Q: What is prevention?

A: Prevention, within the context of ATSA, refers to efforts to stop the perpetration of unhealthy, harmful, dangerous, and illegal sexually oriented behaviors and actions that victimize others.

Q: What is the goal of prevention?

A: The goal of prevention is to identify the factors that contribute to – and inhibit – sexual abuse, and use that information to stop sexual abuse before it can begin. These factors are often referred to as “risk” and “protective” factors for perpetration. It also is important to understand the risk and protective factors for victimization. A sound, comprehensive, prevention program enhances and assists protective factors and reduces (and in many cases, eliminates) the identified risk factors.

Q: What are the components of a comprehensive prevention program?

A: A comprehensive prevention program uses an ecological model that includes risk and protective factors reflecting the complex interplay of individual, relationship, social, political, cultural, and environmental factors that influence sexual violence (Dahlberg and Krug 2002). The ecological model is helpful because it frames a comprehensive public health approach that not only addresses an individual’s risk and protective factors, but also addresses the norms, beliefs, physical environments, and social and economic systems that create the conditions that allow for the perpetration of sexual violence. By understanding the risk and protective factors within all of these areas, we can more effectively design multi-dimensional prevention programs that target individuals, families, communities, and other systems in which sexual violence is perpetrated, promoted and/or inhibited. 

Elements of the ecological model (Powell et al., 1999) include the following factors:

  • Individual-level influences include personal factors that increase the likelihood of an individual becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. Interventions for individual-level influences often are designed to target social and cognitive skills, and include counseling, therapy, and educational training sessions.
  • Interpersonal relationship-level influences are factors emerging from relationships with peers, intimate partners, and family members. Interventions for interpersonal relationship-level influences often include family therapy, bystander intervention skill development, and parenting training.
  • Community-level influences are factors resulting from community and social environments. They can include an individual’s experiences and relationships with schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Interventions for community-level influences are typically designed to impact the climate, systems, and policies in a given setting.
  • Societal-level influences are larger, macro-level factors that influence sexual violence. They include gender inequality, religious or cultural belief systems, societal norms, and policies (social or economic) that contribute to tensions between groups of people. Interventions for societal-level influences typically involve collaborations by multiple partners to change laws and policies related to sexual violence or gender inequality.

Q: When is it appropriate to intervene?

A: There are three levels of intervention in a social and/or health problem, based on when the intervention is used. They are:

  • Primary prevention approaches are employed before any sexual violence has occurred, to prevent initial perpetration and victimization. Primary prevention includes building an environment that encourages physical and emotional well-being and healthy choices. This could include public dissemination of information and resources. Primary prevention can be directed toward either "universal" or "selected" audiences. Universal strategies are aimed at everyone in the population of interest, independent of risk. Selected strategies are directed toward those in the population at increased risk for sexual violence perpetration or victimization.  
  • Secondary prevention is an immediate response after sexual violence has been perpetrated that deals with the short-term consequences of violence. It attempts to reduce the harm to the victims in the immediate aftermath of the violence (e.g., separating the victim and the perpetrator, and providing immediate crisis counseling for the victim), and to locate, contain, and address the perpetrators. Secondary prevention is directed toward “Indicated” audiences, reflecting strategies aimed at individuals who have perpetrated sexual violence or who have been victimized. 
  • Tertiary prevention is a long-term response after sexual violence perpetration. Tertiary prevention addresses the lasting consequences of victimization (e.g., by providing ongoing counseling for victims) and the provision of specialized sex offender treatment and management for the perpetrators of sexual violence to minimize the possibility of re-offense. Tertiary prevention also includes intervention in family violence to prevent recurrence of the situations and behaviors that cause harm. Tertiary prevention is directed toward “Indicated” audiences, reflecting strategies aimed at individuals who have perpetrated sexual violence or those who have been victimized.

Q: How can people help promote the prevention of sexual abuse?

A: Because sexual abuse is a widespread social issue, it requires a multi-faceted prevention approach. Some recommendations follow.

Policies and organizational practices – Encourage the development and implementation of local, state, and national policies and organizational practices to advance primary prevention and strengthen comprehensive prevention measures. Work within organizations to develop internal policies that promote practices that discourage sexual violence in all its forms. Enforce a lack of tolerance for the behaviors that promote sexual violence. Ensure that policies that respond to situations of sexual violence are in place within all organizations.

Funding – Advocate for increasing the dollars invested in prevention and positive development in proportion to the harm done and the real costs of sexual violence. 

Research – Promote the use of research to guide prevention and early intervention practices and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.

Advocacy for violence-free media – Promote a closer examination of the negative influence of sexual violence in various forms of media (e.g., TV, movies, video games, advertising), as a risk factor in the development of sexual perpetration. Advocate for violence-free media, in collaboration with other organizations, to promote a healthy and safer society.

Public awareness – Increase public awareness of sexual violence and educate key constituencies about healthy sexuality as well as sexual violence, its prevalence, and effective ways to prevent and manage sexually abusive behaviors. 

Collaborative practices – Promote multidisciplinary collaborations to foster successful prevention and positive development initiatives.

Incorporation into work:  Identify ways to increase involvement in prevention including contributing to public awareness and education workshops; donating to rape crisis centers or victims’ counseling services or others working to prevent sexual violence; bringing sexual harassment workshops to the workplace; and including prevention information and links on your website.