Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment [saj] PL100-164 December 9, 1999 2:1 Style ﬁle version Nov. 19th, 1999
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2000
The Public Health Approach to the Prevention
of Sexual Violence
Pamela M. McMahon
This paper presents the publichealth approach to the prevention of sexualviolence.
The public health approach addresses primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of
prevention. An explanation of each level of prevention is given as it relates to the
area of sexual violence. Additionally, the public health approach attempts to shift
the focus of prevention from potential victims to potential perpetrators. The four
steps of the public health model are presented with examples of how the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention are applying this model to sexual violence
KEY WORDS: public health; sexual violence; prevention.
There is undoubtedly agreement among professionals and lay persons that
sexual violence is a criminal activity. Our society, through the criminal justice
system, has institutionalized a series of actions to follow an accusation of sexual
offense, which is meant both to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable for his or
her behavior and to punish the individual if convicted of the offense. The criminal
justice approach to violence prevention is clearly one that deals with violence
after the fact. A complementary approach emphasizing prevention efforts that
decreases the probability that violence will occur in the ﬁrst place is the public
health approach. Though the conceptualization of sexualviolenceas a public health
issue is relatively recent, the public health approach clearly offers the potential to
diminish the number ofviolent sexual offendersencounteredby the criminal justice
Family and Intimate Violence Prevention Team, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia.
To whom correspondence should be addressedatCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, Division
of Violence Prevention, Mailstop K-60, 4770 Buford Highway, N.E., Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3724.