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What is primary prevention of violence against women?

August 22, 2017 / Our Watch media team

In this article

This is an excerpt from the national framework Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia.

Infographic showing the relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women. The relationship between these is depicted as a pyramid that narrows from broader whole-of-population initiatives to response services for individuals. Primary prevention Whole-of-population initiatives that address the primary (’first’ or underlying) drivers of violence. Secondary prevention or early intervention Aims to ‘change the trajectory’ for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. Tertiary prevention or response Supports survivors and holds perpetrators to account (and aims to prevent the recurrence of violence).
Figure 1 The relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women from Change the story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women and their children in Australia

Change the story outlines a primary prevention approach. Primary prevention requires changing the social conditions, such as gender inequality, that excuse, justify or even promote violence against women and their children. Individual behaviour change may be the intended result of prevention activity, but such change cannot be achieved prior to, or in isolation from, a broader change in the underlying drivers of such violence across communities, organisations and society as a whole. A primary prevention approach works across the whole population to address the attitudes, practices and power differentials that drive violence against women and their children.

Examples of primary prevention activities include schools-based programs to create gender-equitable environments and build students’ relationships skills, efforts to reduce the disrespectful portrayal of women in the media, comprehensive public education and social marketing campaigns, and workplace initiatives promoting positive bystander responses. Such approaches are distinct from responses to existing violence such as crisis counselling, police protection or men’s behaviour change programs, as well as from early intervention activities such as working with ‘at risk’ young people or families. As the figure above shows, a primary prevention agenda must be effectively linked to early intervention and response efforts, also known as secondary or tertiary prevention.

Change the story draws on the evidence base and techniques of public health, which offers a population level model for change that goes beyond addressing individual behaviours alone and considers the broader social, political and economic factors at play. Public health provides a robust and proven methodology for complex social change that:

  • structures and stages complementary activities over time, and across the environments where people live, work, learn and play
  • includes activity from the societal level to the community, organisational and individual or relationship levels
  • draws on the available evidence on the causes of a problem and what works to prevent it
  • is supported by integrated policy and long-term investment
  • defines indicators to measure progress in the short, mid and long-term
  • addresses the underlying drivers of a problem, not just its immediate precursors or its impacts.

Read more about the national framework Change the story.

Media contact

Laurelle Keough (laurelle.keough@ourwatch.org.au or 0448 844 930).

*If you cover this story, or any story regarding violence against women and children, please include the following tagline:

“If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.”

To access guides for reporting about violence against women and their children, visit Media Making Change.

Find out more about our work to end violence against women in Australia.

The evidence
Woman holding baby.