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Primary Prevention

About Domestic Violence

What is primary prevention?

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) primary prevention is the attempt to reduce the likelihood of intimate partner violence from occurring BEFORE an instance of violence ever takes place.

Primary prevention utilizes a public health framework, which consists of a systematic four step process that

1)   defines the problem of IPV,

2)   identifies factors that contribute to or mitigate the problem,

3)   devises potential solutions,

4)   evaluates and widely implements successful solutions.

The process is evidence based and focuses on lowering overall rates of IPV within a society as opposed to focusing on individual situations.

The Social-Ecological Model

Since there is no one cause of intimate partner violence, there is no one solution.  The primary prevention framework utilizes the social-ecological model (below) to understand the complex interactions between various factors that affect IPV at different levels of society:

  • individual,
  • relationship,
  • community, and
  • society.

The individual level refers to a person’s biology and personal history, and includes factors such as empathy, impulse control, attitudes and beliefs about IPV,  history of abuse, and exposure to IPV.

The relationship level examines an individual’s close relationships, such as those with peers, partners, and family members, as these relationships influence a person’s beliefs and behaviors.

The community level explores the settings, such as schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods, in which social relationships occur.

The society level looks at the broader context of society that helps create a climate in which violence is encouraged or inhibited. Factors at this level include social and cultural norms, as well as health, economic, educational and social policies that help to maintain economic or social inequalities between groups in society.

Once these factors, and their interactions, are understood, it is then possible to design initiatives that impact them appropriately and hopefully reduce IPV. Initiatives that affect multiple levels of the model simultaneously and over a long period of time have the strongest chance of success.

Why is IPV primary prevention important?

IPV primary prevention holds the promise of reducing the physical, emotional, and psychological trauma experienced as a result of intimate partner violence.  It can also provide the additional following benefits:

  • Reduces trauma experienced as a result of intimate partner violence
  • Reduces morbidity and mortality
  • Improves quality of life
  • Is cost effective
  • Impacts related forms of violence, such as bullying
  • Improves broader conditions, such as gender equality
  • Improves health status for conditions where IPV is a known risk factor.

What makes a primary prevention initiative effective?

IPV primary prevention efforts have taken various forms to date, and much is still being learned about what is most effective.  However, effective programs are often characterized by the following elements:

  • appropriately timed
  • comprehensive
  • theory and evidenced-based
  • socio-culturally relevant
  • conducted by well-trained staff
  • utilizes varied teaching methods
  • presents information in sufficient dosage
  • develops positive relationships (between and among community partners, youth, parents, and other community members)


In addition, programs that develop healthy relationship and bystander intervention skills or that challenge norms that condone or promote violence among youth have shown promise.  Since people often form their first romantic relationships as teens, teens are an ideal audience for programs that educate individuals about what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships.  Such a program may emphasize equality and mutual respect as cornerstones of a healthy relationship, as well as mention warning signs of an abusive or unhealthy relationship, such as controlling behavior.  It may also address how to constructively resolve conflict, and the need to treat others with respect, in all types of relationships.

Bystander Intervention

Since research has shown that the majority of people do not think violence is acceptable, yet they often do not know what to say or do when confronted with it, programs that promote bystander intervention can be effective.  Bystander intervention programs educate individuals on how to recognize events that contribute to intimate partner violence and how to effectively intervene when they witness it.  Bystander intervention programs empower people to challenge others’ behaviors and the social norms, or beliefs held by a group or society about how members of the group should behave, that contribute to intimate partner violence.

Other Ways to Change Social Norms

Other ways of challenging social norms at the relationship, community, and society levels include youth messaging campaigns, mentoring programs, and social media campaigns.  An example of a youth messaging campaign would be having youth create posters about healthy relationships, respect or gender equality, and inviting parents, teachers, and other community members to a fair exhibiting the youths’ work.

Current Primary Prevention Initiatives

Although intimate partner violence primary prevention is relatively new, it is possible to learn from the successes and failures of primary prevention efforts to address other issues, such as smoking cessation.

Some examples of successful primary prevention initiatives are the following:

Additional resources and information can be found here: