How Can Sexual Violence Be Prevented?

The first step in preventing sexual violence is understanding why it happens in the first place. The root cause of sexual violence is oppression, which is the experience of widespread, systemic and repeated injustice. Many individuals and groups experience oppression on a daily basis based on:

o  Race
o  Sex
o  Gender identity
o  Gender expression
o  Gender orientation
o  Class
o  Religion
o  Citizenship
o  Age
o  Ability

Other factors also contribute to sexual violence. These include social and community factors like:

o       Poverty
o       Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
o       Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness
o       High levels of crime and other types of violence
o       Weak laws and policies related to sexual violence and gender equity

They also include individual and relationship factors like:

o  Lower levels of education
o  Alcohol and drug use
o  Violent or emotionally unsupportive family environment
o  Preference for impersonal sex and sexual risk taking
o  Hyper-masculinity
o  Childhood history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse

The most effective way to prevent sexual violence is through primary prevention, which means stopping it before it occurs. For prevention efforts to work, they have to target risk factors at each level – individual, relationship, community and society.


Adapted from Violence Prevention—The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For a more complete list of risk factors for perpetrating sexual violence, see For more information about risk factors for being the victim of sexual violence, see Chapter 6, Sexual Violence, of the World Health Organization’s World Report on Violence and Health: