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What is ‘primary prevention’ of violence against women?

Even though violence against women is widespread and serious, the good news is that it is also preventable. 

‘Primary prevention’ means addressing the drivers of violence against women by promoting gender equality. The aim of primary prevention is to stop violence before it happens. 

This means primary prevention is different to other kinds of interventions that address violence against women. Interventions that occur when the risk of violence is already there are often called ‘early intervention’ or secondary prevention. Doing something about violence that is currently happening is often called ‘response’ or tertiary prevention.

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.

Primary prevention initiatives work with whole populations – not just people who have used, or are at risk of using, violence. Examples of primary prevention initiatives include:

  • an action plan for workplaces to recruit and retain women in leadership positions
  • working with male sports teams to build their understanding of sexual consent
  • a social marketing campaign about why gender stereotyping is limiting
  • advocating for changes to laws that tacitly condone violence against women, for example the ‘affirmative consent’ sexual assault law changes in Victoria.

Primary prevention is a longer-term goal than early intervention, response or recovery. It is the approach that will have the largest impact toward ending men’s violence against women.

While primary prevention may seem difficult to achieve, it is an approach that has been used successfully in the past on a range of other public health issues in Australia – like smoking and road safety.

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What is prevention?