We find it useful to think of primary prevention of sexual violence in the context of a vegetable garden.

To grow healthy vegetables, it’s not enough to know what plants we do not want – weeds. It’s not even enough to pull weeds out, once we have identified them.

We need to have rich soil, water and sunshine.

Primary prevention is about changing the soil conditions our communities are growing in – not just pointing out harmful attitudes and behaviours, or pulling out sexual violence.

Primary prevention is about working out what our communities need to build healthy sexual encounters and relationships by fostering social norms of respect and equity in terms of gender, race, class, sexuality and disability – respect between people, respect between peoples.

Enriching our soil to help our communities flourish.

The causes of sexual violence are complex and require complex prevention approaches. There are a combination of societal factors and individual psychological and emotional factors which support sexually violent behaviours. Sexual violence reflects and recreates power imbalances, and is most likely to be perpetrated on those perceived to be vulnerable, whether by age, ethnicity, race, gender, disability, a history of abuse, language, immigration, or the quality of social supports in a person’s life.


The Tauiwi Prevention Project uses World Health Organisation definitions of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention activities are population based approaches which take place in a range of social settings excluding the justice sector and aim to stop sexual violence before it occurs. This is the focus of the Tauiwi Prevention Project. Secondary and tertiary prevention approaches take place after sexual violence, and may also include criminal justice sector responses. You can access secondary and tertiary prevention through our Get Help pages.

In practice, there is not always a clear distinction between activities at the three levels. There are likely to be survivors of sexual violence in any population group, so even primary prevention activities require skill and knowledge in dealing with the impacts of sexual violence.

Primary prevention aims to create an environment which increases the protective factors which foster equitable, loving, respectful relationships and change social norms that contribute to violence-supportive attitudes and behaviours. Interventions are either universal or selective/targeted.

Universal interventions are aimed at the whole population, or groups within it, without regard to individual risk of violence perpetration or victimisation. A population sub-group might include everyone of a particular gender, or in a particular neighbourhood, school district, work place, age range, ethnic group.  Examples include social norms campaigns which mobilise communities such as Right2BSafe; programmes with children and parents which teach body autonomy and touching rules such as We Can Keep Safe; and schools-based programmes which teach skills in negotiating consent such as SAVE. Influencing institutional practice is another example of universal intervention eg creating sexual harassment response policies in the workplace.

Selective or targeted interventions focus on sub-groups at heightened risk of becoming perpetrators, victims or bystanders of sexual violence in the future. Examples of selective strategies include interventions with hospitality staff to teach skills in intervening to reduce alcohol facilitated sexual violence and sexual violence prevention programmes with people with learning disabilities.

Secondary prevention focuses on immediate responses to sexual violence, often in a crisis situation. For victims, secondary prevention aims to minimise the short-term harms of violence, as well as the risk of revictimisation. Activities include, for example, specialist sexual violence services 24 hour crisis-lines and emergency services or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases following a rape. For perpetrators, secondary prevention can include interventions aimed at preventing escalation such as early intervention responses to children and young people with harmful sexual behaviour. Secondary prevention can also include activities such dealing with disclosures training for professionals in a variety of settings.

Tertiary prevention focuses on long-term responses after sexual violence, such as attempts to lessen trauma or reduce the long-term impacts associated with sexual violence and rehabilitation and reintegration of perpetrators. Examples include culturally safe, age-appropriate counselling services and support groups for survivors; sex offender treatment and monitoring; and effective criminal justice sector responses.