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What is Primary Prevention?

For the last fifty years, most conversations about domestic and sexual violence have focused on victims. Diligent advocacy has created major gains: it is no longer taboo to talk about violence against women; and in every community there are services available to help victims find safety and time to heal. Prevention programs, which became increasingly available, frequently focused on “risk reduction,” or teaching women and girls strategies for avoiding abuse.

Primary prevention is a different conversation altogether.

Primary prevention is about stopping violence before it occurs. Common risk-reduction strategies are not considered prevention, since victims are not in control of abuse and cannot really prevent someone from abusing them. Instead, primary prevention focuses on changing the behavior of those who are abusive, and on a society that tolerates and excuses many forms of abuse.

Examples of primary prevention include:

  • Talking to young people about respect and how to recognize both healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors.
  • Challenging stereotypes about what men and women are supposed to be like. More extreme messages about gender (men as dominant, in control, unfeeling and sexually aggressive and women as more submissive in relationships and waiting for a man to take care of her) can be a set up for abusive relationships. Specifically encouraging equitable, reciprocal relationships can prevent abuse and promote healthier relationships.
  • Promoting “bystander intervention,” or encouraging individuals to speak up if they witness disrespectful or abusive behaviors.

Southwest PA Says No More is focused on stopping abuse before it happens (primary prevention). We recognize that ending domestic and sexual violence won’t happen overnight. But as more and more people get involved in preventing abuse, and in holding offender accountable for their behavior, we believe that organizations and individuals can have a big impact on making our region safer.

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