B-SAFER: assessing the risk of recurrence of relational violence

The B-SAFER is a diagnostic instrument that can be used to estimate the risk of recurrence of relationship violence. In the Netherlands, the probation service works with this instrument, among others, as a supplement to the RISc (Recidivism Assessment Scales). The risk of general recidivism among perpetrators of relationship violence can be accurately estimated with the RISc, but the risk of repeating a violent offense cannot be accurately predicted with the RISc.


  • Definition and aspects of relational violence
  • What is relational violence?
  • Aspects
  • The need for risk assessment
  • Approaches to risk assessment
  • Applications, population and limitations B-SAFER
  • User qualifications and training
  • Using the B-SAFER
  • Relational violence factors

This article is a summary of the book B-SAFER, Guidelines for Assessing the Risk of Relationship Violence.¹ B-SAFER is an abbreviation for: Brief Spousal Assault For Evaluation of Risk .

Definition and aspects of relational violence

What is relational violence?

Relational violence is defined as the following:

“Any actual physical violence, attempt thereto, or threat thereof by a man or a woman directed against a current or ex-partner with whom the perpetrator has (had) an (intimate) relationship.”²


Aspects of relational violence are:

  • Violence often has a higher frequency and is more serious when there is a relationship between the victim and the perpetrator, as opposed to violent behavior directed at strangers.
  • Relationship violence is one of the most common forms of interpersonal violence, research shows.
  • Relationship violence affects men and women differently. Women are more likely to be victims of repeated and serious violence, including killing. They are also more likely to be victims of psychological abuse.
  • Women often play a role as instigators of violence. Women can also initiate the physical violence themselves, but because of the often physical superiority of the man, they are ultimately more often found in the role of victim.


The need for risk assessment

In the Netherlands, domestic violence is one of the most common forms of violence. Domestic violence often involves relational violence, but not exclusively. Child abuse and parental abuse are also included. The main purpose of risk assessment is prevention, which means determining what steps need to be taken to reduce the risk posed to a person. It is not sufficient to estimate the risk of recidivism. This involves a complete assessment of the risk, such as the nature of the expected violence, the expected severity and frequency and the conditions under which the violence could occur.

Approaches to risk assessment

There are roughly three approaches to risk assessment of violent behavior:

  • The unstructured clinical judgment, which is based on the experience of the assessor. This approach has been widely criticized for its limited reliability, validity and transparency.
  • The actuarial judgment in which the assessment is carried out on the basis of fully established, further described procedures. The shortcoming of this approach is that its practical usability is poor.
  • The structured professional judgment bridges the gap between the unstructured clinical judgment and the actuarial approach. This appears to be a useful and accurate approach to assessing the risk of relationship violence. Risk factors (especially dynamic, changeable) that relate to the individual case are systematically examined and on this basis risk management strategies can be drawn up to prevent violence.


Applications, population and limitations B-SAFER

B-SAFER is intended for professionals in the forensic field and other settings where risk assessment is required, such as the probation service or mental health care.

The B-SAFER is intended for use by the following persons:

  • 18 years and older;
  • Men and women;
  • Regardless of sexual orientation;
  • With a proven or suspected history of relationship violence.

The B-SAFER is not suitable for determining whether someone has been guilty of relationship violence. The instrument cannot also be used to assess whether someone meets the profile of a partner abuser, as there is no clear profile. The B-SAFER cannot be used to assess other forms of violence.

User qualifications and training

Users must have expertise in individual diagnostics and in the field of relationship violence. Two risk factors of the B-SAFER (substance use and mental disorder) reflect characteristics associated with mental disorders. The user does not need to be a behavioral expert to complete these items. No diagnosis needs to be made. The user must rely on his impressions and mark the diagnosis on the marking sheet as provisional.

For (future) users, a short training course is recommended, which takes approximately 8 to 16 hours in total.

Using the B-SAFER

The application of the B-SAFER consists of four steps:

  • Step 1: Collect and document information needed for coding:
    • A conversation with the perpetrator;
    • A conversation with the victim;
    • Conversations with referees;
    • Studying file information, such as official reports, psychological report, etc.
  • Step 2: Coding the presence, present and past, of the ten distinguishable risk factors (see below).
  • Step 3: Making recommendations on strategies to manage relationship violence. There are four categories of risk management activities:
    • Monitoring/supervision;
    • Therapy;
    • Restriction of freedom (e.g. restraining order); and
    • Safety plans for the victim.
  • Step 4: Recording an overall assessment.


Relational violence factors

B-SAFER consists of 15 items, 10 about the perpetrator and 5 about the victim. All items are scored on a 3-point scale. Based on the scores, a structured professional assessment of the risk of recidivism is given, which consists of 3 components: immediate risk, long-term risk and risk of extremely serious violence. So there is no automatic conclusion about the risk.

Risk factors in the B-SAFER:

Part 1: Relationship violence

  • Serious physical/sexual violence;
  • Serious violent threats, thoughts or intentions;
  • Escalation of physical/sexual violence or threats, thoughts or intentions;
  • Violation of conditions or supervision;
  • Negative views regarding domestic violence.

Part 2: Psychosocial adjustment

  • Other serious crimes;
  • Relationship problems;
  • Problems related to work and/or finances;
  • Substance abuse;
  • Mental disorder.

Part 3: Vulnerability of the victim

  • Inconsistent behavior and/or attitude towards the perpetrator;
  • Extreme fear of the perpetrator;
  • Inadequate access to resources;
  • Unsafe living situation;
  • Personal problems.


B-SAFER and the probation service
The probation service uses the B-SAFER to make a proper assessment of the risk of recurrence of relational violence . This therefore concerns a specific form of risk assessment. Based on the analysis, an indication can also be given of necessary interventions to prevent future relational violence and to manage the risks of recurrence in the short term.


  1. P. Randall Kropp, Stephen D. Hart, Kevin Douglas and Henrik Belfrage (Dutch translation: Corine de Ruiter): B-SAFER, Guideline for assessing the risk of relationship violence, Maastricht University, 2009.
  2. Ibid, p.7.


read more

  • RISc (Recidivism Assessment Scales): risk of criminal behavior?
  • STATIC-99: Estimation of recidivism risk for sexual offenders
  • Circle/stages of behavior change: Prochaska and DiClemente
  • Perpetrators of domestic violence & abuse: perpetrator profile + help
  • Reactance: resistance to threats to behavioral freedom

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