ASSESSING PHYSICAL ABUSERS: BREAKING THE ABUSER’S SECRECY

ABUSER’S SECRECY

When physical abusers are assessed victims and even the children within the home tend to be excluded from the assessment process. Yet without interviewing the victim and/or current romantic partner of the abuser, valuable information concerning the abuse is likely to be missed. Official records are often poor sources of information related to the violent history of the abuser or any offender for that matter (see chapters 37 and 39 in Johnson, S.A. (2007). Physical Abusers and Sexual Offenders: Forensic and Clinical Strategies. CRC/Taylor & Francis). This lack of accuracy is due to the fact that many criminal histories include plea agreements, and plea agreements are grossly misleading. For example, an abuser may plead guilty to a disorderly conduct charge and that is what will appear on a criminal history check. However the true nature of the plead-to offense may have included assault, sexual assault, robbery, etc. So gathering complete records becomes even more important. In addition, it has been generally accepted that for every violent offense that is identified, it is highly likely that numerous other violent offenses have not been reported. The victim and children therefore become invaluable sources of information to help identify and accurately assess the physical abuser’s true violent history.

In the course of my practice, I have found that some mental health professionals and probation officers who are supportive of the victims being interviewed and involved in the physical abuser’s assessment process as needed. However, there are other professionals and probation officers that have not supported the victim being interviewed. This is often the result of an out-dated tendency to over-protect the victim and to inadvertently allow physical abusers to maintain secrecy about the true scope and nature of their violent behavior history. Unfortunately there is a paucity of research on conducting domestic abuse assessments and on how interviewing the victim or the offender’s current partner impacts the assessment outcome. As a result there is little to compare the outcome data from this research with.

Anecdotally it appears many providers of domestic and general abuse assessments rely on minimal records provided from the referent and one 30-60 minute interview with the physical abuser, with no psychological or other testing being completed and the victim not being interviewed. Such a pseudoassessment should never be acceptable and only results in an underestimation of the physical abuser’s risk for reoffense and an under-identification of the abuser’s psychological and behavioral problems.

In this study the victims were never interviewed with the physical abuser present. Appropriate security measures to ensure that the victim’s safety were followed. Safety protocol include (but not limited to) the batterer not being informed of when the victim will be interviewed; scheduling the victim interview on different days from that of the abuser; ensuring the victim has adequate information about supportive and legal resources.

The purpose of this study was to identify what type of information victims would provide that was different from what information the physical abuser provided. It was assumed that the victims would report that the abuser had engaged in more abusive behavior than what was reported by the abuser or contained in official records. There was no control group utilized in this study.

Procedure

All subjects who were referred for a court ordered domestic abuse assessment (or related anger management assessment) were included in the study. The subjects all went through the standard protocol established for the assessment of domestic abuse (see Johnson, 2005; Johnson, 2007, pp. 246-249). As part of the intake process, informed consent was obtained from all subjects as well as permission for information to be used for research purposes. Fifty-nine subjects began the assessment process. Fourteen subjects failed to complete the assessment process and forty-five subjects completed the assessment process.

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