Most efforts directed against intimate personal violence focus on reducing future risk, dealing with the consequences of the violence for the victim, and processing the perpetrators through the judicial system. Prevention efforts should ultimately reduce the occurrence of partner violence by promoting healthy, respectful, nonviolent relationships (NCIPC, 2021, November 2).
7.1 Promoting Safe and Healthy Relationships
Promoting safe and healthy relationships is a critical primary prevention approach to the problem of intimate partner violence. Acceptance of partner violence, poor emotional regulation, conflict management difficulties, and poor communication skills put individuals at risk for both perpetration and victimization. Strengthening social-emotional skills, improving conflict management, and encouraging communication can also reduce substance abuse, sexual risk behaviors, sexual violence, delinquency, bullying and other forms of peer violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
Healthy relationship programs for couples can reduce partner violence. However, couples-based approaches have historically been controversial. Treatment programs for couples where severe violence and fear are already occurring are not safe for survivors. For some couples, programs that focus on improving relationship skills are effective in reducing the likelihood of perpetration (Niolon et al., 2017).
Social-emotional learning programs for youth help them develop empathy, respect, healthy communication, and conflict resolution skills. Successful programs also offer opportunities to practice and reinforce these skills. Although typically implemented with adolescent populations in school-based settings, these approaches and skills may also be useful with young adults (Niolon et al., 2017).
7.2 Engaging Influential Adults and Peers
Programs that engage influential adults and peers in promoting positive relationships and condemning violent and unhealthy relationship behaviors among adolescents and young adults are critical to the prevention of partner violence. Trusted adults and peers can be important influencers of what adolescents and young adults think and expect and how they behave (Niolon et al., 2017).
Beliefs and attitudes about the acceptability of violence and about gender equity are predictive of perpetration. Promoting social norms that support healthy relationships has great potential to change social contexts so that everyone knows that partner violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated (Niolon et al., 2017).
These types of social programs can discourage potential perpetrators from thinking that violence is acceptable and increase their understanding of the social consequences to such behavior. They may also increase positive bystander behaviors, which can directly interrupt violence as well as enforce norms unaccepting of violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
7.3 Disrupting Developmental Pathways
Many of the factors associated with perpetrating violence against intimate partners are evident well before adolescence. This can include poor behavioral control, social problem-solving difficulties, early onset of drug and alcohol use, an arrest prior to the age of 13, and involvement with antisocial peers, crime, and violence. Exposure to chronic stress, child abuse and neglect, witnessing violence in the home and community, and parental substance abuse, depression, criminality, and incarceration can be risk factors for perpetrators and victims (Niolon et al., 2017).
Poor communication between family members, harsh and inconsistent discipline, poor parental monitoring and supervision, and poor parent-child boundaries increase risk. Family environments that are unstable, stressful, and lack structure are risk factors for perpetration of teen dating violence in adolescence and continued perpetration into adulthood. Approaches that can disrupt these developmental risks and pathways have the potential to reduce partner violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
7.4 Creating Protective Environments
Community environments such as schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods can influence reductions in partner violence. Fostering a broader social and physical environment that improves safety, social connections, and awareness creates a climate that supports prevention of violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
Although the effectiveness of community-level approaches to prevention is only just emerging, social control and cohesion, collective action, easy access to help and support, and positive social norms are important protective factors against perpetration of partner violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
7.5 Addressing Economic Abuse
More and more, research is focusing on the importance of economic abuse as a form of intimate partner violence. This type of abuse occurs when a perpetrator controls a survivor’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain resources. Approximately 76 to 99% of survivors report experiencing economic abuse (Johnson et al., 2022).
Economic exploitation, economic control, employment sabotage, and other forms of economic abuse can be wide-ranging and do not require close proximity to the victim. Economic exploitation includes behaviors such as stealing from an intimate partner, intentionally destroying or depleting a survivor’s financial resources, gambling with joint money, opening credit lines without a survivor’s permission, or refusing to pay bills with the intent to ruin a survivor’s credit (Johnson et al., 2022).
Economic control involves preventing survivors from having knowledge or access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other shared assets. It can also include denying a survivor access to food, clothing, or medications and tracking a survivor’s use of money (Johnson et al., 2022).
Employment sabotage includes preventing a survivor from obtaining or maintaining employment, forbidding or interfering with a survivor’s employment or education, harassing a survivor at their place of work, and interfering with a survivor obtaining other forms of income including disability and child support (Johnson et al., 2022).
Technology has enabled abusive partners to implement a range of control tactics without physical contact. This makes it increasingly difficult to end economic abuse, even post-separation, when the abusive partner no longer has physical access to the survivor. Further, a survivor may not realize that their abusive partner is engaging in these behaviors until significant debt or credit damage has already occurred (Johnson et al., 2022).
7.6 Addressing Socioeconomic Factors
Addressing socioeconomic factors holds great potential for improving a wide range of health outcomes for neighborhoods, communities, and states, including preventing partner violence. Evidence suggests that poverty, financial stress, and low income can increase risk for partner violence. Reducing financial stress can decrease relationship conflict and dissatisfaction (Niolon et al., 2017).
In addition, improving financial stability and autonomy can reduce financial dependence on a perpetrator and provide alternatives to unhealthy relationships. Studies show that gender inequality in education, employment, and income are risk factors for partner violence. Efforts to improve financial security for families and women’s education, employment and income may reduce the risk for partner violence (Niolon et al., 2017).
Strengthening household financial security and supporting survivors can increase safety and lessen harms. Victim-centered services such as housing programs, first responder and civil legal protections, and patient-centered approaches to treatment provide validation and support for survivors of intimate partner violence (NCIPC, 2021, November 2).