HOTLINE: 800-439-6507

“Primary prevention is changing the social norms that allow and condone violence. Preventing violence means changing our society and its institutions—targeting attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, environments and policies to eliminate those that contribute to violence and to promote those that stop the violence. Primary prevention of domestic and sexual violence is defined as preventing violence before it occurs. This is social change work.”    – Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence –

Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that contribute to violence are referred to as risk factors.  Attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that contribute to eliminating violence are referred to as protective factors.  Primary prevention is about eliminating risk factors and promoting protective factors.

Once an agency decides to take steps to strengthen their policies in preventing sexual violence, a first step is to assess risk factors and protective factors.

A risk factor is not having a procedure in place that lets staff know what to do when a client discloses sexual violence.

Mary comes back from a weekend away, visiting her family who celebrated her uncle’s 60th birthday.  Mary is always glad to see her family and friends and always comes back full of stories that she likes to tell.  This weekend, Mary returned and was very quiet and appeared sad.  She hardly ate dinner and went to bed early.  The next day she decided to tell her counselor that one of the guests at the party cornered her, kissed her and felt her breasts.  She blamed herself and didn’t want to tell her parents.  The counselor didn’t believe Mary and she hoped that Mary wouldn’t bring it up again, so that she wouldn’t have to deal with it.

A protective factor is having a policy in place that states that all staff members will be trained to identify signs of sexual violence and have a process in place that states what a staff person should do, who to report to and let the client know her/his options.

“If the counselor had had training about signs of sexual violence and the agency had a policy or procedure in place that stated the steps to take when somebody discloses sexual violence, the counselor would feel confident in talking with Mary, believing her and would know who to report to.  This policy would make both Mary and the counselor confident that the agency would do something.  Mary would have support and not carry her trauma with her.”

This policy did not prevent Mary from being assaulted.  The policy is important because Mary knew who to speak with, the counselor did not ignore her situation and the agency supported Mary.  The policy would state the next steps to take, after disclosure.  There is not one set of rules when developing policies.  They are written by the agency according to their own needs.

For more information on risk and protective factors and other steps to take to make your organization a safe place by creating a culture of sexual violence prevention, contact Chris Morin at or Merrill Pontes at