For reasons both personal and professional I have been having a lot of RPE program development conversations as of late. There are so many factors that come into play when planning and developing a program. The program development process can examine and evaluate various and sundry theories of change, risk and protective factors, promising practices, research evidence, contextual evidence, experiential evidence, community readiness, organizational capacity, and, sometimes, even the kitchen sink! It can be easy to get lost in the weeds or feel overwhelmed by seemingly limitless options.
At such times it can be helpful to step back and, as the folk song says, “keep your eyes on the prize.” The prize that most of us seek is a sexual violence prevention program that supports healthy and just communities. We just want our efforts to be effective and successful.
There has been some work on what contributes to effective prevention programs that can be found here and from the PreventConnect Wiki, and from the Interpersonal Violence Prevention Information Center. Please find a distillation of some of this work below. This tool can help re-focus program planning and development discussions
They say timing is everything, so I took it as a sign when I received a link to this article from a colleague this morning. The article, entitled “Why Prevention? Why now?” explores the growing public awareness and media coverage sexual violence and its destructive effects on individuals, relationships and communities. As this awareness grows, so does public recognition of the importance of prevention.
The article provides an informative and accessable overview of sexual violence prevention and response, including a discussion of public health approaches and prevention activities across the social-ecological model.
The framing of the article resonated with me because so much of our prevention work involves asking questions; questions of our communities and our systems, historical questions, research questions, ethical questions, and questions of ourselves.
Last week, CALCASA conducted a web conference entitled, “Primary Prevention: Bringing It All Together” Part of the web conference posed the following questions to consider when planning and developing RPE programs:
- Is it sexual violence primary prevention?
- Is it appropriate and relevant to the community in which it will be implemented?
- Will it work?
- Can you do it?
If I had it to do over again, I would add two more questions. Why Prevention? Why now?
In 1995, the American Medical Association declared sexual abuse a “silent, violent epidemic.” Since that declaration, there has been a growing acceptance and awareness of the need for a broader public health approach to preventing sexual violence. However, it is only recently that individuals and organizations are beginning to look at the root causes of sexual violence and how to prevent first time perpetration of sexual violence – preventing sexual abuse before anyone is harmed. This article provides an overview of the shifts in our language, perspective, and policies regarding how we view preventing the perpetration of sexual abuse, and argues that we must adopt and invest in a prevention approach whose goal is to, first and foremost, prevent sexual violence before anyone is harmed.
Tabachnick, J. Why Prevention? Why now?. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF BEHAVIORAL CONSULTATION AND THERAPY, VOL. 8, No. 3-4
Yesterday I participated in the PreventConnect web conference PEER LEARNING FORUM – Shaping perceptions of sexual and domestic violence for prevention: The power of public narratives. The web conference, led by Dave Mann of the Grassroots Policy Project, explored the power of public narratives and how they may be utilized in IPV/SV prevention work. (Full disclosure-this was part 1 of a 3 part series, so I am still wrestling with the concepts, but I will not let that prevent me from blogging about it.) In this context, a public narrative was described as a story that can shape public consciousness, particularly around commonly held values and beliefs. There exist dominant public narratives (those that reinforce or reflect a dominant worldview) that can support or hinder violence prevention efforts. Unmasking these dominant narratives and offering an alternative, a different way of seeing things, can change the way people think about violence.
The web conference got me thinking about various prevention efforts and where they fit into this concept. Do we implement prevention activities that may be effective on an individual level, but support a harmful dominant narrative on a community or societal level? Bethany Pombarfrom the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence raised this question around gender-segregated groups. She noted that segregation by gender identification or always having men talk to other men and boys can send the message that, “Only men can engage other men and that men won’t listen to women.” It got me thinking about the other ways in which some efforts can reinforce the dominant public narrative and the real world effects that may have. Ashley Maier recently wrote a blog about how we engage men in sexual and relationship violence efforts.
Of course we need to engage people of any and all genders to end sexual and relationship violence. The question is, how do we do that in the most effective and ethical way possible?When we exclusively engage men to work with/speak to/ market to men in our practice, what are we saying to men (and women)? This practice can reinforce the beliefs that:
- Women can’t lead or influence men. (How does that effect expectations when women are in positions of power in the workplace or educational setting?)
- Men and women can’t trust one another and men won’t be honest about certain beliefs in a mixed gender setting. (How may that effect all our promotion of healthy mixed gender relationships? Do we want to create spaces where people can espouse sexist (racist/ageist/homophobic/ablest/classist) beliefs without having to be accountable to the targets of those oppressive beliefs?)
- There are attributes that legitimize belonging to a gender class, and that the lack of these attributes disqualify you from membership. (Is it helpful to use the dominant narrative around masculinity to police gender in a “good” way?)
I know that such beliefs are not included in my vision of a world without sexual and relationship violence.
We have completed the final training in the “Selecting Sexual Violence Prevention Strategies to Fit Diverse Communities” training series. There has been a lot of great discussion at the trainings about a variety of topics related to RPE. Please find a list of resources that were inspired by these conversations below.
Information about principles of effective prevention:
Information about risk and protective factors:
A Systematic Qualitative Review of Risk and Protective Factors for Sexual Violence Perpetration Andra Teten Tharp1, Sarah DeGue1, Linda Anne Valle1, Kathryn A. Brookmeyer1, Greta M. Massetti1, and Jennifer L. Matjasko1
Information about innovations in prevention programming:
Information about RPE theory of change:
Information about engaging men and boys:
Information about community mobilization:
Information about youth development: