bred from 21 years of professional experience and scientific research. As it is the third version, it is evident that the instrument has gone through previous iterations, with the first version published in 1994. Since then, there has been a growth in awareness related to IPV. Shortly after, in 1995, SARA V2 was published. Over the following 16 years, the IPV literature expanded tremendously; therefore, the SARA V3 reflects advancements in knowledge. In addition, V3 incorporated steps to guide the formulation of violence perpetration and management based on advancements in the empirical literature on professional decision-making.
IPV Assessment Using the SARA-V3
The SARA-V3 is divided into three domains. The nature of IPV (8 factors) is related to the pattern of any IPV behavior perpetrated by the individual being evaluated. Perpetrator Risk Factors (10 factors) are related to the psychosocial adjustment and background of the evaluee. And, Victim Vulnerability Factors (6 factors) reflect the psychosocial adjustment and background of the potential victim.
Development of the SARA-V3 incorporated victim vulnerability factors. These items assess common hurdles to a victim’s ability and motivation to utilize self-protective behaviors. These factors are critical to developing realistic and comprehensive safety plans.
- Nature of IPV - Characterize the seriousness of the evaluee’s IPV
- Perpetrator Risk Factors - Characteristics of the evaluee that may be associated with decisions to engage in IPV
- Victim Vulnerability Factors - Characteristics of the victim that may be related to decisions to engage in self-protective behavior
Why Use The SARA For Intimate Partner Violence Risk Assessments?
Decisions about risk should not rely on unstructured clinical judgment. They should not be informal or depend on intuition or an impression. Any kind of structure is better than no structure at all.
Pros of the SARA
- Empirical support for reliability and validity
- Peer-reviewed studies, Government reports, Conference papers/presentations, Doctoral dissertations, and Master theses have all examined different aspects of the SARA
- Use with various professionals in many settings
- Criminal justice, victim support, security, post-secondary, mental health, and medical professionals
- Translated into 10 languages and used across six continents
- For use with male and female aged 18 and over, sexual orientation, and culture
- It may be used with the assistance and guidance of (the limited) empirical research for IPV among individuals 15-18 years old
- Can be used in conjunction with other SPJ tools if IPV has unique characteristics (e.g., if paraphilia is apparent in sexual assault evaluators can add the RSVP)
Cons of the SARA
- Can not “determine” if someone has committed IPV
- The most recent version was published in 2015
- Administration can be time-consuming, it is not a screening tool
- Research is limited to indicate if the SARA is applicable with gender identities other than male and female
Approaches to IPV Risk Assessment
In the field of IPV, the structured professional judgment (SPJ) approach was used to develop the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment guide (SARA) and the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER). The SPJ approach bridges the gap between unstructured clinical judgment and an actuarial approach to decision-making.
- Actuarial decision-making is transparent, and it has demonstrated consistency and utility. One common concern raised with actuarial decision-making related to risk assessments is its focus on violence prediction rather than violence prevention.
- Unstructured decision-making was the most common approach to assessing risk. It is considered “intuitive” and has been praised for its efficiency (low cost, time, and resources) and adaptability (which can be used in many contexts). However, there is little empirical evidence, and it is difficult for individuals to explain how they have made a given decision.
Application of the IPV Assessment Tools
The SARA-V3 is intended for use by criminal justice, victim support, security, human resources, post-secondary, medical, and mental health professionals working in various contexts where concerns about IPV arise. It is crucial and necessary to conduct risk assessments in criminal and civil justice and health care settings. For example, risk assessments may guide arrest, charges, detention, and sentencing decisions in the criminal legal system. In a civil legal system, IPV evaluations may be critical to decisions made in divorce proceedings, to protect spouses and children, or in an occupational setting to safeguard employees from IPV that may emerge in a workplace. Lastly, health care professionals may use risk assessments to make decisions related to prioritizing or triaging a case, treatability, and to gauge treatment gains.
Outside of conforming to relevant laws, policies, and professional guidelines, evaluators should have expertise in:
- Assessment: Training or professional work experience
- Intimate Partner Violence: coursework, work-related experience, or knowledge of IPV literature
- Mental Health: Users are not required to make a diagnosis; however, factors are present that are related to mental health disorders that require familiarity
Evaluators can complete specific training programs in the SARA and the B-SAFER to gain familiarity with the user manual, critical advances in IPV knowledge, and complete practice cases and review gold standard ratings.
Professional Benefits of Being Trained to Use the SARA-V3 & B-SAFER-2
These SPJ tools guide professional assessment to efficiently consider the salient risk factors, etiology, trauma, and adverse life events of those who perpetrate or are victims of IPV. This knowledge can open the door to careers in institutions with specialized IPV support as well as advocacy programs.