Q&A: Stopping Intimate Partner Violence Before It Starts

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A happy young woman.

When service providers spend their days helping victims of domestic violence, they may lack the energy and resources to create initiatives that actually prevent harm. To address the gap between handling crises and preventing them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created DELTA FOCUS, a five-year pilot project that seeks to stop intimate partner violence before it starts. The project currently supports 10 state domestic violence coalitions as they promote healthy relationships, reduce known risk factors, and mobilize communities—all with a focus on primary prevention.

We spoke with Colleen Yeakle, coordinator of prevention initiatives at the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to learn more about their work as a DELTA FOCUS grantee and how other organizations can engage in violence prevention.

NCFY: Why is primary prevention important in addressing domestic violence?

Yeakle: I think our shelter-based programs, our agencies, have been working to provide the best of ourselves in service and support to survivors of violence for over 40 years. It is necessary, critical work, but we wish that we didn't have to do it. We wish that we didn't have to respond to injury.

The only way we'll ever stop responding to injury is if we figure out how to get in front of the problem to ensure the conditions that are intolerant of violence and abuse in all of our relationships. So it makes sense ethically and also strategically to focus on primary prevention, so that no one else is harmed. We [have seen] that harm personally through our services, but we also know that it connects to a whole range of other negative outcomes, social problems, and physical health problems [for victims]. Domestic violence isn't good for us; it's bad for our physical, social, and emotional health, and that's not okay.

[Learn what Hispanic communities say they need to prevent intimate partner violence.]

NCFY: Most domestic violence service providers intervene in crises, rather than working to prevent them. What can agency leaders do to help frontline workers value and implement primary prevention strategies?

Yeakle: I think no one is more invested in primary prevention…than the people who are doing frontline intervention because they know, in such a personal, exhaustive way, the impact of [intimate partner] violence. For them, the impact of violence has many, many faces, the faces of women, children, and men who've been injured. So they're deeply invested in figuring out [effective prevention strategies] so that they don't have to see any more harm.

Our work has been helping [frontline staff] understand the different strategies around primary prevention because when you've been working in the immediacy of injury, it can be hard to step back and think about, rather than working on [helping] individuals, how do I work on [changing a] culture. So it's a shift in thinking and in strategy, but it's one that I think we are all deeply motivated to pursue.

[Discover four ways to prevent violence by promoting healthy relationships during childhood.]

NCFY: Are there any simple things agencies can do to bring primary prevention into their everyday practice?

Yeakle: One piece of helpful, actionable information for us in Indiana has been the "Connecting the Dots" publication from the CDC‘s Division of Violence Prevention and Prevention Institute. It's a short document with a lot of pictures, but it's just really talking about how multiple forms of violence are connected through shared risk and protective factors. At the back of the publication, there's a chart where they [have a] list of risk factors and protective factors, and then they show this factor is connected to [forms of violence such as] intimate partner violence, sexual violence, bullying, child maltreatment, elder abuse. So you see [opportunities for] actionable partnerships because you see [which other organizations] in the community can be your allies, and you see the shared risks that you can work together on.

[See how "The Halls' Web series is helping young men prevent violence.]

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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