Perpetrators are “high risk”, not victims.
For those in the women’s sector, police and/or wider social care DASH RIC will be a familiar acronym. It stands for “Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment Risk Indicator Checklist. It was developed by Laura Richards (a criminologist) and CAADA (now known as Safe Lives) and is an evidence based system for assessing risk in a situation where someone is being subjected to abuse, stalking and/or harassment from a partner or family member.
Once someone has received training in understanding the DASH method, they can complete a checklist with anyone who has been subjected to abuse. The result of the checklist is an assessment of Standard, Medium or High Risk. There is no “low risk”, abuse always results in at least standard risk of harm.
DASH was developed through researching the common factors for people (mainly women) who had been murdered by a partner or family member, with the purpose of preventing serious injury or murder through identifying risk factors proactively.
The risk factors are:
- Perception of risk
- Separation and child contact
- Pregnancy/New birth
- Community issues
- Sexual assault
- Threats to kill
- Use of weapons
- Child abuse
- Pet abuse
Although the DASH system has been extremely valuable in improving responses to abuse, there are various issues with it. These include:
- Serious Injury/Death
The whole system was developed through studying the lives of people who had been murdered. The vast majority of abusers do not kill their partner, yet they do destroy their partner’s life. They do not necessarily physically harm their partner, but they do irreparable damage to the spirit and soul. To base an entire system of responding to abuse on risk of murder or serious injury is likely to ignore the “emotional terrorism” of abuse.
- Reducing women to the DASH score
I have been present when a woman was described as “a standard” in relation to the limits of support a service could give her. They had risk assessed her as “standard” and therefore could not attend court with her as she faced the man who had abused her and fought to regain custody of her children. This practitioner had designated this woman as “standard”. She wasn’t a person with needs, hopes, dreams. She was no longer a woman who has been subjected to abuse and trauma. She was a standard.
Domestic abuse services have limited resources and hard decisions have to be made as to how to share those resources out based on need and requirement, however reducing women to “a standard” is never acceptable.
- Tick box exercise
Although training should always be included before people use DASH, the quality of the training is not guaranteed and often training will not re-educate people about the prejudices and negative attitudes held by society about abuse. Victim blaming and the reducing the culpability of abusers is rife across all sections of society, including police officers and social care professionals. The DASH RIC was designed to be easy to use and simple to complete, but the downside to this is that people use it as a tick box exercise. No explanation is given. It’s a 5 minute paperwork exercise, rather than a tool designed to begin a conversation that could last a couple of hours.
Often DASH is used in a way that is very disempowering to those who have been subjected to abuse. They are asked the questions without any explanation about what DASH is or how it will be used. At the end of the process, they are informed of the risk level, without any explanation about how that conclusion was reached or what it means for their life.
I have used DASH with women in a way that gives them knowledge and understanding. Explaining why each question is asked and what the purpose of the process is. It can be used in a way that gives women power over their lives and knowledge, or it can be used as something that is “done to” women, another thing they are subjected to.
- Whose Risk?
One of my biggest concerns about DASH is the way risk is allocated. She is labeled as a “high risk victim” when in reality it is her partner (or ex) who is a “high risk perpetrator”. She is “at risk” from him; yet that nuance is too often lost.
If we label her “high risk”, in both our language and practice we place the responsibility for that risk on the woman. By simply adjusting our language and referring to him as “high risk” we maintain the focus on him as the abuser.
The DASH RIC has made its way into so many aspects of good practice in protecting those who have been subjected to abuse and that’s isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as with any tool, it is only as good as the person who holds it, and it is up to each of us to work towards a system that protects the vulnerable and holds abusers to account.