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Because violence against women has multiple, interrelated drivers which play out across every level of society, preventing this violence requires a holistic, multilayered national approach, engaging the largest possible number of people and organisations … (T)o prevent violence against women and create a truly gender equitable society, discrete programs are not enough. That level of change requires a sustained investment in prevention, through a coordinated, long-term, national approach based on multiple, mutually reinforcing efforts.

- Our Watch, Change the Story: A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women in Australia

Ensuring a sustained and coordinated approach to primary prevention of family violence, with mutually reinforcing efforts across a range of settings, requires a coherent prevention system architecture.

In looking at the topic of primary prevention system architecture, we acknowledge the long and proud history of grassroots primary prevention work actively pursued by the feminist movement. This report examines the implementation progress in building on this work to establish effective system architecture for the primary prevention of family violence, and coordinated effort between the government and non-government sectors. We set out to determine whether:

  • government plans and strategies are effectively driving primary prevention activity
  • roles and responsibilities in the primary prevention space are clearly defined and understood, and how well effort is coordinated
  • the primary prevention system is sufficiently funded to achieve the goal of eliminating family violence
  • the prevention workforce is being adequately supported to strengthen the primary prevention system
  • there are adequate mechanisms for research and monitoring of primary prevention initiatives, and for scaling up initiatives that are proven to be effective.

These areas broadly align with the key elements of an effective prevention infrastructure listed in the Our Watch framework Change the Story and reflect the main areas of discussion in our consultation meetings.

Context and scope

This report focuses on the primary prevention of family violence, which is distinct in its scope from the prevention of violence against women. However, the two types of violence significantly overlap, so there are numerous mentions in this report of the prevention of violence against women and of the gendered drivers of violence.

This report does not specifically examine the primary prevention system for our Aboriginal communities; that is the focus of our next report. However, it does include reference to required connections between Aboriginal-led prevention and statewide architecture.

Through past consultations, victim survivors have repeatedly highlighted the importance of primary prevention to tackle family violence in a meaningful way, but we did not seek further victim survivor engagement in developing this report. Further thinking and development is required to determine how
lived experience expertise could be used to inform primary prevention efforts.

We acknowledge that Respect Victoria’s analysis of Victoria’s progress on preventing family violence and violence against women was occurring while we examined this topic, and we suggest the two reports may be read alongside one another. Importantly, Respect Victoria’s reporting to parliament on progress towards primary prevention outcomes is an important ongoing part of the prevention architecture in and of itself, as a key form of oversight, review and reporting.

What is primary prevention of family violence?

In investigating this topic, it took us some time to understand the scope of family violence primary prevention, and how it intersects with the prevention of violence against women and gender equality work. Many stakeholders indicated that it is common for there to be confusion about what primary prevention is. As family violence prevention requires collective effort, there is room to improve in how primary prevention is explained and positioned alongside related work for a non-specialist audience.

We have learnt that primary prevention activity seeks to stop family violence before it starts by addressing the underlying drivers of violence at the population level. Preventing family violence also requires 'changing the social conditions that give rise to this violence; reforming the institutions and systems that excuse, justify or even promote such violence; and shifting the power imbalances and social norms, structures and practices that drive and normalise it'.1 Some primary prevention activities target the entire population (for example, through widespread behaviour change campaigns), but primary prevention activity can also be tailored so it is accessible and relevant for different contexts. For example, some primary prevention work may specifically aim to prevent family violence within LGBTIQ+ communities, and some activities might focus on people at a particular life stage (such as school students, or soon-to-be parents). Activities can also target structures, norms and practices at different levels of society, reflecting the view that such violence is the outcome of ‘interactions among many factors at different levels – the individual and relationship level, the organisational and community level, the system and institutional level, and the societal level’.2

As depicted in Figure 1, preventing violence against women and preventing family violence significantly overlap. We know that much of the violence that women experience occurs in the family / intimate partner context, and conversely, that family violence is overwhelmingly a gendered issue.

We acknowledge that preventing violence against women is the focus of most of the available evidence and frameworks, and therefore this is emphasised throughout this report. However, there are forms of family violence that do not involve men's violence against women such as family violence perpetrated against children, against older males, and within LGBTIQ+ relationships. A complete family violence prevention work program will need to address the drivers of all these forms of violence.

Formal gender equality efforts are not considered violence prevention in and of themselves, but they ‘are an important foundation for prevention because they help address the underlying social context of gender inequality that gives rise to violence against women and enables it to thrive’.3 This is also true for work that seeks to address other forms of systemic and structural oppression and discrimination.

Figure 1: Relationship between family violence prevention, the prevention of violence against women, and gender equality

  • Download' Figure 1: Relationship between family violence prevention, the prevention of violence against women, and gender equality'

The importance of primary prevention in stopping family violence before it starts

The trauma of family violence has profound, negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of Victorians who experience it (see Figure 2, for example). Primary prevention (working to address the underlying drivers of violence to stop that violence before it starts) exists on a continuum that also includes early intervention (or secondary prevention) and response (or tertiary prevention), as described in Figure 3. Governments have an obligation to work across this spectrum. Providing adequate attention to primary prevention is particularly important so that fewer Victorians ever have to experience family violence and to achieve reductions in the overwhelming levels of demand pressure on the family violence response system.

Figure 2: Extent and impact of family violence

  • Download' Figure 2: Extent and impact of family violence'

As Respect Victoria has previously explained:

Historically, Victorian investment in family violence has focused on response; rather than efforts to stop violence from occurring or escalating, and to prevent long-term harm. As a result, despite recent gains, there are continued unacceptable rates of violence experienced, predominantly by women and children. Addressing the drivers of violence through primary prevention is the only way in which the overall prevalence of family violence (and therefore demand) can be reduced. This requires strengthened investment and effort in order to realise Victoria’s vision of ending family violence and violence against women in all its forms.

Figure 3: Primary prevention on the continuum of work to address family violence

Primary prevention:


1-3 Our Watch (2021): Change the Story. A shared framework for the primary prevention of violence against women in Australia.