Before Going Upstream

In a previous blog post we introduced the Upstream parable and talked about how this blog was created as a resource to help people interested in the primary prevention of sexual violence. So, let’s continue our conversation about another kind prevention by being clear about how it is different from primary prevention. A lot of times when people talk about preventing sexual violence they cite examples of programs that are not primary prevention. To reiterate, primary prevention is about preventing sexual violence before it occurs; it involves programs and strategies that are designed to prevent first time perpetrator as well as first time victimization. There are lots of great programs out there that raise awareness or are risk reduction. But, some programs calling themselves prevention are not primary prevention. It is important to be clear about that. It is important to be clear about what primary prevention is and what primary prevention is not. An example of prevention that is not primary prevention is what is referred to as secondary prevention. Secondary prevention refers to an immediate response after an act of sexual violence. In other words, primary prevention prevents initial perpetration and victimization while secondary prevention is a response to a sexually violent act.


Remember the “Upstream” parable where the fishermen were sitting by the river. After sitting there they noticed someone caught in the rapids and drowning right in front of them. Some of them jumped in the river, grabbed the person drowning in the river, and dragged them to the shore saving them. And that person was followed by another person and another. Eventually, the river seemed full of downing people caught in the rapids. They all needed help. Jumping into the river to save the drowning people is an example of secondary prevention. Secondary prevention folks are responding to the needs of people that need help. Examples of this type of responder are trained advocates, who represent the interests of the victim. We need trained advocates like those at rape crisis centers in our communities to support survivors, educate them about their options, and connect them to resources. That work is vital and plays a part in how we respond as a community in our quest to end sexual violence.


Everyone in the community cannot do primary prevention work. With that said, everyone in the community cannot do secondary prevention work either. Both of these types of prevention require different skill sets. We need folks on the front lines pulling people out of the river and helping them. Some are better suited for that. And, we all benefit when we work together. The point of primary prevention though, just like the Upstream parable states, is that we start seeing fewer and fewer people drowning in the river making our communities safer for all of us. That means that as a community we have all done our part.