The Development of the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER): A Tool for Criminal Justice Professionals

1. Project Overview

In September of 2002, the Department of Justice Canada (DOJ) contracted with the British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence (BCIFV) to develop a tool for use by criminal justice professionals that would facilitate the assessment and management of risk for spousal abuse, also known as domestic or intimate partner violence.

The objectives of the project were to:

  1. Enhance the ability of criminal justice professionals to assess risk in spousal abuse cases.
  2. Help criminal justice professionals obtain information necessary to assess risk.
  3. Help victims plan strategies to increase their safety.
  4. Help in preventing further and more serious incidents of domestic violence.

As part of the project, BCIFV agreed to develop, based on its previous work in this area, a checklist of risk factors and a structured interview guide for use by criminal justice professionals. BCIFV also agreed to pilot test the checklist with law enforcement agencies in at least three sites, and then deliver to the Department of Justice final versions of the checklist and structured interview guide.

This project emerged as a result of informal discussions about risk assessment between the authors of this report and research staff at the Department of Justice. Thus the design and scope of the activities were developed through consultation with research officers of the Department of Justice Canada. Draft copies of all materials were forwarded to the Department of Justice, and feedback from DOJ staff was incorporated into revised materials that were used in the pilot testing.

The early stages of this project also involved a great deal of consultation with national and international experts regarding the content of the B-SAFER. We asked several experts to review an initial draft of the B-SAFER and provide feedback regarding the format, content and process of the proposed tool. All those consulted were chosen because of their expertise in violence risk assessment, spousal violence policing, or spousal violence victim issues. The following individuals offered helpful feedback: Dr. Jacqueline Campbell, Endowed Professor, Johns Hopkins University; Dr. Russell Dobash and Dr. Rebecca Dobash, Manchester University; Dr. David Cooke, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland; Dr. Henrik Belfrage, Professor, Mid-Sweden University, Sundsvall Sweden; Inspector Douglas LePard, former Sergeant in charge of the Vancouver Police Domestic Violence and Criminal Harassment Unit (DVACH); Inspector Barbara Morris, former Inspector in charge of the Vancouver Police DVACH; Penny Bain, Executive Director of the BC Institute Against Family Violence; Jane Coombe, Policy and Program Analyst/Manager, Victim Services and Community Programs Division, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

The project is now completed. This final report summarizes the work that was completed since the initial consultations. Included with the report are: the pre-test and final version of the checklist, called the Brief Spousal Assault Form for the Evaluation of Risk (B-SAFER) and a manual for the B-SAFER which includes a structured interview for use with victims.

The next section of this report provides an overview of some key issues of risk assessment. The third section outlines the development of the B-SAFER. In the fourth section, we describe the pilot testing and present key findings of quantitative and qualitative analyses. Finally, we discuss conclusions and recommendations in the fifth section.

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