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Risk Identification Assessment

Written by: Deepa Mattoo

Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic is a leader in the delivery of integrated, multi-disciplinary services. Our service delivery philosophy and model are reflected in many justice system reports that address innovative approaches to meeting the multiple legal and non-legal needs of individuals engaged in legal systems – particularly family law. The Clinic took the lead on creating and developing a risk assessment and safety planning process that is administered in collaboration with women experiencing violence. The Clinic’s tools, stemming from this process, are based on the principles that a woman’s violence experience, as their identity, can be intersectional. They may experience multiple forms of marginalization by virtue of their gender, ethnic identity, and immigration status.[1]

The Law Foundation of Ontario funded the Clinic’s Risk Identification Assessment (RIA) Project under its Access to Justice Fund. Our Project assesses the presence of risk factors for violence that help Court stakeholders identify red flags for high-risk situations.

The RIA tool is divided into three progressive parts: RIA I, RIA II and RIA III. RIA I consists of 13 questions based on validated risk factors that help Court stakeholders identify red flags for high-risk situations. The presence of such red flags indicates that the assessor must move on to RIA II, which consists of seven categories: type of abuse, relationship history, survivor, perpetrator background, systemic factors, Indigeneity factors, and children. Using these categories, the assessor will explore a range of risk factors that would require appropriate interventions to protect survivors and their children from future harm. From here, the assessor would move on to RIA III, which requires a safety or action plan and a referral for each identified risk factor. RIA III assists Court stakeholders and survivors to minimize the risk of future violence and harm.

Women survivors of violence face a heightened risk of lethality and other harm when deciding to separate or divorce. As noted, domestic homicides are the most predictable and preventable of all deaths accounting for 17% of all solved homicides.[3] Among the most common risk factors for lethality is actual or pending separation. Consequently, women are perhaps never more at risk of harm than when they are entering Family Courts.

For women experiencing marginalization and barriers resulting from intersecting oppressions, this risk is more significant, and their access to resources and assistance is lacking. For example, women who have migrated from conflict or disaster zones experience higher rates of domestic violence while at the same time encountering a multitude of barriers and a lack of competent, sensitive services.[4] For a woman to receive the full benefit of the law within family courts and access the services required to rebuild her family in the aftermath of abuse, she must first be safe. Appropriate screening of the risk for women experiencing violence is an access to justice issue. [5]

 The Clinic’s RIA project is coming to a successful completion with stakeholders trained across the Greater Toronto Area. However, the work continues. Risk assessment in the Family Court system must be widely used, modified by the legal actors involved to meet local needs. Work also needs to be done to have the courts accept risk assessment as a predictable source of information to establish past harm evidence. If the assessment indicates past harm, future harm is likely and needs to be followed up with safety planning. [6] Social science data shows that unless legal actors and systems consider risk assessments as evidence and a part of a strategy to prevent risk [7], assessments cannot stop violence and lethality.

To read more about the tool, visit the Schlifer Clinic’s webpage.


[1] Intersectionality is an approach to anti-discrimination and equality law that attempts to move beyond static conceptions[1] and fixed “identities” of discriminated subjects. Intersectionality delineates the ‘flow’ of discrimination as multi-directional and injury as seldom attributable to a single source based on a traffic intersection metaphor.[1] [1] Crenshaw, Kimberle “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1 (1989), Article 8.

[2] In some cases, grounds such as sex, race, or disability, to name just a few, may intersect and together produce unique effects creating “discreet and insular minorities” who are socially handicapped because of these characteristics. At other times, any one of these characteristics may intersect with other grounds such as social assistance, family status and a further link to economic and social and class status to create unique experiences for the individuals ignored in the current human rights framework. “Appyling an Intersectional Approach” Ontario Human Rights Commission, Online: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/intersectional-approach-discrimination-addressing-multiple-grounds-human-rights-claims/applying-intersectional-approach

[3] Marcie Campbell “Threat Assessment and Risk Management in Domestic Violence Cases: An Overview of Ontario Justice and Community Collaboration for 2010 and Future Directions” (2010) Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children

[4] Mohammed Baobaid, “Domestic Violence Risks in Families with Collectivist Values: Understanding Cultural Context” (2012) Online: http://onlinetraining.learningtoendabuse.ca/sites/default/files/lessons/Domestic%20Violence%20Risks%20in%20Families%20with%20Collectivist%20Values.pdf

[5] Pamela Cross (2011) [5]WHO DO YOU WANT TO SUE YOU?[5] – Confidentiality and community risk management; Research report and recommendations; for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children. and

Linda C. Neilson, “Enhancing Safety: When Domestic Violence Cases are in multiple legal systems (Criminal, family, child protection) A Family Law, Domestic Violence Perspective, 2nd ed (Department of Sociology, University of New Brunswick, 2013)

[6] Skeem J, Mulvey E, Lidz C: Building clinicians’ decisional models into tests of predictive validity: the accuracy of contextualized predictions of violence. Law Hum Behav 24:607–28, 2000

[7] Sameer P. Sarkar: Family Courts, Risk Assessment, and the Moral Compass, Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online December 2011, 39 (4) 454-459;

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Suggested Citation: Mattoo, Deepa. (2020, November). Risk Identification Assessment. Courage to Act. www.couragetoact.ca/blog/ipvtool

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Deepa Mattoo

Deepa Mattoo is Executive Director of Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Ms. Mattoo brings more than two decades of legal advocacy, social justice reform, direct human rights service provision and public education to the position. Bringing a deeply intersection approach to women’s rights and gender equality issues, Ms. Mattoo takes the daily struggles for individual rights and reveals the institutional failures that impede a woman’s rights to justice and a life free from violence. Ms. Mattoo’s previous experience includes Director of Legal Service at the Clinic, and Staff Lawyer, Executive Director and Project Coordinator at the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

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The Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic assists women from underserved communities who are experiencing violence or its aftermath. Each year, 30% of these women will meet the definition of having complex needs such as financial vulnerability, lack of housing, under or unemployment, social isolation, living in poverty. and mental health issues resulting from their experience of violence. The Clinic provides holistic and accessible social services to these women including counseling services, interpretation and translation services, legal education, advocacy, and representation. The Clinic uses a trauma-informed model that places the women’s experience of violence and need for safety at the forefront of her healing process.

Through the Clinic’s work, women experience less isolation, more stability, and more expanded personal agency within relationships. Women have improved knowledge of and access to legal rights and remedies. The Clinic works to ensure that decision-makers are informed of and continually have access to progressive policy options. As a result of its policy and law reform work, key decision-makers are aware of the impact of their decisions on the women we serve.

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