What is Primary Prevention?

Primary Prevention seeks to prevent individuals from ever becoming victims or perpetrators of domestic violence and or sexual violence by giving them the skills and knowledge to build healthy relationships. Another key component is working in communities to create positive change in social norms and support positive behaviors.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center created an interactive learning tool that introduces primary prevention through a set of activities, and is ideal for anyone seeking to enhance their knowledge about primary prevention. It includes the Moving Upstream story, the Social Ecological Model, and an exploration of the differences between Risk Reduction and Primary Prevention.

Spectrum of Prevention

The six different levels of the Spectrum of Prevention are interrelated and work in synergy to maximize the impact of any one activity occurring on any given level. Primary prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence comes from social norms change and environmental change. To effectively create a paradigm shift supportive of primary prevention efforts, change must occur on both the macro and micro levels of the spectrum. Traditional sexual assault and domestic violence prevention efforts have focus on the micro levels (levels 1 through 3), focusing on individuals, communities, and direct service providers. While direct service work is crucial to educating and empowering individuals to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, macro level efforts (levels 4 through 6) institutionalize and sustain social norms change.

What are the Social Norms that Contribute to Violence Against Women?

Often unspoken, social norms offer social standards of appropriate and inappropriate behavior, defining what is acceptable and influencing our interactions with others. Other prevention campaigns such as tobacco use have had success with changing social norms leading to prevention.

Prevent Connect has a short video that explains the key role of changing social norms to develop effective primary prevention efforts.

VetoViolence has a social norms resource that shows how attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors based in misperception can create risk for violence. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Research has identified six social norms that contribute to sexual violence and intimate partner violence.

Normalization of Violence: violence is everywhere and central in entertainment and marketing; violence is portrayed as humorous, funny, glamorous, titillating, scary/thrilling, and often justified; legitimate/expected/glorified to respond to violence with violence; dominant groups use violence to maintain dominance.

Power Over: the expectation to have power over others within relationships, communities, societies, nations, etc. Valuing being dominant, ownership; clear identification of winners and losers; power expressed in numbers and in control of money/wealth. Power over is at the core of racism, heterosexism, sexism, classism, etc.

Narrow Definitions of Masculinity: men/boys not allowed to be emotive (i.e. “Boys don’t cry”) likening stereotypical “female” characteristics to negative masculine ones (i.e. “You throw like a girl”) and creating a culture of nonacceptance of homosexuality; the notions that a man should be a protector, provider, and aggressive.

Limited Roles for/Objectification of Women: sexualized and commodified images of women as pervasive in TV, movies, print, internet; expectations to do it all – be a good wife, mother, daughter, caretaker, employee, etc. Economic and political power limits women in elected and appointed positions, high management positions, and women continue to earn less than men; intersections of gender and race result in even less access to economic and political power. Limited roles for women are often supported by religious practices/communities.

Privacy and Silence: pressure and expectation to keep harmful effects of other norms private (i.e. “It’s not my business”); perceived and real violent consequences for breaking this norm and being a whistleblower (i.e. “Don’t be a tattletale”; results in isolation opposite of power in numbers; shame and self-blame result from internalization of this norm; systems can hide behind this norm (i.e. health care providers not screening for domestic violence.)

Sexualization/Exploitation of Children: application of the Narrow Definitions of Masculinity and Objectification of Women norms to children; girls are portrayed as sexy, small women and boys as small thugs and pimps; children are encouraged to behave and dress like adults in activities like dance (bump and grind, “shake your booty,” revealing outfits for girls); evidence in toys, clothes, Halloween costumes, games, TV shows, and movies.