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  • Kelsey Erwin

Public Health and the Prevention of Domestic Violence

Public health – two words brought to great attention because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many headlines during this time stated that the pandemic may have increased rates of domestic violence [1]. The role of public health in preventing domestic violence existed well before COVID-19 did. The pandemic simply provided a shining light on public health and its importance in preventing violence in the home.

Public health has become a more popular term because of the pandemic, but how does it relate to domestic violence? Public health focuses on using strategies to prevent violence and harm in communities [2]. It also emphasizes that these strategies aim to help the greatest number of people. Importantly, the major goal of public health is to prevent domestic violence before it occurs, not after. This is what public health professionals call “primary prevention”. Preventing domestic violence before it occurs is more cost-effective than providing services after abuse has happened [3]. Individuals and the community as a whole are safer when there is less violence in the first place.

Public health focuses on collaborative efforts of professionals from different fields such as political, medical, educational, etc. Prevention of domestic violence begins far outside of individual families, partners, and relationships. It starts within the communities and populations in which we all live, work and play. The prevention of domestic violence must be addressed on several different levels depicted below:

This is a description of the social-ecological model, which public health professionals use to prevent violence. Think of it as a cake with four separate tiers. Each tier supports the one on top of it, and they generally get smaller the higher up they are. You can still have a separate “slice” of each tier, but altogether it creates one “cake”, framework, or issue. This idea of a “cake” is a simple version of the factors and components that can influence domestic violence.

What does each level mean in the social-ecological model? [4]

  • Individual: These are things that are specific to each person, such as age, income, education, attitudes/beliefs, and behaviors.

  • Relationship: This includes an individual’s close family, friends, and partners and how these various relationships can influence the individual.

  • Community: Places such as school, work, neighborhoods, or communities that affect both an individual and the relationships around them.

  • Societal: Focuses on the effects of politics, as well as cultural and social norms in shaping communities, relationships, and individuals.

We will be sharing two more blogs, exploring how domestic violence can be prevented through the different layers of public health. Tune back in soon to see more specifically how each layer of public health can be used to prevent domestic violence!

The above post was written by Outreach and Education intern, Brandi H. She is currently finishing up her Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Her graduate studies at the U have allowed her to expand on her personal and academic interests in domestic violence prevention and we are happy to have her with us.


  1. Taub A. A new COVID-19 crisis: Domestic abuse rises worldwide. 2020. The New York Times.

  2. Violence Prevention Alliance. The VPA approach. 2022. World Health Organization.

  3. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Costs of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in the United States. 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  4. The Division of Violence Prevention. The Social-Ecological Model: A Framework for Prevention. 2022. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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