The prevention post provides a blueprint to creating your own preventative model, but you may reach step 3, which focuses on intervention strategies, and feel lost. What interventions actually work? This post seeks to provide additional guidance for that intervention-planning step.
Levels of Prevention
If you look a prevention models based in healthcare, there are usually three levels of intervention:
Medical jargon aside, this model can also be helpful for preventing violence within our communities. We need to:
Each level of intervention involves different strategies.
Level 1: Stop Violence from Occurring
Primary prevention focuses on education and healthy skill building. This makes sense: we need to know what we want to avoid and how to avoid it. In the medical field, this takes the form of vaccines, altering risky behavior, and banning substances known to lead to the condition. Let's translate that to relational violence
Vaccinate against violence
Vaccines are about controlled exposure to build up defense. In relational violence, this means educating people about abusive dynamics and providing information about healthy ways to respond when they see these warning signs.
Altering risky behavior
In relational violence, especially within the context of community, risk-reduction falls mostly at the community level. You can refer to the EEOC chart for organizational-risk factors for harassment and look at ways to minimize those within your community.
For example, members of marginalised groups are at higher risk of being harassed and less likely to report if leadership only consists of non-marginalised people. You could make an effort to include people from a diverse range of experiences and identities at all levels of the organisation, so everyone has someone they feel more comfortable contacting.
Banning Substances That Lead Lead to the Condition
In relational violence, the key components of abuse are power and control. These come out most often in the attitudes of:
You can ban these substances by creating community values based on equality, partnership/collaboration, mutuality, assuming goodwill, respecting autonomy, and validation. If these terms are unfamiliar to the community, it can be helpful to link to resources or examples of what this means. Then as a community, you encourage positive displays of these values, and intervene early when the controlling or power-based dynamics appear.
For example, let's look at the attitude of competition vs. collaboration. When we want to collaborate, we need to listen to and respect the views of others, even if we ultimately don't agree. When we want to compete, we attack and undercut the views of others. This attitude can be spotted by asking, "Am I trying to understand the other person or am I trying to prove that I am right?"
Refer to the resources post for links to additional educational material.
Level 2: Intervene Early
There is a tendency to let "lower level" instances of harassment or abuse go unaddressed. However, abuse it ultimately driven by unhealthy attitudes, so the chances it will escalate (or has already escalated in other spaces) to more severe abuse is high. Waiting for abuse to get "bad enough" exposes people to a higher level of harm overall and means any kind of recovery from the event will be harder.
The wait and see approach is especially problematic because we all have different levels of "bad enough" based on our own context and experiences. This difference puts people from marginalised groups at even higher risk of experiencing abuse that others do not take seriously or stop.
Let me provide an example.
Research shows that men and women experience physical threats online at close to the same rate. However, research also shows that women experience physical violence within relationships at more than twice the rate as men. It makes sense women may take a threat of physical violence "more seriously" than a male counterpart, because they know threats can escalate into violent acts more often. Similarly, men and women experience sustained harassment at similar levels, but women are almost 4 times more likely to experience stalking. It makes sense women will perceive sustained harassment as more serious if they know it is more likely to escalate into stalking.
In practical terms, intervening early means paying attention to fundamentally abusive dynamics and attitudes. This dovetails with level 1 prevention: become educated on abusive dynamics, recognize warning signs, and have a system in place for addressing the abuse patterns as soon as they appear.
Importantly, early intervention does not need to be as severe as intervention at later stages in abuse. If someone is assuming ill-will and name calling another community member without seeking to understand their perspective, intervention may consist of highlighting the problematic part of the interaction and asking that person to take a break from the conversation until they can re-engage with a more charitable mindset. This is very different from a community member who has physically or sexually assaulted someone, where the intervention requires banning them from the community completely.
This is another advantage of early intervention. You can start with less-severe interventions and potentially maintain more people in your community. As long as the intervention works (i.e. the person changes their behavior) you won't need to escalate to more intense and long-lasting interventions.
Level 3: Support and Help Those Who Experience Abuse
Level 3 interventions come into play when the abuse has already occurred. Unfortunately, prevention and early intervention cannot stop all abuse. It is important to prepare for this eventuality and how it will be handled ahead of time. Fortunately, the community plays an essential role in an abuse survivor's recovery:
Research shows that the intensity and duration of trauma symptoms is predicted more by the community's response to abuse than the severity of the abuse itself.
Communities can help by:
If you are unsure what will increase safety, ask the person who experienced the abuse for their preference or permission. They may feel overwhelmed, so it's helpful to give them a short list of options (e.g. we can do A, B, or do nothing until you have more time think it over).
Any response will be more effective if the community develops a policy before the abuse occurs.
Example Intervention Model
This model provides an overview of how to think about prevention and intervention. While it focuses on sexual violence, the overall model can be applied to many forms of abuse.
General Guides for Intervention
These cover a miscellaneous collection of resources. As there are common traits in abuse and helpful interventions, I'm including them to provide a wider range of background material for this topic. They also link/reference additional resources within them.
This post links to all related content for easy navigation