The model of prevention that involves moving upstream in order to avoid tragedies downstream is called the public health model. This is the model employed by the Centers for Disease control to help prevent sexual assault. In a a 2004 CDC documentsexual assault prevention was defined as efforts that work to entirely eliminate the conditions that lead to sexual violence. These efforts address perpetration, victimization as well as bystander attitudes and behaviors. They seek to identify and enhance factors that prevent the onset of sexual violence in at-risk populations and in the community.
Risk factors that they identified fell into four major categories. Those found at individual, interpersonal, community and societal levels,
Individual factors identified that increased the likelihood that one would become either a victim or a perpetrator of violence were: alcohol or drug use; attitudes and beliefs that support sexual violence; impulsive and other antisocial tendencies; preference for impersonal sex; hostility towards women; and childhood history of sexual abuse or witnessing family violence. In my mind, prevention efforts would best be initiated at the parental level through the modeling of healthy intimacy. Beyond that efforts could be initiated at the time that risk factors come to public awareness. For example, when teachers, counselors or law enforcement come in contact with them. Then measures to promote healthy intimacy could be implemented. These measures would include social and cognitive skills development and behavior modification through counseling, therapy and/or education .
Interpersonal relationship factors come into play when individuals enter into relationships with those who are at risk of becoming either victims or perpetrators. Preventive strategies for these factors include relationship therapy, bystander intervention training and parenting classes.
Community factors leading to sexual violence can be the lack of sexual harassment policies in the workplace.
Societal factors include: gender inequality, religious or cultural belief systems, societal norms, and economic or social policies that create or sustain gaps between groups of people. Preventive measures at the level of society involve the changing of laws and policies.
It is my opinion that true prevention will occur upstream, at the interpersonal level, through the modeling of healthy intimate relationships. Individual factors cannot be addressed unless someone who cares for that individual becomes involved. Community and societal factors exist to support and encourage healthy interpersonal relationships. By improving our own intimate relationships we contribute to preventing sexual violence by modeling that behavior for those with whom we come in contact. We can do this by not engaging in attitudes and beliefs that support sexual violence, by reaching out to secure help for those with impulsive or antisocial tendencies and by choosing not to engage in impersonal sex. It is something that we can do now and it is something we can do every day.