Blog Article | 26 July 2023

DASH and DARA: understanding the tools used to identify domestic abuse

When it comes to working and supporting adult victims of domestic abuse there are certain tools that have been created to help practitioners identify who’s at high risk of harm and who should be referred onwards.  

One of these tools is called DASH (Domestic Abuse Stalking and Harassment) which is a risk identification checklist that helps police and other agencies assess the level of risk a person experiencing domestic abuse is exposed to. Another of these tools is DARA (Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment) a tool developed to be used by first responding police officers to support them in identifying domestic abuse. The Director of Domestic Abuse Services, Jocelyn Van Bruggen at Hestia breaks down what each tool is used for us and how they work alongside each other. 

What is DASH?  

For the past two decades, the Domestic Abuse Stalking and Harassment Risk Identification Checklist, commonly known as the DASH, has been the tool used by Police and other agencies to assess the level of risk a person living with domestic abuse is exposed to.  Historically, the response someone got was dependent on who they told – it was potluck.  With the introduction of the DASH and its wide-spread use now, we are more able recognise domestic abuse, we have a more consistent national response and a shared understanding of risk.   

Although the DASH was adopted by Police, it has not been subject to systematic empirical evaluation of its ability to accurately and consistently identify risk posed by perpetrators.  A critical report published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) concluded that ‘response officers often have a limited understanding of what it means to assess risk’ and subsequently commissioned the College of Policing, alongside Cardiff University, to design a revised risk tool.   

What is DARA? 

The Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (DARA) has been developed to be used by first responding police officers to support them in identifying domestic abuse.  We know the DASH is used well by Independent Domestic Violence Advisors however for a first responder who may have to deal with a road traffic accident, a burglary and anti-social behaviour all in one shift, domestic abuse may not be so obvious.  The DARA has been designed to work seamlessly alongside the DASH.  It has less questions but more prompts to help officers gently probe into what might be happening rather than asking a perfunctory set of intimate questions.  It has also removed questions that officers found difficult to ask, and people found difficult to answer. 

DARA has been piloted across three Police forces for a three-month period and early findings indicate higher rates of agreement between first responding officers and domestic abuse experts on the level of risk when using the piloted tool.  Initial findings also suggest an increase in the identification of coercive and controlling behaviour, with survivors more prepared to disclose to this style of questioning.   The DARA does not replace the DASH and is a primary assessment only to be used by first responders, with the risk being assessed further by secondary specialist teams within the police.  There are, of course, implications for the new tool – the impact on police secondary risk assessment and referrals to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference, however, first response officers have reflected positive views of the DARA and there were no negative responses from survivors who piloted the risk tool.  More research is needed before a national roll-out can happen. 

Learn more about domestic abuse here: 

Learn how to respond to domestic abuse here: 

Written by Jocelyn Van Bruggen, Director of Domestic Abuse Services at Hestia, host of UK SAYS NO MORE


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