Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA)

Introduction to Spousal Assault Risk Assessment

The Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA) by Kropp, Hart, Webster & Eaves (1995) is used to assess the risk of intimate partner violence. Their tool recognizes that intimate partner violence may occur without regard to gender (male on female, female on male, female on female, male on male, and any other combination including trans and non-binary individuals), marital status (married and commonlaw individuals may engage in intimate partner violence), and does not necessarily require physical injury.

What follows is a brief summary of how to administer and score the SARA. More comprehensive information can be found in the manual itself. The SARA may be administered by minimally trained individuals up to Forensic Psychologists and Psychiatrists.

The SARA is comprised of 20 items that to provide a framework of historic, static and dynamic risk factors that have been shown to increase risk.

Information Required Prior to Assessment

All available sources of information should be consulted before completing the SARA.  This should include:

  • Interviews with both the accused/perpetrator and the victim/survivor(s) with a goal of collecting the SARA items
  • Standard measures for substance abuse (drugs and alcohol), personality, and IQ if available; the SARA manual recommends the Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test (MAST) by Seltzer (1971) for alcohol, and the Drug Abuse Screening Test (Skinner, 1982) for drugs, and the Personality Assessment Inventory by Morey (1991) for personality
  • Police reports, court documents, criminal records, etc.
  • Interviews with relatives or children who may have been exposed to abuse
  • Interview with probation officers

Coding

All items in the SARA are scored based on a 3-point scale:

  • 0 = Absent
  • 1 = Subthreshold
  • 2 = Present

If there is not enough to code an item, it should be excluded, not coded as absent. For instance, if there is no information to confirm or deny a current substance abuse issue, this should be left blank and noted, not assumed to be absent.

Critical Items

Some items are considered critical items – if these are present then it is enough to assume that potential/actual victims are at risk. These items are coded on a 2-point scale:

  • 0 = Absent
  • 1 = Present

These items are chosen as critical items based on the evaluator’s judgement.

Summarizing Risk

The result of a risk assessment will usually address two issues:

  1. Is there risk to the partner?
  2. Is there risk to children/non-spouse/others?

This summary is coded on a 3-point scale,

  • 1 = Low
  • 2 = Moderate
  • 3 = High

Communicating Risk

Writing a risk assessment is outside the scope of this article but you may see the original guide for more detailed information or my blog post about documenting suicide risk assessments for more information.

Assessment Items and Risk Management

For more detailed rating criteria please consult the original guide. The coding has been omitted from this table in appreciation for the original author’s copyright.

Item Name Coding Risk Management Strategies
1 – Past Assault of Family Members Intensive supervision or monitoring
2 – Past Assault of Strangers or Acquaintances Intensive supervision or monitoring
3 – Past Violation of Conditional Release or Community Supervision Intensive supervision or monitoring
4 – Recent Relationship Problems Interpersonal treatment (individual or group)

Legal advice or dispute resolution

Vocational counselling

5 – Recent Employment Problems Interpersonal treatment (individual or group)

Vocational counselling

6 – Victim of and/or Witness to Family Violence as a Child or Adolescent None given in guide;Interpersonal treatment (individual or group)
7 – Recent Substance Abuse/Dependence  Court-ordered abstinence, drug testing

Alcohol/drug treatment

8 – Recent Suicidal or Homicidal Ideation/Intent Crisis counselling

Hospitalization

Psychotropic medication

Court-ordered weapons restrictions

9 – Recent Psychotic or Manic Symptoms Crisis counselling

Hospitalization

Psychotropic medication

Court-ordered weapons restrictions

10 – Personality Disorder with Anger, Impulsivity or Behavioural Instability Intensive supervision

Long-term individual therapy

Group treatment

Psycho-education

11 – Past Physical Assault None given in guide;

Intensive supervision or monitoring

12 – Past Sexual Assaut/Sexual Jealousy None given in guide;

Intensive supervision or monitoring

Long-term individual therapy

13 – Past Use of Weapons and/or Credible Threats of Death None given in guide;

Court-ordered weapons restrictions

14 – Recent Escalation in Frequency or Severity of Assault None given in guide;
15 – Past Violations of “No Contact” Orders Intensive supervision or monitoring
16 – Extreme Minimization or Denial of Spousal Assault History Intensive supervision

Long-term individual therapy

Group treatment

Psycho-education

17 – Attitudes That Condone or Support Spousal Assault Intensive supervision

Long-term individual therapy

Group treatment

Psycho-education

18 – Severe and/or Sexual Assault None given in guide; long-term individual therapy
19 – Use of Weapons and/or Credible Threats of Death None given in guide; long-term individual therapy

Court-ordered weapons restrictions

 

20 – Violation of “No Contact” order Intensive supervision or monitoring

Other Considerations

The SARA manual indicates a number of other risk factors which may be factored into the assessment at the expert judgement of the evaluator. Examples of these include:

  • Current emotional crisis
  • History of torturing or disfiguring intimate partners
  • Victim or witness of political persecution, torture, or violence
  • Sexual sadism
  • Easy access to firearms
  • Stalking
  • Recent loss of social support network

Bibliography

Kropp, PR., Hart, S.D., Webster, C.D. & Eaves, D. (1995) Manual for the Spousal Assault Risk Assessment Guide, 2nd ed., The British Columbia Institute Against Family Violence.

Morey, L.C. (1991) Personality Assessment Inventory Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Selzer, M. (1971) The Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test: The quest for a new diagnostic instrument. American Journal of Psychiatry, 127. 1653-1658.

Skinner, H.A. (1982) The Drug Abuse Screening Test. Addictive Behaviour. 7, 363-371.



Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Spousal Assault Risk Assessment (SARA)," retrieved on November 17, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/spousal-assault-risk-assessment-sara-guide/.

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