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By on December 18, 2020

Metaphors, Analogies, Stories, Oh My! Explaining the Basics of Preventing Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence

Those who joined the December 17th web conference “Back to Basics: Preventing Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence” discovered PreventConnect’s Ashleigh Klein-Jimenez and Tori VandeLinde’s joy of describing sexual and intimate partner violence prevention through metaphors, analogies, and stories. Below are the stories used on the web conference to explain the primary prevention of sexual and intimate partner violence.

Prevention can take many forms. Spectrum ranging from advocacy to outreach and awareness to risk reduction to primary preventionMoving Upstream Story

A common public health story used to describe preventing violence before it occurs is the moving upstream story. Everyone tells the story slightly different. On this web conference, Ashleigh describes the moving upstream story as a fisherman noticing someone drowning in a nearby river. The fisherman jumps in and brings the person to safety. Minutes later, another person is found drowning in the river, and the fisherman brings them to safety, too. This continues for some time before the fisherman stops to think, “why are all these people falling in the river?” The fisherman inspects what’s happening upstream and sees a slew of things happening that are causing people to fall into the river, including broken bridges. The fisherman decides that in order to keep people from drowning in the first place, the broken bridges must be repaired and other issues upstream the river must be addressed, too. When thinking of sexual and intimate partner violence prevention, moving upstream to address the “why and how” of violence is prevention.

The soil and seeds of root causes. Image of a tree with visible roots and soil. The leaves are labeled symptoms, the trunk is labeled problem, and the roots are labeled causes.Trees, Roots, and Soil

Examining the causes of sexual and intimate partner violence is helpful when thinking about what people can do to prevent violence from occurring. When thinking of a tree, we often only think about what’s visible–the leaves and the trunk. The roots are mighty forces that allow the rest of the tree and leaves to grow, and without roots, the tree would not exist. The trunk of the tree can be compared to the problem of sexual and intimate partner violence, whereas the leaves can be thought of as the visible symptoms of a culture of violence. These leaves of violence can be things people often turn to for reducing the risk of violence, like instructing others to travel in groups or to dress/not dress in certain ways to avoid violence. While the leaves are the most visible, we know that address the problem of violence through risk reduction alone is insufficient to prevent violence from happening in the first place.

Often people can misidentify a symptom of violence as its cause because on the surface, that’s the only factor they can see and understand. However, the things that cause sexual and intimate partner violence are the roots of the tree, not the leaves, and are often more complex societal factors and systems that create harmful conditions including and beyond those that impact violence. Using Lydia Guy’s sexual violence continuum, Ashleigh and Tori explore what the root causes of sexual and intimate partner violence are. Knowing the roots is a good start, but roots live in soil, and the soil that allows root causes of sexual and intimate partner violence to occur is the culture and systems that uphold harmful root causes of violence. There’s hope in that, whether addressing root causes or pollutants in soil, prevention practitioners have many avenues to prevent violence before it occurs by digging deep and unearthing harm at its source.

Our environments matter. Cartoon of Fred surrounded by environmental, cultural, and social norms factors that impact Fred's healthMy knowledge is a grain bowl, but my environment is a drive-thru

Why do people make the health decisions they do, despite all the knowledge and education about making healthy choices? Ashleigh frames this conversation in light of the breakfast struggle. While she has the knowledge and education that a grain and protein bowl is probably the healthiest option for her, her environment around her home only has fast food drive-thru options for inexpensive breakfast on the go. When thinking about preventing sexual and intimate partner violence, many lean heavily on education and awareness, believing that if people know about consent, bystander intervention, and healthy communication, they’ll behave in ways that prevent sexual and intimate partner violence. We know this is not always the case, as environments play a huge role in why people behave they way they do. Environments are not limited to physical environments, but also include culture, social norms, policies, and economic factors that impact a person or a community’s risk of experiencing violence. Social norms are a major driving force of behavior, and changing social norms from those that promote violence (like the 5 Key Norms outlined by Prevention Institute) to norms that promote health and safety can go a long way in changing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors across communities. Education on sexual and intimate partner violence prevention is important, but education alone is insufficient to reach the most people possible to prevent violence.

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