October 01, 2020 Dispute Resolution Magazine

In a Time of Great Need, a New, Shorter Tool Helps Screen for Intimate Partner Violence

Amy G. Applegate, Fernanda S. Rossi, Amy Holtzworth-Munroe, Connie J. Beck, and Lily J. Jiang
In a Time of Great Need, a New, Shorter Tool Helps Screen for Intimate Partner Violence

In a Time of Great Need, a New, Shorter Tool Helps Screen for Intimate Partner Violence

As we noted in the Spring 2019 issue of this magazine, for many years family law dispute resolution practitioners have grappled with the question of whether to avoid mediating cases involving parties with a history of high or worrisome levels of intimate partner violence (IPV) because of potential harm (based on the risk of physical injury) or disadvantage to the victim (based on intimidation and/or coercion by the abuser). Today, although some practitioners remain unwilling to mediate such cases, many others are willing to work with parties who have struggled with IPV.

Indeed, there is now empirical support for mediation as an appropriate alternative to court for cases with reports of concerning levels of IPV, as long as both parents are willing to mediate and the mediation is designed with strong safety protocols and carried out in a protected environment by well-trained staff. All practitioners, even those reluctant or unwilling to work on cases with intimate partner violence, should screen for IPV so they can make informed decisions and adjust the mediation process accordingly.

In our Spring 2019 article, we described our Mediator’s Assessment of Safety Issues and Concerns (MASIC), a tool that provides family law mediators and other practitioners with a comprehensive, behaviorally specific IPV screen that assesses various types of abuse and violence. After introducing that tool, which is available at no cost and without the need for extensive training, in 2010, we conducted an empirical study that provided initial validation and reliability for the MASIC’s behaviorally specific questions. We are pleased to report that a substantial number of mediators nationally and internationally now use the MASIC, which is in its fourth version and can be adapted into an online or electronic format. The MASIC is particularly useful in settings in which there is sufficient time to explore IPV and other safety issues in more detail with the parties.

Today, when COVID-19 has brought an alarming increase in domestic violence and technology has become crucial for helping those in need, seems an especially good time for an update on this important screening tool.

In response to requests for a shorter tool that can be used to conduct IPV screening remotely, we are now testing a more concise version of the MASIC, which also includes questions from the Danger Assessment (DA), an empirically validated risk assessment instrument for intimate partner femicide. Using statistical analysis, a member of our research team identified the specific items from the longer MASIC that provide maximum information regarding severe levels of violence. Those identified MASIC items, and the questions from the DA (which are empirically predictive of the risk of lethality for a female victim) are contained in the shortened version of the MASIC (MASIC-S with DA). Because we know the demand for virtual mediation is high, it is helpful that the MASIC-S with DA is convertible to online administration via virtual platforms.

Administering the MASIC-S with DA online is particularly efficient for two reasons: additional areas of inquiry are triggered based on earlier section responses, and IPV scores and DA scores are provided immediately at the end of each interview. The IPV scores are important for considering how the types of violence and abuse and any resulting fear and injury should affect the decision about whether and how to mediate a particular case. The DA scores are important for assessing the risk level of future physical injury or death of the interviewee. The tool also allows the screener to use their discretion about how much additional screening to conduct (i.e., asking the questions in sections not triggered by prior responses). The MASIC-S with DA is empirically derived; nevertheless, we are conducting independent testing and validation of the MASIC-S with DA. One pilot study of the MASIC-S with DA is ongoing, and another larger pilot study is in the planning stages.

In an effort to encourage and facilitate IPV screening in practice, we are making the MASIC-4 immediately available and the MASIC-S with DA available to mediation programs and individual family law mediators, lawyers, and other practitioners who have completed the Johns Hopkins Danger Assessment Online Training, which is available at a low cost. The need is great, time is short, and our dependence on technology is growing, so we hope this new and improved tool will help many practitioners resolve family disputes.

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    Amy G. Applegate

    Amy G. Applegate is a Clinical Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington, where she teaches mediation and directs a mediation clinic through which law students provide mediation services to indigent and low-income litigants in disputed custody, parenting-time, and other family law cases. She can be reached at aga@indiana.edu.

    Fernanda S. Rossi

    Fernanda S. Rossi is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System’s Center for Innovation to Implementation and the Stanford University Center for Health Policy and Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research. She can be reached at fsrossi@stanford.edu.

    Amy Holtzworth-Munroe

    Amy Holtzworth-Munroe is a Professor of Psychology in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. She has conducted research on intimate partner violence since the early 1980s and for more than 10 years has studied family law interventions for separating and divorcing parents, including mediation, parent education programs, and IPV screening methods. She can be reached at holtzwor@indiana.edu.

    Connie J. Beck

    Connie J. Beck is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington- Tacoma. For the past 25 years she has researched short- and long-term outcomes for divorcing couples experiencing intimate partner violence and mediating their disputes. She has also conducted research on judicial decision making in child welfare cases, families returning to the child welfare system, microaggressions experienced by athletes, and mental health risk and resilience factors in law students and lawyers. She can be reached at beckcj@uw.edu.

    Lily J. Jiang

    Lily J. Jiang is a clinical science doctoral graduate student in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. She can be reached at ljjiang@iu.edu