If we want to evaluate our sexual violence programming for effectiveness, we have to be clear about: 1) Our goals and associated outcomes; 2) What strategies we hope to use to achieve those outcomes; and 3) Whether or not the strategies we are choosing are aligned with our desired outcomes.
One way well-meaning agencies, advocates, and staff sometimes muddy their prevention programming is by conflating outreach, awareness, and prevention. Outreach is not the same as awareness, and neither outreach nor awareness are sufficient prevention. Awareness can be part of a prevention strategy, but awareness alone does not prevent violence.
Let’s break this down.
The goals of outreach are to reach potential survivors and connect them to services and resources. The question for outreach is: How can I make sure survivors in my community have accurate information about sexual violence, practical guidance for healing, and information about our services and programs? Outreach might include: intentional connection with other social service providers in your community, materials that distribute your hotline number, materials that describe your services, or connecting with communities such as schools, colleges, universities, healthcare providers, military bases, detention centers, alternative schools, youth groups, and other social and community clubs. Outreach is not primary prevention as it is focused on reaching people who have already experienced harm, but it is an essential part of direct services and may often overlap with awareness strategies.
The goal of awareness is to make the public aware of the existence, nature, and scope of the problem. The questions for awareness are: Is my community aware of sexual violence, and is their understanding accurate? How can I reach my community with accurate, fact-based, non-victim-blaming information about sexual violence, and how can I identify and correct any misinformation or biases they may have? Awareness might include: online or in-person campaigns to highlight sexual violence definitions, prevalence, and dynamics, public speaking engagements, media presentations and interviews (both with local news media as well as on social media), or development and distribution of educational and informational materials about sexual violence. Awareness alone is not primary prevention as knowing facts is not enough to shift attitudes and behaviors, but awareness can be a key part of a broader prevention strategy.
The goal of prevention is primary prevention of causing or enacting harm. “Primary prevention” means we aim to prevent sexual violence before it has ever occurred. This means we aim to prevent primary perpetration of sexual violence by shifting knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to enacting sexual harm against others. It also means we have to remember community and society level risk and protective factors that contribute to the perpetration of sexual violence. The questions for prevention are: What are the known risk and protective factors for sexual violence, and what are the proven (or otherwise theory-driven) strategies that impact those risk and protective factors without contributing to victim-blaming, disempowerment of survivors, or harmful impacts on marginalized communities? Prevention might include: community task forces to coordinate services and strategies among related organizations, implementation of curriculum to teach strategies to youth as well as young adults, or engagement with communities with greater statistical risk of sexual violence to learn and listen as well as provide support. You can learn more about primary prevention of sexual violence on NCCASA’s Primary Prevention 101 webinar, or by reaching out to NCCASA’s prevention team for personalized training and technical assistance.