Social Ecological Model
Written by Sara Roorbach, Primary Prevention Specialist
At Prevail we not only focus on supporting survivors of crime and abuse and their families, but we also have programming to prevent violence from occurring. This is called primary prevention. Preventing violence using primary prevention is evidence-based and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has created many tools to help us understand the root causes of violence and explain the best ways to implement prevention initiatives in those target areas. One of those tools is the social ecological model (SEM). The SEM is a four-level model that considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors. It helps us to better understand how these factors influence one another and provides prevention strategies at each level. If our ultimate goal is to stop violence before it begins then we need to utilize tools to better understand the factors that influence and cause violence.
As for the four levels of the SEM, first there is individual, which identifies biological and personal history factors that increase the likelihood of becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. Some of these factors are education, income, or substance use. Next is the relationship level. This level recognizes how a person’s closest social circle like peers, partners and family members influence their behavior and contribute to their experience either for good or for bad. The following level is community, which explores the settings in which relationships occur, like schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Lastly is the societal level. The societal level looks at the broad societal factors that help create a climate in which violence is encouraged or inhibited.
The CDC suggests that it is important to act across multiple levels of the model at the same time. To put it simply, we cannot jump straight into societal changes if the community or individuals within the community are not bought in first. That is why Prevail’s primary prevention initiatives span the SEM and provide a dynamic approach to preventing violence. From educating youth at the individual level in schools to engaging partners at the community level, preventing violence is a complex long game, and that is why it takes all of us. It is also important to note that Prevail is not the only organization in Hamilton County, Indiana working on the primary prevention of violence. There are many initiatives, programs, and policies in place working across the SEM that ultimately prevent violence, even if that is not the identified goal. For example, when a park or playground gets cleaned up, revamped, and becomes more accessible by a bike or walking path, that is a community level strategy of making a community a more connected and safer place to live, work, and play.
See below examples of domestic violence prevention initiatives at each level of the SEM.