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RSI Hosts Expert Summit on Screening for Intimate Partner Violence Prior to Mediation

Eric Slepak-Cherney, July 18th, 2019

On June 11, RSI convened a summit of experts in mediation, family law and intimate partner violence (IPV) to help us explore whether and how a tool, such as a website or app, could improve the frequency and quality of mediator screening for IPV prior to mediation. Generally, IPV screening is intended to ensure parties will be safe while coming to, participating in and leaving mediation and also ensure there has not been coercive control that would impede a party’s ability to exercise self-determination in mediation.

Unfortunately, screening is not practiced universally by mediators and approaches to screening vary widely. While some mediators employ sophisticated screening techniques, many mediators do not screen, or rely on factors such as whether an order of protection has been filed to determine whether to mediate. This means some mediators may not uncover critical information and may risk re-victimizing survivors and empowering abusers.

The group of Chicagoland-based and national experts spent the day digging into questions such as whether potential downsides outweigh likely benefits, who would be the audience for this kind of tool and how it might function. One critical question in this project is whether a tool like this is a good idea, or will its potential misuse outweigh its benefits? Overall, the group of experts was positive about the tool while also raising a number of important issues that would need to be considered in developing it.

One major theme was the role the tool could play in increasing mediator knowledge, especially about IPV, how to screen and what to do with the results. The experts valued the idea of giving mediators a thoughtful dialogue guide that would empower them to explore issues around safety and coercive control. They stressed that a tool could be very beneficial if it guided the mediator through the screening process and also provided information, such as how to refer a party for IPV services. Conversely, the group raised concerns about whether a tool could provide sufficient training for mediators to use the tool responsibly.

Relatedly, the group also discussed the usability of the tool. Ultimately, they wanted to create something that a large number of mediators would use, particularly those who are new to mediating family cases or do so on an infrequent basis. A chief concern centered on how long and robust of a guided experience the tool should provide. Finding a balance between making sure a mediator has comprehensive conversations with all parties, on the one hand, and making the guide concise enough that mediators actually use it, on the other, will be a key challenge.

Having identified some of the challenges and barriers, the group brainstormed some features that the tool could employ to address these challenges. Access to resources for the participants would be greatly beneficial, as would educational videos for the mediators. The experts were keen on using visualizations, such as radar charts, as a way to summarize and map participant responses, and identify particular areas of concern.

These are but a few of the takeaways from this informative and collaborative event. RSI is in the process of developing a full report that will summarize the consensus for developing such a tool, and lay out the steps that would be needed to make this tool a reality. RSI sincerely thanks all of the experts who volunteered their time to provide their thoughtful insights, and the FIRST Fund for their support of this project.

                           Images from RSI’s IPV Screening Summit.                                   Photos taken by Gahyun Kim and collaged by Nicole Wilmet.