Preventing Sexual Violence

In order to prevent sexual violence, we must first understand the circumstances and factors that influence its occurrence. There are many different theories that describe the root causes of sexual violence. Each model contributes to a better understanding of sexual violence and helps to build programs that help to sustain protective factors (e.g., having positive role models who are in healthy, respectful relationships) and reduce risk factors (e.g., drug use) for sexual violence.

The New York State Department of Health is committed to using a public health approach to prevent sexual violence, focusing on at-risk populations, including young people aged 10-21 years.

NYSDOH Sexual Violence Prevention Plan

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), in conjunction with a Sexual Violence Primary Prevention Committee that included stakeholders from across New York State, developed a long-term statewide sexual violence prevention strategic plan that utilizes a public health approach to support comprehensive primary prevention program planning. The NYSDOH Sexual Violence Primary Prevention Plan (PDF) was published in October 2011. The plan focuses on community and population-based prevention strategies, including the social-ecological model developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and adapted by the CDC, to understand the origins of sexual violence and potential opportunities for prevention. This model looks at the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors that put individuals at risk for experiencing or perpetrating violence.

Primary prevention focuses on the identification of these risk factors and the development of strategies to influence these factors. Vulnerable populations, their families, and social support systems must know not only how to prevent sexual violence, but also how to promote the intolerance of sexual exploitation and sexual harassment in their communities. This will ultimately result in change at the societal level.

Sexual Violence Prevention Resources

Rape Crisis and Sexual Violence Prevention Program

Local Rape Crisis and Sexual Violence Prevention Programs provide evidence-based or promising sexual violence prevention education targeted to adolescents and young adults. Click here for a list of approved education curricula used by these programs.

Programs also conduct community mobilization activities which engage all sectors of the population in a community-wide effort to address an issue. Community mobilization facilitates shifting ownership for the solution to a problem to the community in order to impact the underlying causes of sexual violence.

Bystander Intervention Toolkit

A bystander is "anyone who plays some role in an act of harassment, abuse or violence—but is neither the perpetrator nor the victim. They are someone who is present and thus potentially in position to discourage, prevent, or interrupt an incident."6

Bystander intervention is the act of feeling empowered and equipped with the knowledge and skills to effectively assist in the prevention of sexual violence. Bystander intervention should not jeopardize the safety of the bystander.6 Bystander intervention and "bystander education programs teach potential witnesses safe and positive ways that they can act to prevent or intervene when there is a risk for sexual violence. This approach gives community members specific roles that they can use in preventing sexual violence, including naming and stopping situations that could lead to sexual violence before it happens, stepping in during an incident, and speaking out against ideas and behaviors that support sexual violence. It also gives individuals the skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors after an assault has taken place."7

The Bystander Intervention Toolkit (PDF, 1.2MB) is a guide intended for middle school and high school teachers, college professors, faculty members, administrators, youth group leaders, faith leaders and/or other program coordinators. The toolkit provides resources to build safer and healthier schools, colleges, universities and communities by preventing sexual violence. The toolkit includes an overview of existing programs and resources that utilize the bystander intervention approach aimed at middle, high school and college-age youth.


  1. Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2004). Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention. Journal of Community Psychology, 32, 61–79.
  2. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Uniform Crime Report.
  3. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. National Institute of Justice, (1998). Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey (NCJ 172837).
  4. Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., Turner, M.G. National Institute of Justice, (2000). The Sexual Victimization of College Women(NCJ 182369).
  5. McFarlane, J., Sexual Assault Among Intimates: Frequency, Consequences, and Treatments (2005).
  6. Katz, J. (2011, December 01). Penn State: The mother of all teachable moments for the bystander approach. Retrieved from
  7. National Sexual Violence Resource Center, (2011). It's incorporate the bystander approach into sexual violence prevention. Retrieved from National Sexual Violence Resource Center website: