The people of a small village wake up one day to find a body floating down the river screaming for help. They quickly worked together to pull the drowning man out of the river. Five minutes later there's another body floating down the river screaming for help. Again, the villagers worked together and are able to pull the drowning woman out of the river to safety. Five minutes later, yet another body is floating down the river. They start pulling the body out when another body appears. The more bodies the villagers pull out, the more bodies appear.
After working tirelessly for hours, someone decides to go upstream to find out how people are getting into the river. When the villager returns, she announces that the bridge is broken, and that's how people keep falling into the river. Some of the villagers head upstream to fix the bridge while the others stay behind recovering the bodies from the river. Others stood on opposite sides of the bridge, warning people of the dangerous ahead, in an effort to stop them from falling into the river. Before long, there were fewer and fewer people floating down the river, and eventually, there were none.
We may have heard many variations of this story before, however, this story's message does not change. This story illuminates the need for communities and service providers alike to offer prevention and intervention services. Domestic violence advocates have traditionally focused on providing victims of intimate partner violence crisis intervention such as shelter, support groups, children services, court advocacy and other criminal justice responses. Communities have also provided support and safety for victims after an incident has occurred. We will always need people to pull folks out of the river; these intervention services are essential components of victim safety. Without them, many more lives would be lost.
When generating solutions to ending a public health issue like domestic violence however, we need to be creative. We need to go upstream, and try to stop people from falling into the river in the first place. We need to work on prevention strategies that engage the community and change community attitudes and behaviors regarding domestic violence. We need to address intimate partner violence before someone is abused and before someone is abusive.
Intervention services in isolation will not end domestic violence. We need aggressive intervention and prevention efforts if we want to live in peaceful communities.
What is Primary Prevention?
Primary prevention of intimate partner violence (IPV) is a process that requires changing societal attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors regarding gender norms and violence. It requires that every individual in our society work towards creating and supporting equality and healthy environments, before the violence occurs.
For the past five years the RICADV has been working to build the state's capacity to implement IPV primary prevention strategies through the DELTA Project and the Abuse Prevention Education Network. IPV primary prevention provides communities with the opportunity to examine what is at the root of the problem of IPV? What are the underlying attitudes, beliefs, and norms that support IPV? What exists in our communities, in our state, that increase the likelihood that someone will be abusive or be abused? IPV primary prevention then challenges us to figure out what we can do to address those risk factors. What actions can we take to prevent IPV from happening in the first place?
Primary prevention also provides communities with the opportunity to take ownership of IPV because it requires community mobilization in order to create social change. It requires collaboration across sectors of the community (domestic violence advocates, religious leaders, community based organizations, business owners, educators, state agencies, youth, parents, legislators, etc.) to collectively address IPV before the violence occurs and shift social norms.