Preventing sexual assault and domestic violence
Preventing sexual, domestic and family violence means taking action before, during and after violence has happened. This means initiating programs designed to:
- prevent violence from occurring at all (primary prevention)
- stop individuals or groups from establishing controlling or violent behaviours (secondary prevention)
- minimise the impacts of violence on those who experience it, and to prevent offenders from re-offending (tertiary prevention)
Preventing violence from happening
Primary prevention initiatives target the factors that give rise to the conditions for gender-based violence and influence behaviour, including the structural barriers of gender inequality and gender socialisation, and social norms that enable gender-based violence. Essentially, primary prevention programs aim to strengthen protective factors and overcome risk factors that facilitate these forms of violence.
The National Association of Services Against Sexual Violence (NASASV) has developed guidelines for the development of effective primary prevention programs.
Primary prevention programs include educational programs, such as the Sex and Ethics program.
Women’s Health Victoria Clearinghouse Connector has links to information on health promotion approaches, promising practice, and policy and strategy.
Changing violent behaviours
Preventing sexual and domestic violence also requires stopping those who have previously, or who are at risk, from engaging in violent or controlling behaviours towards others.
Secondary prevention is essentially 'early intervention' programs for those who display evidence of become violent offenders. The aim is to prevent specific behaviours from becoming entrenched.
Tertiary prevention programs are those that engage violent offenders, and seek to prevent them from re-offending.
Behaviour change programs have been developed and delivered to violent offenders in Australia and internationally for some years, however unfortunately, there is little evidence to answer the question, "do perpetrator programs work?"
As the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault explains,
“Sexual assault primary prevention is still in a phase that warrants creative thinking and collaboration in order to develop promising programs”
(ACSSA Wrap, No 11, 2012)
The Centre argues that developing effective behaviour change programs means building upon the lessons learned about effective prevention work in other sectors and applying them to preventing sexual, domestic and family violence.
Research tells us that effective prevention work must be:
- Comprehensive – embedded within the larger context of the community.
- Underpinned by a theoretical framework –by a clear rationale for why the violence occurs, and how it can be changed.
- Effectively delivered – supported by environments that feature positive role modelling, social support, and pro-social activities.
- Relevant and socially inclusive– contextually appropriate, inclusive, culturally sensitive, and involve consultation with representative participants.
- Evaluated – measuring the impact of the program on behaviour.
Minimising the impacts of violence
The final component of preventing sexual and domestic violence is responding effectively to those who have experienced such violence, to minimise the impacts of the violence as much as possible.
The aim of counselling and support services, such as those provided by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, is to support those who have experienced sexual and domestic violence towards recovery.
"Recovery doesn't mean forgetting about the violence - that will not happen, it is about getting to a place where the violence becomes an experience in the person's life, and not one that controls their life"
Karen Willis, Outgoing Executive Officer Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia