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Journal Issue: Domestic Violence and Children Volume 9 Number 3 Winter 1999

Emerging Strategies in the Prevention of Domestic Violence
David A. Wolfe Peter G. Jaffe


Responses to domestic violence have focused, to date, primarily on intervention after the problem has already been identified and harm has occurred. There are, however, new domestic violence prevention strategies emerging, and prevention approaches from the public health field can serve as models for further development of these strategies. This article describes two such models. The first involves public health campaigns that identify and address the underlying causes of a problem. Although identifying the underlying causes of domestic violence is difficult—experts do not agree on causation, and several different theories exist—these theories share some common beliefs that can serve as a foundation for prevention strategies. The second public health model can be used to identify opportunities for domestic violence prevention along a continuum of possible harm: (1) primary prevention to reduce the incidence of the problem before it occurs; (2) secondary prevention to decrease the prevalence after early signs of the problem; and (3) tertiary prevention to intervene once the problem is already clearly evident and causing harm. Examples of primary prevention include school-based programs that teach students about domestic violence and alternative conflict-resolution skills, and public education campaigns to increase awareness of the harms of domestic violence and of services available to victims. Secondary prevention programs could include home visiting for high-risk families and community-based programs on dating violence for adolescents referred through child protective services (CPS). Tertiary prevention includes the many targeted intervention programs already in place (and described in other articles in this journal issue). Early evaluations of existing prevention programs show promise, but results are still preliminary and programs remain small, locally based, and scattered throughout the United States and Canada. What is needed is a broadly based, comprehensive prevention strategy that is supported by sound research and evaluation, receives adequate public backing, and is based on a policy of zero tolerance for domestic violence.