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Blackburn 101: Primary Prevention

If you follow our website or social media, you have probably seen the phrase “primary prevention.” We use it quite often to talk about our work, particularly with regards to how we hope to end domestic and sexual violence. This is different from past strategies, which focused more on raising awareness and providing services. So what exactly does primary prevention mean?

An analogy may help to illustrate this concept. Picture an old house with equally old, likely dangerous wiring. If you owned that house, would you make sure you had a lot of fire extinguishers in the house, or fix the bad wiring before something happened? Given this choice, most people would repair the wiring, instead of waiting for it to fail and cause a fire or other calamity. You take steps to prevent the problem, instead of waiting for the problem to occur and reacting to it. This is the concept behind primary prevention; instead of waiting for gender violence to occur and dealing with the results, we want to prevent the violence from occurring in the first place.

How can we prevent gender violence? The key here is understanding that domestic and sexual violence don’t occur in a vacuum. They are part of a larger culture that supports violence, and more specifically, violence against women. This includes media that regularly produces violent and degrading images of women, harmful stereotypes and gender norms, and inequality in relationships and society as a whole. These can be considered the root causes of gender violence. If we can change our culture by addressing these root causes, we believe that we can reduce or eliminate domestic and sexual violence. We want to do more than simply respond to violence that has already happened; we want to find ways to prevent the violence from happening in the first place.

To do this, primary prevention techniques aim to prevent a person from becoming either a perpetrator or a victim of gender violence. These techniques go beyond the risk reduction messages that have been prevalent for many years (such as telling women not to leave their drinks unattended in a bar for fear that someone might drug them, or suggesting self-defense classes). Risk reduction strategies may – or may not – be effective in individual cases. But they definitely do not address the broader societal issue of why violence happens in the first place. They also tend to place all responsibility for avoiding the crime directly on the victim’s shoulders, and ignore that the only one who can truly prevent the crime is the potential perpetrator. Instead of focusing exclusively on what potential victims can do to try to avoid being abused or assaulted, primary prevention techniques aim to stopping potential perpetrators from committing violence.

This is done by creating conditions that make violence less likely to occur. Examples of primary prevention strategies include teaching youth about healthy relationships and consent, or working with men and boys to challenge unhealthy norms of masculinity (i.e., that it’s “manly” to disrespect women, or to “score” with as many women as possible). These educational efforts are ongoing, not one-time events, and are based on building both skills and knowledge. However, primary prevention does not stop at education and training programs; to be successful, we must address the root causes of gender violence at all levels. This includes work to change community attitudes and values that promote violence, as well as efforts to change the societal norms that promote gender violence. At Blackburn Center, our primary prevention efforts including engaging directly with the community through community events and programs, and with our signature annual event, Walk a Mile in her Shoes ®. We also reach out through social media, and with groups such as our Future Advocates of Blackburn (FAB). Our partnerships with area campuses allow us to expand our education and engagement efforts, and to provide additional opportunities such as bystander intervention training. We are also working to engage men as allies in the struggle to end gender violence, and to implement an innovative program in the county called Coaching Boys Into Men. Through these combined efforts, we believe that instead of waiting to only respond to the effects of domestic and sexual violence, we can prevent it from occurring in the first place.

We believe that primary prevention is the best strategy to end gender violence, as it is far better to prevent problems than to respond to their devastating consequences. We also believe that changing our culture of violence will have broader effects that will benefit everyone, including a reduction in overall violence — not just domestic and sexual abuse. If you would like to get involved in our mission to end gender violence, there are many ways to do so, from donating or volunteering, to joining FAB or walking at our annual Walk a Mile in her Shoes ® event. Help us fix our society’s “wiring” — and make our world a better place to live!

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