Changing social norms is a major focus in primary prevention work. We also focus on increasing education on domestic violence in our communities (see our KNOW MORE page). Another useful tool in prevention work is looking at risk and protective factors.
It is actually proven to be more significant to look at the characteristics and risk factors of a perpetrator/possible perpetrator than a victim/possible victim. However, because we live in a victim-blaming society, we choose to look at the victims first and say, "well what did they do to get into that situation?" rather than "why did their partner hurt them?" If we start to focus more on the perpetrator's risk factors (without ignoring victim's risk factors), we can begin a more comprehensive approach to prevention. If we only focus on preventing people from becoming potential victims, we are ignoring a significant part of the equation that we could not reach a solution without. Therefore, we need to work on preventing people from becoming both potential victims and potential perpetrators.
How This Focus Helps Prevention Work
We can use our knowledge of our communities' risk and protective factors to better address the issue of domestic violence. If we know that age (youth) is a risk factor, for example, we can focus on teen dating violence prevention work. The same goes for protective factors. Research on protective factors is ongoing and scarce. However, we know that higher education is a proven protective factor. Education leads to greater economic independence and social empowerment. Economic abuse is extremely common, so economic independence could help to reduce the occurrence of economic abuse. Social empowerment is an extremely useful tool in preventing abuse; one can create strong social networks, build their self esteem and confidence, and develop the ability to utilize resources and information available to them. We also know that low self esteem is a risk factor, so if education increases self esteem, we can focus on increasing education to ultimately reduce domestic violence. Another example of a proven protective factor is positive attitudes toward women (meaning women are treated with respect, as human beings). These are just a couple of examples of ways we can utilize our knowledge of risk and protective factors to contribute to the prevention of abuse.
Part of the work we do with DELTA FOCUS involves increasing these protective factors. For example, on a state-wide level we work to engage more men in primary prevention through our Ten Men Project. This attributes to the protective factor about having positive attitudes towards women; if more men stand up and speak up about respect and healthy relationships, other men will listen and model after them. With DELTA we also work to build more community cohesion, which is a helpful protective factor as well.
Ultimately, primary prevention works to create social change. A huge part of our work at the RICADV is work in organizational and systems changes. We work in the criminal justice system, schools, community-based organizations, and other institutions across Rhode Island. By engaging all members of our community, the combination of knowledge and awareness will influence action and change. We want to see a community at large that does not tolerate domestic violence and that uses positive messages to promote healthy relationships and ultimately a healthy community. We can no longer treat domestic violence as exclusively a criminal justice issue pertaining only to those abused and those who abuse. Domestic violence is a community health problem, a human rights issue, and it affects all of us.