An Introduction to Interpersonal Violence Prevention

By Marita K. Herkert and April L. Kopp

News Type
Advocates' Forum

Interpersonal and self-directed violence affects the health, safety, and well-being of many individuals; it has been documented as an incredibly costly burden to society (Corso et al., 2007). Violence prevention has recently emerged as a field, and social workers are beginning to understand how they can expand their repertoire beyond treatment to prevention through the public health model. The public health model employs three levels of prevention (Institute of Medicine, 1994). Primary prevention targets entire communities to reduce the incidence of a disorder or the occurrence of new cases. Secondary prevention aims to reduce the prevalence and recurrence of interpersonal violence by targeting individuals who have been exposed to violence or are at risk for exposure. The model’s tertiary level of interpersonal violence prevention works to reduce the consequences and complications arising from the problem or disorder once it manifests. Prevention efforts can target entire general populations (universal prevention), subgroups that are vulnerable to violence exposure or perpetration (selected prevention), and individuals with early signs of exposure or perpetration (indicated prevention) (Eaton and Harrison, 1996). The public health model of violence prevention is an alternative to the traditional criminal justice approach (Moore, 1995). The criminal justice model responds to violence after the fact, focuses on the perpetrator, and uses punishment and judgment of individual moral issues as means to deter future violence (p. 241). The public health model, by contrast, focuses across multiple systems on the vulnerabilities and resilience of victims and perpetrators. The model aims to promote healing, restore social connection, and ultimately, to prevent future occurrence of violence (p. 241). The following two articles by Marita Herkert and April Kopp examine what may be considered proactive approaches within social work. They focus on systemic factors that contribute to violence, attempting to understand the benefits and challenges of preventing child maltreatment. The articles replicate objectives of the public health model by defining the problem, examining its causal pathways, identifying risk and protective factors, reviewing prevention strategies, and promoting best practices to assure widespread adoption.

During a spring 2008 colloquium for students of the Beatrice Cummings Mayer Program in Violence Prevention at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, Deborah A. Bretag, Executive Director of the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention, stated, “Everybody can be a preventionist.” The authors encourage readers to view social work through the preventionist lens in promoting the physical and psychological health of clients, systems, and environments.


Corso, Phaedra S., James A. Mercy, Thomas R. Simon, Eric A. Finkelstein, and Ted R. Miller (2007). Medical costs and productivity losses due to interpersonal and self-directed violence in the United States. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 32 (6), 474–82.

Eaton, William W., and Glynn Harrison (1996). Prevention priorities. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 9 (2), 141–43.

Institute of Medicine (1994). Reducing Risks for Mental Disorders: Frontiers for Preventive Intervention Research (Patricia J. Mrazek and Robert J. Haggerty, Eds.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Moore, Mark H. (1995). Public health and criminal justice approaches to prevention. Crime and Justice, 19, 237–62.