NSVRC’s Prevention Team has been busy the past few months conducting trainings around the country for community preventionists. One topic that continues to be a focus of these trainings is community-level prevention work. We’ve been talking for a while now about how important it is for our prevention programming to reach all the levels of the social ecology – from individual and relationship-level change to the “outer layers” that include community and society-level change. But everyone wants to know HOW we get to the outer layers. What does it look like to create and sustain real change at the community-level?
I recently read a chapter called “Community-level Approaches to Prevent Sexual Violence” by Sarah DeGue, Tracy Hipp, and Jeffrey Herbst from the book Sexual Violence: Evidence Based Policy and Prevention (Springer, 2016). In it, the authors describe the importance of developing and evaluating community-level approaches to prevent sexual violence. This is not an easy thing, however. Research about prevention strategies in this area is limited. And while many preventionists want to do meaningful change work in their communities, limitations with time, funding, and the knowledge of just what to do and how to do it create significant roadblocks.
While these roadblocks exist, the authors point out some promising ways we can all work together to move the field forward by developing, implementing, and evaluating community-level prevention programming. Many prevention programs that have been evaluated to date focus on addressing individual-level factors. Behavior change at this level can only be sustained if it is reinforced by the norms and culture of the environment (community) of which the individual is a part. Thus the need for more research on what works at the community level.
Strategies to Overcome Limitations
Community-level prevention programming includes looking at policies, climate, and those larger-level environmental factors to reduce the risk of sexual violence perpetration and victimization. In talking with local preventionists, this is where a lot of them get overwhelmed and feel that they don’t have the ability to do such large-scale social change work.
The authors suggest three things for researchers, communities, and organizations to consider when trying to decide how to work with the limited resources and evidence base:
1) targeting risk and protective factors for sexual violence or related health behaviors (find out more about shared risk and protective factors and ways to address them in Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence)
3) using theory to identify promising approaches (behavioral theory, social learning theory, and feminist theory are good examples)
Broad Strategies for Prevention
In addition to the suggestions listed above, CDC has identified some broad strategies that show promise for preventing sexual violence. These include:
· utilizing bystander approaches
· strengthening economic supports for women and families
· strengthening leadership and opportunities for adolescent girls
· improving safety and monitoring in schools
· establishing and consistently applying workplace policies
· addressing community-level risks through environment approaches.
Building partnerships with various stakeholders in the community (community leaders, law enforcement, school officials, businesses, policymakers, etc.) is a good way for local programs to use limited resources to obtain maximum benefits and bring about the community-level change they wish to see.
There is great community-level prevention work happening in the field. We get to see that every time we visit a state and talk with local preventionists. NSVRC will soon be releasing a report on community-level prevention that highlights some of that work. We look forward to seeing how programs continue these important efforts to create and sustain lasting change in their communities.