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A public health approach to intimate partner violence prevention

Blog post

Since 2003, with support from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and local California communities have participated in the Domestic Violence Prevention Enhancement and Leadership Through Alliances (DELTA) Project to enhance and lead intimate partner violence (IPV) prevention in California to greater effectiveness. The purpose of the DELTA Project is to strengthen prevention efforts – i.e., principles and practices aimed at changing the conditions that lead to IPV, before it is perpetrated – in order to reduce the incidence of IPV.

The DELTA Project employs a public health approach to IPV primary prevention. What is a public health approach? And what is primary prevention?

The Institute of Medicine defines the mission of public health as “the fulfillment of society’s interest in assuring the conditions in which people can be healthy.”[1] A public health approach to IPV prevention is the systematic process of reducing the likelihood or frequency of IPV through assuring the conditions in which people can live free from IPV.

Primary prevention of IPV exposes a broad segment of a population to prevention measures before initial perpetration/victimization to reduce the incidence within the population. Thus, it is distinct from secondary and tertiary prevention efforts aimed at modifying the behavior of individuals who may already be violent or assist individuals already experiencing the threat or onset of violence. Through they are distinct in their objectives, all three levels of prevention (primary, secondary and tertiary) are interrelated and ideally operate synergistically.

Addressing IPV through a public health approach remains a relatively new practice. While a growing number of empirical studies and theoretical frameworks are appearing in the literature, the field is still in the early stages of developing research-based models.
Contributions from the DELTA Project to the development of the public health approach to primary prevention of IPV include:

  • Capacity building among state domestic violence coalitions and local domestic violence advocacy organizations;
  • Development of frameworks and tools for planning, implementing, evaluating and sustaining state-level and community-level primary prevention efforts; and,
  • An emerging base of practice-based evidence of effectiveness.

[1] Institute of Medicine Division of Health Care Services. (1988). The Future of Public Health. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.