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Reliability and consistency of risk formulations in assessments of sexual violence risk

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
Sexual violence represents an intrusion of personal boundaries that can be physically and psychologically traumatic for the victim. Assessing risk for sexual violence is an important process that can have serious consequences for the public (e.g., risk to public safety) and the individual assessed (e.g., indefinite commitment). Given the serious potential consequences, it is vital that assessments are conducted using empirically supported risk assessment measures. The Risk for Sexual Violence Protocol (RSVP; Hart, et al., 2003) is a measure to guide sexual violence risk assessments. The RSVP provides a framework for case formulation, a process that gathers diverse case-specific information to guide decision-making. Formulation is an essential element of risk assessment, but has been neglected in research. The current study added to the literature base supporting the RSVP and addressed the gap in the literature concerning formulation. First, reliability of presence, relevance and summary risk judgments was examined. Second, the similarity of formulations made by different raters for the same cases was compared to that of formulations made by different raters for different cases. Seventeen professionals completed an online risk assessment course on the administration of the RSVP and completed file-based RSVP assessments for six of ten cases. Rater agreement for presence and relevance ratings and summary judgments was poor to fair, whereas agreement for domain and total scores was fair to good. Similarity ratings (made by independent judges) for randomly selected pairs of formulations made by different raters for the same cases were significantly higher than those made by different raters for different cases. This was true for both global ratings of formulation similarity (i.e., causes of past sexual violence, scenarios of future sexual violence, recommended management strategies), as well as specific facets of formulations similarity (e.g., identification of motivating, disinhibiting, and destabilizing risk factors in past sexual violence; nature, severity of future sexual violence; monitoring, supervision, treatment, and victim safety planning tactics). The findings provide evidence that formulations of violence risk are consistent or similar across raters. Findings are discussed in the context of risk assessment practice, directions for risk assessment training, and future research.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Hart, Stephen
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