Prevention campaigns related to sexual violence are a tricky beast to tackle, feeling a bit less like uprooting one tree and instead attempting to shift an entire forest.

In the best of circumstances, results might be tangibly measured through increases in resource engagement, time or monetary donations to causes, shifts to policies, skill development, and the more elusive shift in beliefs. Weighing success against invested efforts and factoring in replicability is a complex weave.

In the worst conditions? Tracking prevention can feel exhausting.

Whether your primary role involves prevention planning or it falls in your purview as an “other duty as assigned,” there are ways to make planning prevention easier, more effective, and less stressful. 

When it comes to crafting an effective primary prevention campaign, the following rules have assisted me in helping partners see success.

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Before launching into a prevention campaign know your goals. Be as hyper-detailed as possible when setting them. 

Ending sexual violence is a valid mission. It is an overwhelming one. And too lofty to set as our own goal.

The more nuanced our campaign goals, the better. Instead of merely ending sexual violence, maybe your community needs skill development around secondary bystander engagement. Potentially it means helping people build healthy virtual relationships. It might mean nuanced survivor support for a niche population. The list goes on. 

The main reason prevention campaigns fail is their goals are too broad from the start.

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Compliance is mandatory. Successful prevention is personal.  Effective campaigns merge these.  Find better ways to make your populations care about compliance. Always remember that people care about people, not policies. 

Teach policies in a way that gives the general public a reason to care.

When you must educate your audience around compliance-based information, simplify, simplify, simplify. 

No one has ever learned a policy when the entire paragraph is pasted on a slide. 

Compliance matters. People must want to digest it though. They need to pay attention to make it effective.

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Plan using as much data as possible: community data, population data, societal data. Dig as deep as possible in your investigation. The more we can diagnose, the better we can react.

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When planning a campaign, highlight the top ten issues you would like to tackle. Narrow it down to five. Narrow it down to three. 

These three should be the maximum number of goals for a campaign running three to six months.

Less is more, from planning to deployment to adoption. Keep the other goals in mind; if you can work them into your campaign, fantastic. 

The more targeted and strategic your goals, the easier it is to assess, to plan, and to build community support. 

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Focus on both roots and wounds. Change takes time. Sometimes prevention must address the cultures, norms, attitudes, beliefs, and habits that empower sexual violence. 

Other times our work means managing immediate concerns and addressing harm. Prevention, even when grounded in an overarching goal, should adapt. If harm has been caused, fix this wound before reseting the mission of addressing the roots.

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Negative emotions are the antithesis of effective prevention. Eliciting and relying on fear, anger, and shock are flashes in the pan. Negative driven prevention rarely produces long-term change.

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Where possible, assess before, during, and after initiatives.

Assess before to hone your goals and marketing. Assess during campaigns to adapt existing efforts. Assess after to measure success.

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Assessment doesn’t need to be overly complex. Use formalized and informal tools.

Where possible, conduct institution-approved assessment. Never forget that a conversation with an unengaged population member or someone you notice reading a bit of your marketing can provide critical insight. From focus groups to attendee surveys to formal data collection, use the tools that make the most sense.

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Document everything. Another one of the main reasons prevention fails across the long-term is because a campaign relies on one person’s ideas or drive. 

Document all you can. Event name. Primary goal. Measures of success. Basic description. Logistical information. Cost. Hours required to set up. Target audience. Partners. Relevant notes. 

Documentation doesn’t need to be too complex; it is essential.

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Make your marketing calendar year agnostic. Or at least make it easy to change marketing material.

Instead of a Halloween 2020 campaign, can you just say Halloween? If you must use dates, can you design marketing that is easily edited?

Administrative tasks and marketing efforts should not be the most taxing part of prevention.

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Different populations require different avenues. Different populations need different support. From goal setting to assessment, be mindful of the populations within your community.

How can you segment? What is required to ensure all voices and concerns are heard?

Sexual violence does not impact everyone equally, nor does everyone contribute equally. Know how to break the issue down in your goals and initiatives.

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Always be mindful of stepping on others’ toes. Countless organizations are doing some variation of this work. Sometimes the most effective prevention effort is lifting up an initiative that someone else has already created.

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Be wary of mandating activities. You never know your audience members’ experiences.

Mandatory programs might harm survivors who are not ready to enter this space. Give people an out without requiring them to volunteer their rationale. Always provide content warnings in advance.

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It is okay to meet a population where they are so long as we do not leave them there. 

Sometimes we need to learn the ugly beliefs or behaviors held by a community before we can address these pieces. We should not normalize these behaviors, actions, or values, but we must be aware of them to do our work.

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Take care of yourself.  Prevention is exhausting. 

It is okay to take breaks. 

Make sure you are building in the right infrastructure and support networks to guard yourself. Burn out in prevention is exceedingly common. Be careful.

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Primary prevention is a complex tangle. It includes education, awareness, outreach, and foundational work. These further include everything from skill development to survivor support to marketing to resource creation to philanthropy to lobbying to planning to assessment to documentation. 

And more.

Don’t discard the different components of prevention. Changing legislation is incremental as is changing culture as is resource engagement. 

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Think smaller, especially in the increasingly virtual world.

A 15-minute program with high levels of engagement is much more impactful than a two-hour workshop with heavy eye lids. 

Plan for your activities to be able to occur in two ways; one path for in-person and one for virtual. Be able to shift on a moments notice.

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Think outside the box. 

Yes, this is a serious topic. With that said, there are components of prevention taught more effectively using a positive perspective. For example, some of the most effective ways of teaching consent stem from ethical sexual education and porn literacy. Teaching how to healthily manage conflict is a form of addressing sexual violence in relationships.

Bringing positive elements into this topic is not dismissing its seriousness. It can help engagement to include examples of what things look like when they are going well.

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Some spaces are for survivors only. Recognize, fund, and support these places. 

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Creating a successful prevention campaign is a taxing and sometimes difficult affair. With so many different obstacles, stakeholders, sources of input, and markers of success, it can feel overwhelming knowing where to start. In the balance of compliance versus human connection, I know that too frequently compliance tends to find a way to win out, existing as an unfortunate impediment on campaign outcomes instead of bolstering our work.

I firmly believe when enacted properly, a Sexual Violence Prevention Campaign can create change. And I’d love to help you with your work.

Please, get it touch if you’d like to chat, are facing obstacles in your prevention work, or would love to run an idea by me. Let me know how I can help.