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Sexual Violence: Prevention Strategies

Sexual violence is a serious problem that can have lasting, harmful effects on victims and their family, friends, and communities. The goal of sexual violence prevention is simple-to stop it from happening in the first place. However, the solutions are just as complex as the problem.

Prevention efforts should ultimately decrease the number of individuals who perpetrate sexual violence and the number of individuals who are sexual violence victims. Many prevention approaches aim to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors for sexual violence. In addition, comprehensive prevention strategies should address factors at each of the levels that influence sexual violence -the individual, relationship, community, and society.

The most common prevention strategies currently focus on the victim, the perpetrator, or bystanders. Strategies that aim to equip the victim with knowledge, awareness, or self-defense skills are referred to as risk reduction techniques. Strategies targeting the perpetrator attempt to change risk and protective factors for sexual violence in order to reduce the likelihood that an individual will engage in sexually violent behavior. The goal of bystander prevention strategies is to change social norms supporting sexual violence and empower men and women to intervene with peers to prevent an assault from occurring. Other prevention strategies may target social norms, policies, or laws in communities to reduce the perpetration of sexual violence across the population.

Effective and Promising Programs

Unfortunately, little is known about what works to prevent sexual violence. To date, only one prevention program, Safe Dates, has been shown in a randomized controlled trial to prevent or interrupt sexual violence perpetration. Other programs are accumulating evidence for effectiveness and are moving towards or are currently conducting rigorous evaluations. Until more is known about what works and for whom, program planners can use prevention principles to strengthen their approach and evaluation to determine the effectiveness of new or existing programs.

  • Relevant Review Articles and Book Chapters
    • Bachar K, Koss MP. From prevalence to prevention: Closing the gap between what we know about rape and what we do. In: Sourcebook on Violence Against Women. Renzetti C, Edleson J, Bergen RK, editors, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage;2001.
    • Basile K. Implications of public health policy on sexual violence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2003; 989:446–463.
    • Casey E A, & Lindhorst T P. (). Toward a multi-level, ecological approach to the primary prevention of sexual assault: Prevention in peer and community contexts. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2009;10: 91–114.
    • DeGue S, Simon TR, Basile KC, Yee SL, Lang K, Spivak H. Moving Forward By Looking Back: Reflecting on a Decade of CDC’s Work in Sexual Violence Prevention, 2000-2010. Journal of Women’s Health. 2012; 21.
    • Foshee V, Bauman KE, Ennett ST, Benefield T, Suchindran C, Linder GF. Assessing the Long-Term Effects of the Safe Dates Program and a Booster in Preventing and Reducing Adolescent Dating Violence Victimization and Perpetration. American Journal of Public Health. 2004;94: 619-624.
    • Lee D, Guy L, Perry B, Sniffen CK, Mixson SA. Sexual violence prevention. The Prevention Researcher. 2007;14(2):15–20.
    • Lonsway KA, Banyard VL, Berkowitz AD, Gidycz CA, Katz JT, Koss MP, Schewe PA, Ullman SE. Rape Prevention and Risk Reduction: Review of the Research Literature for Practitioners. January 2009 newsletter.
    • McMahon P. The public health approach to the prevention of sexual violence. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 2000; 12:27–36.
    • Morrison S, Hardison J, Mathew A, O'Neil J. An evidence-based review of sexual assault preventive intervention programs [PDF 2.5 MB]. Department of Justice. 2004.
    • Schewe PA. Interventions to prevent sexual violence. In: Doll L, Bonzo S, Sleet D, Mercy J, Hass E, editors. Handbook of Injury and Violence Prevention. New York, NY: Springer; 2007: 183–201.
    • Wathen C N, MacMillan H L. Interventions for violence against women: scientific review. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003;289: 589–600.
  • World Report on Violence and Health [PDF 247 KB]
    This report is the first comprehensive review of violence on a global scale. Chapter 6 provides detailed information on sexual, including prevention strategies.

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