Published: July, 2009| Jan Reimer, Carolyn Goard, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

Recently completed research in Alberta, Canada demonstrates how use of Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell’s Danger Assessment tool helps battered women assess the risk of lethal violence posed by their batterers.

Dr. Campbell, professor of nursing and public health at Johns Hopkins University, originally developed the tool in 1985. Continuing research has updated and validated the Danger Assessment, leading to its use by law enforcement in the Maryland Lethality Assessment Project, also featured as a promising practice.

The Danger Assessment uses a calendar to help battered women recall frequency and severity of incidents, and uses a 20-item danger assessment questionnaire. Institutionalizing the Danger Assessment represents a promising practice both in shelters' efforts to identify women in more serious danger and provide them with more targeted tools and services, and in using action-based research for advocacy purposes.

Alberta shelters began using the Danger Assessment following a training by Dr. Campbell in 2003. The high level of danger among shelter residents was confirmed by use of the Danger Assessment. The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) project, which began in 2006, improved women’s understanding of their abuse and the need for personal action, increased their understanding of safety planning, and reduced minimization of the violence. Shelters also asked women to track other forms of abuse (e.g., emotional, financial, spiritual, sexual, cultural) on the calendar. Women commented that these types of abuse were more hurtful; and women whose abuse history did not include physical abuse felt that including this component validated their experience.

The ACWS collaborative research project on Danger Assessment usage in Alberta shelters is summarized in the report Keeping Women Alive—Assessing the Danger. The collaboration (nine shelters, Dr. Campbell and the ACWS) examined the use of the Danger Assessment to inform shelter practice, provide accurate evidence-based research for use by community stakeholders, and pilot a train-the-trainer model using Canadian/Alberta data.

Canadian media reports of the study have emphasized the increased danger for women seeking refuge in “second-stage” shelters, which offer longer-term safe accommodations than do emergency shelters.

The increase of lethality of women in this final stage of leaving an abusive relationship underscores the need for more of these shelters to facilitate the transition during this dangerous time.

Yes Responses to Danger Assessment Questions by Type of Shelter

DA Question Emergency Second-Stage
Q1. Increased physical violence?     65.9%     85.4%
Q5. Use or threat to use a weapon?      43.0%     59.6%
Q5a. If yes, was the weapon a gun? 13.8% 45.0%
Q6.  Does your partner threaten to kill you? 46.9% 72.9%
Q9.  Does your partner ever force sex? 48.3% 69.6%
Q10. Does partner ever try to choke you? 54.4% 68.8%
Q13. Does your partner control your daily activities? 76.7% 93.8%
Q15. Have you been beaten while pregnant? 36.6% 60.0%
Q17. Does your partner threaten to harm your children?  17.8% 65.2%
Q19. Partner stalking behavior? 66.3% 85.4%

Results of the study will assist ACWS and its members in advocating for both systemic changes as well as with individual advocacy with women in shelters. The study resulted in seven practice-focused recommendations as well as considerations for future research projects.

For more information, contact Jan Reimer, Provincial Coordinator of ACWS at janreimer@acws.ca or Carolyn Goard, Director of Member Programs and Services at cgoard@acws.ca.