How Do We Prevent?


Primary prevention of intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault is a systematic process promoting healthy environments and behaviors, resulting in the reduction of the likelihood and the frequency of intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

Primary prevention IS NOT

  • A one-time program or event
  • One skill-building session
  • One protocol

Imagine how long it takes to build a societal structure. It takes years, decades, even centuries for societies to develop, so expecting a single contact with individuals in that society to change the way they think about something as important as sexual assault or IPV is a lofty goal. Previously, we called things prevention that were actually risk reduction (self-defense, safety tips), which actually place the responsibility for prevention on the victim, rather than on the perpetrator where that responsibility belongs.

Primary prevention will require true social change. Primary prevention requires on-going conversation, examples of what healthy relationships and interaction are, among other things, to make structural and social change a reality. This change will include a process of changing the attitudes and beliefs that lead to specific behaviors. It also means the acknowledgement that we cannot just accept the world the way it is and expect that the problems will go away.

Primary Prevention IS:

  • Development of social norms and social environments that create, support, and sustain positive behaviors and healthy relationships
  • Promotion of comprehensive and multidisciplinary approaches to preventing violence against women and girls before it occurs by impeding the development of perpetrators

To learn more about how IPV and sexual assault can be prevented, take a look at the following resources:

The following are principles for effective prevention or intimate partner violence and sexual assault:

  • focus on changing norms to change behavior
  • foster comprehensive and integrated systems for prevention
  • engage community leadership / be responsive to community needs and strengths
  • promote and model positive behaviors
  • invites men as stakeholders
  • emphasize role of bystander intervention
  • focus on risk factors and assets
  • build on existing assets and efforts

Parks, L.F., Cohen, L., Kravitz-Wirtz, N. (2007) Poised For Prevention: Advancing Promising Approaches to Primary Prevention of IPV, Prevention Institute.

Throughout these principles, the need to address behaviors on multiple levels is evident. The socioeconomic model describes the four levels of change required in order to truly address deeply held norms that allow IPV and sexual assault to continue. These levels are individual, relationship, community and institutions & society. Only when we begin to work in all of these areas will we begin to see change, and a lowered rate of IPV and sexual violence. This is the case for a number of reasons, including:

  • Individuals perpetrate IPV and sexual violence
  • Our culture condones physical, emotional and sexual violence on multiple levels
  • Preventing IPV and sexual violence requires us to consider each area’s overall impact on individuals and their behavior
  • Restructuring social norms, redefining masculinity, public policy and legislation can mutually support social change
  • Preventing IPV and sexual assault requires the consideration of the multiple domains of the socio-ecological model — family, peers, community, institutions, media, and society overall

What might prevention efforts at each of these levels look like?

  • At the individual level, prevention education may take the form of a school-based 8-week program to build bystander intervention skills and explore healthy, respectful relationships for 8th graders.
  • At the relationship level, an example might be an 8-week pilot program for a boys’ basketball team to change peer group norms that are supportive of sexual harassment
  • In the community, young people may form a school working group to change policies/ procedures to change school climate to promote respect and model positive behavior.

Changes at the institutional and societal levels might include the creation, passage and implementation of a policy through the state legislature that would require schools to provide education such as the program mentioned above at the individual level.

What are some ways that you might be able to implement prevention in your community? How could this be helpful in your daily life, at an individual level?

For more information about how to get involved in prevention efforts against IPV and sexual violence across SC, contact Rebecca Williams-Agee, Prevention Project Coordinator for SCCADVASA at or 803-256-2900



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