Our Watch

Skip to content

Understand the primary prevention approach

2 minutes

Primary prevention is a distinct approach – broader than, and different from, other work that responds to violence against women.

A comprehensive and holistic approach to violence against women must involve a continuum of interdependent and interlinked strategies, with efforts across the spectrum.

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 against women. Early intervention (or secondary prevention): aims to change the trajectory for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence. Response (or tertiary prevention): supports victim–survivors and holds perpetrators to account, aiming to prevent the recurrence of violence. Recovery: ongoing process that enables victim–survivors to find safety, health, wellbeing, resilience and to thrive in all areas of their life.
The relationship between primary prevention and other work to address violence against women.

Tertiary prevention or response

Tertiary prevention or response:

  • is actions taken after the violence has already occurred to avoid it happening again or to prevent the recurrence of violence. This may include supporting survivors and holding perpetrators to account.
  • is essential, though unlikely to significantly reduce the rates of violence against women on its own.

Secondary prevention or early intervention

Secondary prevention or early intervention:

  • is actions taken at the moments of risk to stop the violence or to reduce the severity.
  • aims to change the trajectory for individuals at higher-than-average risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence.
  • is essential, though it’s unlikely to significantly reduce the rates of violence against women on its own.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention:

  • stops violence before it starts by addressing its deep-seated drivers.
  • is not about working with people at risk of either perpetrating or experiencing violence against women.
  • works with all people, across all levels of society, making preventing violence everyone’s responsibility.We all have a role to play in changing the culture, structures and attitudes that drive violence against women.
  • questions and challenges our beliefs and seeks to change the practices and behaviours of all of us.
  • enhances early prevention and response activity by helping reduce recurrent perpetration of violence and shifting attitudes and practices in service and justice systems that may inadvertently tolerate, justify or excuse violence against women and their children.

A socio-ecological model for prevention

In the past, attempts to understand violence against women have focused on individual-level causes, such as the perpetrator’s mental health, life experiences (such as childhood exposure to violence), behaviour (such as alcohol use) or personal circumstances (such as unemployment).

While such factors may well be relevant, we need to explain why most men to whom they apply are not violent, and why other men not exposed to any of these factors are violent.

The notion of a ‘social ecology’ is a useful way of understanding individual behaviour in a social context.

Factors associated with higher levels of violence against women include the ideas, values or beliefs that are common or dominant in a society or community – called social or cultural norms. These norms are reflected in our institutional or community practices or behaviours, and are supported by social structures, both formal (such as legislation) and informal (such as hierarchies within a family or community).

Infographic showing the different factors which influence the occurrence of violence against women. The figure represents violence as the outcome of interactions among many factors at four levels. It shows examples of structures, norms and practices found to increase the probability of violence against women, at different levels of the social ecology. The highest level is the societal level: dominant social norms supporting rigid roles and stereotyping, or condoning, excusing and downplaying violence against women. The second level is the system and institutional level: failure of systems, institutions and policies to promote women’s economic, legal and social autonomy, or to adequately address violence against women. The third level is the organisational and community level: organisation and community norms, structures and practices supporting or failing to address gender inequality, stereotyping, discrimination and violence. The fourth and final level is the individual and relationship level: individual adherence to rigid gender roles and identities, weak support for gender equality, social learning of violence against women, male dominance and controlling behaviours in relationships.
The socio-ecological model for prevention.

This model views violence against women as the outcome of interactions among many factors at different levels:

  • the individual and relationship level
  • the organisational and community level
  • the system and institutional level
  • the societal level.

Learn more about how gender inequality is the social context for violence against women.

Introducing primary prevention