Primary Prevention & Pandemics: The Power of Prevention

Primary Prevention & Pandemics: The Power of Prevention

July 15, 2020, Sexual Assault Center of Middle Tennessee

Sharon Travis, Outreach & Advocacy Specialist

We are currently experiencing first-hand the Power of Prevention. If there is an unintended consequence of Nashville’s double whammy of Covid19 and the March 2020 tornado, it is the expansion and breadth of community-based prevention efforts and compassionate responses.  Working in primary prevention for over 20 years, the challenge has been creating excitement about an invisible adversary that does not connect to an immediate threat. This global pandemic named Covid19 is inadvertently showing us the power of prevention. 

Practicing social distancing, checking in on the most vulnerable of our population and acting intentionally and compassionately are some of the ways Americans are showing up during this pandemic. The recent tornado also taught us about the power of prevention. The overwhelming abundance of community support that poured into the impacted neighborhoods was so striking that “Nashville Strong” became the new slogan. Not only do these efforts demonstrate that the heart of good and effective primary prevention already lives in us— it also demonstrates that we are more than equipped to harness this prevention power to shift rape culture in transformative ways. It is vital that we see and recognize this connection.  

Historically, Americans rise to the occasion when catastrophic events occur. We have witnessed this countless times through other natural disasters, such as 9/11, Katrina and other hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados and so on.  Compassionate responses are in our nation’s DNA. Imagine the impact of seeing compassionate responses extended to our everyday interactions and more specifically to sexual assault. This would lead to a culture shift from victim blaming and uninformed responses to a more trauma informed response. The great news is that this is not a call to learn new behavior but rather shifting our focus to act more intentionally and proactively about sexual violence. Primary prevention as the solution to eradicating sexual violence.

Simply put, primary prevention is how we choose to engage in relationship with one another in a manner that prevents things from occurring. Social distancing is not so much about stopping the virus but rather preventing the rapid spread of the virus to vulnerable populations. This comparison vividly demonstrates how we can proactively work to end sexual violence by shifting the culture, maintaining the community caring efforts, and refocusing the conversation. The foundation of primary prevention is behavioral change that creates a more caring and compassionate community. While intervention addresses the problem after the occurrence, primary prevention goes upstream to stop it from ever arising. Effective primary prevention focuses on the following skills:

  • Building Skills  like Bystander Intervention (paying attention in proactive ways, checking in, diffusing problems, assertive communication, empowered to act)
  • Developing meaningful relationships
  • Fostering community ownership

The Center for Disease Control has recognized Bystander Intervention as an evidenced based strategy. We use bystander intervention at SAC for our Safe Bar Initiative and other prevention programs. According Jackson Katz, a leading researcher in gender based violence and author of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, “The goal of this approach is not simply to teach people how to intervene at the scene of an assault. It is a strategy to change social norms in peer cultures at all levels — from high school and middle school students up through adults of all ages..” 

By elevating the conversation and continuing to check in on our neighbors, pay attention to our vulnerable populations and respond to their needs- while causing no further harm- we are transforming the culture to be more prepared after the threat of Covid19 is gone and recovery from the tornado is complete. Hence, the goal of primary prevention is to create a safer, healthier, and more equitable community. Our recent experiences show us that we are already doing it. Now is the time to become intentional and focused in our efforts to combat sexual violence and call the solution what it is— The Power of Prevention!

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