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Methods to Prevent Domestic Violence not Always Used

Structured efforts to combat violence in close relationships may save lives, but a lot of work remains to be done in the Nordic countries. The prevention methods that have proved to be successful are often not used, says Helena Ewalds, who has led a Nordic project on risk assessment in domestic violence cases.


Illustration: Emma Hanquist
 Illustration: Emma Hanquist

The average number of Finnish women killed every year by their partner: 21. In Sweden the number is 17, and in Norway a little lower.
‘Effective risk assessments can save lives, so this is very important,’ says Ewalds, development manager at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Ewalds has led a recent Nordic project titled Risk Assessment in Intimate Relationship Violence in the Nordic Countries. The final project report, due to be presented in early April, will describe the two most common risk assessment methods used in the Nordic countries. However, says Ewald, many public actors do not use any method at all.
‘Some think that it’s already part of their professional role to deal with these issues, but this isn’t enough. They need these aids,’ she says.

The project has brought representatives from social services, healthcare and the police in the Nordic countries together to discuss the different methods and share experiences.
The primary method used in Finland is called MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences), whereas in Sweden and Norway, there seems to be a preference for a method called SARA (Spousal Assault Risk Assessment). Other countries use both methods interchangeably. Both methods are generally considered to be effective but differ in that MARAC focuses on the victim and SARA on the perpetrator.

SARA works better for the police. One drawback, however, is that its usefulness is limited to cases that the police are aware of.
‘Risk assessments are important in social service and healthcare, too, and MARAC is more appropriate in those areas,’ says Ewalds.
MARAC is based on multi-professional cooperation, and assessments centre on the security of the victim. Besides risk assessment, MARAC also includes planning and follow-up of protection measures.
In order to better identify the violence, Ewalds says that social workers and healthcare staff should routinely ask clients and patients about experiences of violence in the same way they already ask about alcohol and tobacco use.
‘Talking about it is an important first step,’ she says.

She feels that the Nordic countries have become better at handling violence in close relationships in the last ten years, but adds that the progress remains ‘incredibly slow’.
The work needs to be structured better, she says. It needs to be made more clear how the work should be carried out and who bears the chief responsibility. The ambiguity in these areas became evident early in the project when Ewalds and her colleagues sat down to contact the authorities in charge.
‘It is not always obvious who is coordinating the violence prevention work in the different countries. It seems like voluntary organisations are still playing an important role,’ says Ewalds.

Latest updated 6 October 2020