Basics of Prevention

The term “prevention” describes approaches, programs, or strategies designed to promote healthy environments and behaviors and to prevent unhealthy environments and behaviors.  Intimate partner violence prevention, sexual violence prevention, and dating violence prevention are just that – strategies to reduce the perpetration of these types of violence.    

Levels of Prevention

There are three levels of prevention:

1. Primary prevention describes approaches, programs, or strategies designed to prevent violence before violence occurs;
2. Secondary prevention describes approaches, programs, or strategies designed to deal with the short-term consequences of violence and to prevent further violence immediately following a violent incident;
3. Tertiary prevention describes approaches, programs, or strategies designed to deal with the long-term consequences of violence and to prevent future violence long after violence has occurred.

Target Audiences

Prevention strategies target three types of audience:

1. A universal audience includes everyone, regardless of risk.  (Learn more about the risk and protective factors of violence at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
2. A selected audience includes people who have a heightened risk of victimization or perpetration.
3. An indicated audience includes people who have been victimized or have perpetrated violence.

By definition, primary prevention efforts are typically geared towards a universal or selected audience.  Secondary and tertiary prevention efforts are typically geared towards an indicated audience.  However, some primary prevention efforts target “at-risk” groups or a more indicated audience.

One benefit to primary prevention with universal audiences is the ability to facilitate change in large segments of society.