Many sexual violence prevention efforts aim to change individual beliefs and attitudes that contribute to a culture where sexual violence is prevalent. While these strategies are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating social change, a more comprehensive approach that addresses environmental and social factors that lead to these beliefs and attitudes is necessary in preventing sexual violence. Engaging in effective community level prevention is crucial in our efforts to change the cultural and social norms that lead to sexual violence.
Community level strategies address the factors that are related to sexual violence perpetration in schools, workplaces, and other settings where social relationships occur. Effective and sustainable social change on this level requires that communities take the lead in identifying and addressing factors that contribute to sexual violence.
Here are a few strategies that preventionists can use when working on the community level:
Define the Community
There are several different ways to delineate “community.” It can describe a group of people who work and/or live in a geographical area (e.g. a county, city, or neighborhood), or it can be a group of people who have something in common, such as age or spirituality. The first step to working on the community level is to narrow down the community you want to work with. It can be helpful to consider the following questions when identifying potential community partners:
- What community connections do you already have?
- What community connections are you lacking?
- Who is doing work related to the root causes of sexual violence?
- Where is prevention most needed?
- What communities are ready to engage in sexual violence prevention?
Learn About the Community
Once you have defined the community that you will be working with, the next step is to become familiar and gain trust within the community. This starts with spending time in the community and building relationships with people who have shared interests. Understanding the community and its makeup is central to identifying prevention strategies. For example, learning about individuals and groups that are already working to make a community safer will help in identifying potential collaborators. Because sexual violence is related to other types of violence and inequities, it is also important to consider how community members are affected by other issues and the effect that will have on community level social change strategies.
If the goal is to empower communities to engage in social change work related to sexual violence, members of the community should be knowledgeable about sexual violence and its effects on their environment. Providing background information on the issue and space for community members to discuss the role that sexual violence plays in their community can help to empower them to take the lead in community level prevention. We should actively avoid defining problems or solutions for communities in our efforts to equip them with knowledge about sexual violence.
Connecting communities with individuals and groups that have shared interests or influence is one way that we can empower communities to lead prevention efforts. For example, a community sexual assault program might have a member of its board of directors that holds political influence. Making a connection between this board member and a community group may be an effective way to facilitate a relationship that could contribute to community level social change.
Identify Funding Opportunities
Community level change strategies often require some level of funding. Assisting community groups in identifying potential funding streams can increase the reach and sustainability of social change efforts.