Prevention vs. Risk Reduction

Myth: To prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse, we must teach girls/women to make better choices about the way they behave and who they begin relationships with.
Fact: The only way to truly prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse is to stop perpetrators from harming others through creating a culture that values empathy, respect, and accountability.

Myth: Boys will be boys. It’s just locker-room talk. She’s just looking for attention.
Fact: While these phrases may seem harmless, there is no excuse for sexual violence or domestic abuse. It’s not funny or a joke, and has real implications for victims/survivors. Sexual violence and domestic abuse are acts with grave consequences that need to be taken seriously.

Myth: We can’t change the way society thinks about sexual violence or domestic abuse, it just is how it is.
Fact: Social norms are created by society and change over time. The good news is that even harmful social norms can be replaced by positive ones. Everyone must work together to prevent sexual violence.

While it is important to empower women/girls with education on how to avoid potentially dangerous situations, relying solely on a potential victim’s ability to save themselves does not protect society from the perpetration of violence. It is key for those considering prevention efforts in their workplace, school, or community, to consider the underlying factors that contribute to sexual violence and domestic abuse. Primary prevention attempts to prevent a sexual assault from happening in the first place, while risk reduction aims to interrupt or stop a sexual assault in progress.

A shift in society’s understanding of how to prevent sexual violence and domestic abuse is necessary not only for the success of prevention programming, but for reframing some of the harmful social norms that contribute to violence in the first place.

Below are some examples of primary prevention vs. risk reduction. When considering a prevention program, ask yourself, is it getting to the root of the problem or just skimming the surface?

Primary Prevention

  • Focuses on changing/addressing underlying causes of sexual violence
  • Targets risk factors for individuals and for the community, strategies are population based, and focuses on perpetration, victimization, and how to respond
  • Has a goal of eliminating and reducing factors that perpetuate sexual violence to keep it from happening in the first place; creating healthy norms and healthy communities.
  • Example: A school program that teaches students skills to examine gender stereotypes, violence, and trains them to be active upstanders. Training teachers on the same issues and implementing school policies that create safe, equitable environments.

Risk Reduction

  • Focuses on teaching individuals skills to reduce their risk of being victimized.
  • Targets individuals’ behaviors that relate to victimization.
  • Has a goal of stopping an attack that is in process or avoiding imminent attacks and potentially dangerous situations/people.
  • Examples: watch your drink campaigns, self-defense classes, good-touch bad-touch lessons, etc.

Every prevention initiative should contain two or more of the elements listed under primary prevention to be successful. To request assistance from the YWCA in implementing primary prevention strategies, contact Prevention and Empowerment Services at or call 616-459-4681.