A common fable goes like this

by Anna Blanch on December 4, 2011

A common fable recounts the people of a small fishing village who wake up one day to find a person in the river screaming for help. Quickly the people work together to rescue this person only to find that another is close behind, also screaming for help. Then there is another, and another. As they work endlessly to save the drowning people, the villagers grow tired. The stream is endless and some cannot be saved. Finally, one fisherman abandons his fellow villagers and begins to run upstream. His friends call out to him, “Where are you going? We need your help!” He replies, “I am going up-river to find out the reason why all of these people are in the water in the first place.”

Hopefully the moral is clear. Prevention is the most reasonable and moral response to such a situation. During these 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence, it is appropriate to reflect on what role prevention plays in ending violence against women (and men for that matter). Their 2011 theme is a compelling one: From peace in the home to peace in the world. I would argue for the importance of prevention work in the face of this massive vision.

I work for a violence and abuse prevention programme based in Dundee, Scotland called Violence Is Preventable (V.I.P) which was established by the support organisation, Eighteen and Under. When the founders of Eighteen and Under were just a few years into their work supporting children and young people who had been abused, they noticed a massive gap in the fight against abuse: prevention work. Of course it is important to work with people who have already survived abuse. However, how will we actually work to accomplish the eradication of abuse and violence of all kinds in this world? How do we stop it in the first place? That is where prevention work comes in.

What is prevention? There are two kinds. Primary prevention seeks to affect the mindsets, attitudes, and values of a society so as to enact change. Secondary prevention acknowledges the presence of and seeks out knowledge about current violence and abuse in someone’s situation in order to work towards intervention. We do both kinds of prevention with the V.I.P programme in schools, residential homes, and community centres around Scotland. The V.I.P programme works with people from ages 2 to 102. We address a wide variety of issues including bullying, conflict resolution, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, rights, relationships, gender issues, racism, personal safety etc. In this way, we work hard towards primary prevention: challenging mindsets, attitudes, and values, and empowering young people to choose alternatives to violence.

Secondary prevention is easier, ironically. Perhaps the most important question that we ask when doing V.I.P sessions is ask “Has this ever happened to anyone?” And you know what? People talk. With this simple, straight-forward asking, the V.I.P has uncovered, and subsequently responded to, hundreds of abusive situations. When asked why they didn’t tell about abuse when it was happening, survivors overwhelming response is that nobody asked. So, we ask. Then we work with the young (or old) people to come up with solutions for how to deal with the situation.

It is possible that I am treading on controversial ice with the following conclusion, however, I do not apologise for it. I absolutely support the campaign to end violence against women. But I especially support the campaign to end violence against all people – men, women, boys, and girls. In fact, I would argue that without a comprehensive and holistic approach to preventing and responding to violence against all people, then we won’t see peace in the home or in the world any time soon.

For more information, visit Eighteen and Under’s website www.18u.org.uk

Or V.I.P’s website www.violenceispreventable.org.uk

How can you be involved in preventing abuse and violence?

  • If you are a parent, teach your children from the earliest age to respond to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable by resisting and telling an adult they trust, and to keep telling until someone listens. Purchase some V.I.P materials and put them to use within your own family.
  • Challenge violent attitudes when you encounter them – in conversation, in the blogosphere, in writing, however you can.
  • Donate to charities or other groups involved in prevention work
  • Volunteer for charities or other groups involved in prevention. Look especially for groups that are doing practical, relevant work with people in their surrounding communities.
  • Don’t assume the people around you are not being abused. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Be attentive, ask questions, listen, be aware. Expect to encounter it.

Stephanie Vander Lugt is the development worker for the Resolve It project, part of the Violence Is Preventable Programme established by the organisation Eighteen and Under based in Dundee, Scotland. Her job consists of supporting children, teens, and adults who have been abused and running a violence and abuse prevention programme in schools around Scotland. She lives in St Andrews, Scotland, with her husband, Wes.


This post is part of the 16 Days of Action toward eliminating violence against women. The 16 Days of Action is a global campaign founded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, I’m hosting posts across the 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December. You can help by sharing these posts on social media, by taking care of the women around you, & by standing against violence against women.
Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, facebook page, & Twitter.
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