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CDC's 4-Level Social Ecological Model

CDC Four Level Social Edo Model for Prevention

RVAP's ultimate goal is to stop violence before it begins. Our Prevention & Education Team utilizes The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) four-level social-ecological model to better understand violence and the effect of potential prevention strategies. This model considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors. It allows us to understand the range of factors that put people at risk for violence or protect them from experiencing or perpetrating violence. The overlapping rings in the model illustrate how factors at one level influence factors at another level.

Besides helping to clarifying these factors, the model also suggests that in order to prevent violence, it is necessary to act across multiple levels of the model at the same time. This approach is more likely to sustain prevention efforts over time than any single intervention.

Information adapted from the CDC

Primary Prevention VS Risk Reduction

In the most basic sense, 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. 

Primary Prevention 

  • Focus: potential perpetrator
  • Goal: Intervene in the behaviors of potential perpetrators before a sexual assault takes place
  • Examples: men’s groups that begin to unpack violence in hegemonic masculinity, educating everyone about sexual consent, and teaching bystander intervention techniques.
  • Important reminder: prevention against sexual assault takes a commitment from all genders.

Risk Reduction

  • Focus: potential victim
  • Goal: Potential victims learn strategies to use in-the-moment, should an attack or attempted sexual assault happen
  • Examples: blue safety lights on campus, self-defense classes, bystander intervention techniques, the buddy system, rape whistles, pepper spray
  • Important reminder: Risk reduction does NOT prevent assault from occurring; only a perpetrator can prevent sexual violence

Take Away

While some individuals feel safer knowing that risk reduction strategies exist, it can be problematic if we only use risk reduction. Perhaps the biggest flaw of risk reduction strategies lies in the fact that most strategies are designed for victims to use during a stranger assault. We know that statistically most survivors are sexually assaulted by someone they know and trust. Most of these assaults happen within a context where things like mace or pepper spray would not be useful. Most perpetrators of acquaintance rape use manipulation, coercion and pressure during the assault.  Risk reduction strategies have the potential to increase victim guilt and self-blame.

Information adapted from Colorado State University Women and Gender Advocacy Center


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