Topic: Violence and abuse

Prevention of domestic violence. Mapping out knowledge for at way forward

Moen, L. H., Bergman, S., & Øverlien, C. (2018). Forebyggende tiltak mot vold i nære relasjoner. Kartlegging av kunnskap for veien videre [Prevention of domestic violence. Mapping out knowledge for at way forward] Norwegian only. (Rapport 2/2018).


Prevention of domestic violence and sexual abuse can occur at several levels, both prior to the emergence of the violence and through stopping ongoing violence. This report highlights universal and selective preventive measures. This means that the measures are undertaken before the violence has occurred and aim at the general population or individuals, families or groups that are most vulnerable or at risk.

The report is commissioned by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security. The backdrop for the assignment is the first measure in the Action Plan Against Violence in Close Relations (2014–2017), which gives the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) the task to gather together knowledge on ongoing and completed measures in Norway that have, or are expected to have, positive significance in the work against violence in close relations.

The report focuses on measures that have undergone scientific evaluation or other forms of written documentation where these are available. We also refer to good examples of preventive measures in other countries and elaborate which principles and criteria should be considered in future work when disseminating or establishing preventive measures in Norway. We carried out an extensive literature search for research-based and professional literature on prevention against violence in close relations. In addition, we arranged meetings with actors who possess experience, knowledge and competence and who are active contributors in the field. This material complemented well the information we collected from the research publications and the professional literature.

The mapping shows that this field consists of a large number of actors who do an extensive amount of work in order to prevent violence and sexual abuse in Norway. Several different kinds of 15NKVTS Rapport nr 2/2018institutions, authorities, voluntary and private organisations initiate measures. These are carried out with various kinds of approaches, in several fields and they are oriented towards different goal groups. There is a need for increased emphasis on universal and selective measures in order to prevent violence and abuse emerging in the first place. This means, inter alia, that measures aiming at supporting families and networks are to be prioritised, so that most adults around exposed children have psycho-social competence. Such a prioritisation can ensure that all children have reliable adults close to them who see, listen and act. Measures such as school[1]based teaching programmes, information and support in day-careinstitutions and digital health services provide a good basis for reaching out to as many children and youths as possible with openness and communication about the theme from a young age onwards. Simultaneously, these measures help adults around the children to maintain focus on the problem. At the same time, we know that a system of compulsory home visits to families with young children gives possibilities for the early identification of difficulties so that supportive measures and intervention can be introduced.

The previous examples also point to the importance of securing knowledge-based and coordinated preventive measures, both nation-wide and locally. Measures also have to be strengthened in respect of attitude-shaping work against violence that is directed towards broad groups in the population or especially vulnerable groups. Campaigns and information measures is the least evaluated preventive strategy, according to international research. Available evaluations focus upon changing attitudes, not changing the prevalence of violence. In addition, it is uncertain how long the effect will prevail. Therefore campaigns have to be followed up by other measures and on other arenas, for example in working life and within organizations, schools and other educational institutions as well as within legislation.

Short-lived preventive measures and single measures seldom have any major effect or impact. As our mapping shows, more long-term programmes are now developed, particularly those that are directed towards children and young people. It is, however, more difficult to 16Summaryfind examples of universal or selective prevention aimed at adults and the elderly, with the exception of media- and information campaigns and some measures aimed at migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

The majority of measures have not been evaluated and there is little systematic knowledge about which kinds of preventive measures have an impact. This means that we have limited knowledge about the impacts of the measures undertaken. We found reports and articles with a variety of methodological approaches, different scientific standards and several publications that lacked an attachment to the research field. A few measures are connected to international studies since they were first used abroad. Several of the reports show good results, but there are many other factors in the life-situation of the users that impact the perceived improvement, such that any improvement might not necessarily be a direct result of the measure itself. It is therefore difficult to give research-based information about the significance, impact, effects or results of the measures that have been carried out and are used in the field as of today. On the other hand, a measure not showing an effect is not synonymous with it lacking importance. The biggest part of the documentation we have identified gives us important experience-based knowledge about how the measures have worked for users and employees. Such experiences may have a crucial importance for future work with preventing violence and abuse.

In the report, we refer to a number of preventive measures from other countries that have been evaluated by scholarly studies, and that are considered as having an effect or showing promising results. One measure we have highlighted depicts experiences from several Nordic and European countries that indicate that low threshold telephone lines for adults with sexual feelings towards children can increase the consciousness of sexual abuse and protect children that are at risk for being exposed. Another example is an evidence-based educational programme from North America. This measure provides for a good psycho-social environment at school and aims at preventing teenage intimate partner violence, violence between same-aged young people, group violence and bullying. From Sweden 17NKVTS Rapport nr 2/2018we have included an example of a broad universal campaign against physical punishment of children, which repeated scientific evaluations have shown to have had a big impact on both attitude and actions.

In the report we also take an international glance at evaluated measures within violence prevention that use gender-based approaches. We, inter alia, refer to analyses carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicating that preventive measures aimed at changing attitudes and norms related to gender and gender relations may have a bigger impact than measures with a more gender-neutral approach. In Sweden, where violence prevention has a clear gender-based orientation, authorities cooperate with researchers in developing knowledge and methodological support for violence prevention particularly aimed at boys and men.

It is of crucial importance that prevention of violence is seen in the context of a more general societal perspective, and as part of general welfare-, family-, health- and gender equality politics and policies. Good and successful preventive work demands early efforts, sustainability, cooperation and that different perspectives and knowledge traditions are included with a common goal of preventing violence and abuse. The challenge is to agree upon what can be recommended for dissemination or the establishment of measures. One way to achieve this goal can be to pose some over-arching general criteria. In the report, we have, on the basis of our survey and the literature in the field, identified some major principles for prevention connected to positive effects or promising results. It is important that the measures have the following characteristics:

  • the measures are extensive, have a comprehensive approach and persist over time
  • the measures are introduced at an early stage
  • the measures are targeted and use several approaches to reach the goal group
  • the measures have socio-cultural relevance• the measures are research-based and undergo evaluation

    In addition, we think that measures are purposeful if they:

  • are equally available throughout the country
  • are based on cooperation between relevant professional milieu
  • are carried out in a supporting organizational context• provide space for professionals to practice how to thematise violence in close relations• are described clearly in municipal action plans

It is challenging to identify and obtain knowledge about the prevention of violence and abuse as long as documentation is lacking in respect of the work that has been carried out. At least as important is the fact that it is difficult to evaluate which measures should be continued when documentation and research on the measures is lacking. It is therefore necessary to change the way of thinking, the priorities and the investment in the field, towards early and extensive measures, as well as to undertake evaluations and research on these same measures.

The Researchers