Risk Assessment Instruments, Interpersonal Violence Essay

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Assessing risk is important if researchers and human services professionals are to predict who is most likely to perpetrate or experience interpersonal violence. Although numerous controversies exist in this field, a large number of assessment instruments have been designed to determine the likelihood of becoming involved in interpersonal violence. These instruments vary in focus, but they can be broadly categorized as to whether they are administered to victims or perpetrators. Some instruments (e.g., Revised Conflict Tactics Scale, CTS2) assess both victimization and perpetration in a single scale.

Victim-Administered Instruments

Demographic variables appear to be significant indicators of future victimization among women, and most assessment protocols include evaluation of known risk factors such as income and/or socioeconomic statues, minority and relationship status, and age. Other instruments focus on frequency and severity of discrete violent or high-risk behaviors. The CTS2 reliably discriminates violent from nonviolent relationships by measuring the extent to which partners engage in physical and psychological disagreements with one another. An alternative scale used to measure mental impact of abuse is the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory. This self-report survey indicates frequency of emotionally distressing events as recalled by women. A third scale, the Index of Spouse Abuse, also looks at the severity of emotional and psychological abuse perpetrated by one’s spouse. The Danger Assessment, originally developed by Campbell in 1986 and revised in 2004, uses victim information to predict future domestic violence rather than frequency and severity of violent or high-risk behaviors. This measure assesses severity of victimization by asking women to indicate on a calendar when battering occurred and how severe the altercation was. In addition, women are asked 20 dichotomous questions regarding possible risk factors associated with intimate partner violence. These items are scored using a weighted scoring system. This measure has been utilized in a variety of settings including domestic violence shelters and health care settings and has shown both high internal consistency and reliability.

Perpetrator-Administered Instruments

A variety of measures primarily administered to males have been developed to assess predisposition to abusive behavior. Perpetrator surveys range from the examination of general criminality and aggression to perpetration or recidivism specific to partner abuse. The Partner Abuse Prognostic Scale (PAPS) and the Propensity for Abusiveness Scale (PAS) both gather information from adult males to predict their risk of battering. The PAPS examines prognostic indicators for abuse recidivism, while the PAS profiles potential perpetrators by assessing variables such as attachment style, emotional and abusive history, and self-concept stability. Similarly, the Spousal Assault Risk Appraisal Guide screens for risk factors associated with family violence by conducting a clinical checklist with those suspected of or being treated for domestic assault. This measure explores 20 risk factors linked with spousal abuse recidivism. Kerry’s Femicide Scale is used to identify factors that may make it more likely for a man to kill his intimate partner. These factors go beyond physical and emotional aspects of abuse by investigating the way in which men from both community and prison populations regard women.

Several scales exist that assess attitudes toward women that may be associated with higher risk for interpersonal violence. These scales are based on a burgeoning literature examining individual differences associated with increased abuse perpetration or risk. The Hostility Toward Women Scale consists of 30 true-false statements designed to uncover men’s aggression toward women. The Inventory of Beliefs About Wife Beating completed by both males and females assesses attitudes toward spousal abuse. These measures are used to further the understanding of why such abuse occurs and how men and women differ in their views on interpersonal violence.

Scales measuring a man’s risk of becoming violent in general have also been used to predict likelihood of abuse perpetration against intimate partners. The Psychopathology Checklist—Revised and the Historical, Clinical, and Risk Management Violence Risk Assessment Scheme are structured interviews that obtain information from multiple sources. These include case histories, families, and criminal and psychiatric records. The Violence Risk Scale as well as the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG) predicts recidivism of abusive behavior in soon to be released incarcerated violent offenders by using past history and situational factors. Individuals perceived to be at risk are targeted for treatment. The Violence Prediction Scheme (VPS) is a combination of the VRAG and a short list of clinical criteria referred to as the ASSESS. The VPS is also used in the prediction of violent behavior in adult male prison populations. The predictive accuracy for this measure is found to be as long as 10 years from assessment. Finally, the Multidimensional Anger Inventory (MAI), while not specifically designed to assess domestic violence, examines anger on a global level. High scores on the MAI may indicate which individuals may be more likely to perpetrate spousal abuse.

The aforementioned risk assessment instruments offer great insight into the possibility that an individual will become involved in interpersonal violence at some point in his or her life. However, it is critical to obtain information from outside sources to retain a more holistic view of the situation. Knowledge of socioeconomic variables, family history of violence, and criminal records are all mitigating factors in the prediction, prevention, and treatment of domestic violence.

Selection Of Instruments

Selection of a risk appraisal instrument is contingent upon a variety of important factors. For example, when assessing risk of involvement in interpersonal violence contextual variables must be taken into account. Type of setting, treatment history, and individual status (i.e., victim or perpetrator) are all situational components that should be determining criteria in the assessment selection. In addition, it is important to note base rates of violent behavior in a population when attempting to make predictions as well as to note the purpose for the risk appraisal. Finally, it may be particularly important for researchers to consider what instruments show the greatest reliability and validity in specific subsamples of abuse perpetrators and victims (e.g., college students vs. rural minority samples). Without such commonly agreed upon protocols, it is difficult to assess abuse severity across studies.


  1. Campbell, J. C. (1986). Nursing assessment for risk of homicide with battered women. Advances in Nursing Science, 8, 36–51.
  2. Hudson, W., & McIntosh, S. (1981). The index of spouse abuse: Two quantifiable dimensions. Journal of Marriage & Family, 43, 873–888.
  3. Tolman, R. M. (1989). The development of a measure of psychological maltreatment of women by their male partners. Violence and Victims, 4, 159–177.
  4. Tyagi, S. V. (2003, November). Risk assessment measures in prediction of domestic/interpersonal violence: Brief overview of some measures and issues (Report No. 2003:01). In Professional education for community practitioners: Technical paper series. Toronto, ON: Counterpoint Counselling and Educational Co-operative.

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