Overview of the sector

down arrow


History of the prevention sector

Work striving to prevent family violence and violence against women before it occurs is not new. Primary prevention has been carried out for many years by leaders, activists, and organisations spanning local government, specialist family violence services, women’s health services, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and academia.

Victoria has an extensive history in driving progress towards the primary prevention of family violence and violence against women.

Learn about Victoria’s primary prevention sector – where it’s come from and where it’s going.

Pre 2000s
This era is defined by feminist and activist awareness and intervention.

Prior to 2000, primary prevention was not conceptually defined and the ‘sector’ did not really exist. Much of the work was led by the women’s sector and focused on preventing future harm (early intervention). It was closely linked to family violence response. Around this time, leaders in women’s movements started driving prevention evidence and policy.

In this five-year period, prevention of violence against women took on a health promotion focus and a primary prevention sector started to emerge.  

A number of organisations and agencies were involved in primary prevention during this time:  

  • VicHealth led statewide primary prevention through research, practice and funding. 
  • Women’s health services took an active coordination role through the lens of health promotion.
  • The Office for Women was the primary government agency involved. 
  • Women’s services and family violence response agencies began implementing primary prevention activity and leading regional planning. 
  • Sexual assault services led activity in schools.

This era is characterised by a feminist and social justice approach to primary prevention.

  • VicHealth maintained a leadership role around evidence and practice development. 
  • The White Ribbon role and brand started to expand. 
  • The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) played a leadership and coordination role in supporting an increasing number of councils/local governments to engage in PVAW. 
  • Sports settings and workplaces led on-the-ground activity. 
  • Universities started to take up a role in awareness-raising.
  • There was growth in the activity led by local governments.
  • Media organisations started playing a bigger role.
  • The take up of respectful relationships education across schools expanded significantly, but it was uncoordinated at this stage. 
  • The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children was released.
  • National organisations Our Watch and ANROWS were established.  

2016 and beyond
Primary prevention work moved from specific sectors to being ‘everyone’s business’.

  • The Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down 227 recommendations aimed at reducing the prevalence and impact of family violence in Victoria, including a number of recommendations calling for a holistic and robust approach to primary prevention.
  • Our Watch released Australia’s first national framework for the prevention of violence against women and their children – Change the Story
  • A number of state and national prevention strategies and action plans were released including Free from Violence: Victoria’s strategy to prevent family violence and all forms of violence against women
  • Respectful relationships education became part of the core curriculum for state and Catholic schools in Victoria.
  • Diverse organisations led on-the-ground work, including Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, Neighbourhood Houses, Primary Care Partnerships and mainstream community agencies. 
  • There is corporate and public sector involvement in primary prevention.
  • Large mainstream agencies (for example, AFL Victoria, Monash University and AMES) self-fund prevention work.
  • Gender Equity Victoria (formerly Women’s Health Association of Victoria) became the Victorian peak body for gender equity, women’s health and the prevention of violence against women.
  • Respect Victoria – the state’s independent statutory authority focused on the prevention of family violence – was established.

The Gender Equality Act 2020 was enacted.

The current state of primary prevention in Victoria

Today, primary prevention work is carried out by organisations and individual practitioners across a range of sectors. Education, local government, women’s health services and specialist family violence services all play key roles in delivering prevention initiatives, alongside specialist prevention organisations such as Our Watch and Respect Victoria.

There is a strong focus in the Victorian sector on targeting communities at higher risk of experiencing or perpetrating violence, including Aboriginal communities, multicultural communities, migrant and refugee communities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, older Victorians and people with disability. 

Primary prevention work in Victoria takes an evidence-informed approach that:

  • targets the whole population 
  • addresses the four gendered drivers of violence 
  • focuses primarily on universal and mainstream institutions and sectors where people live, work, learn, socialise and play
  • looks to change structures, norms and practices. 

There are a number of strategies used across the state to prevent family violence and violence against women:

  • direct participation programs 
  • community mobilisation and strengthening
  • organisational and workforce development
  • communications and social marketing
  • civil society advocacy
  • legislative and policy reform
  • research, monitoring and evaluation.

The role of Safe and Equal in the sector

Safe and Equal has a strategic focus on preventing family and gender-based violence. 

We have dedicated staff working across all facets of the prevention landscape – practice and workforce development, training, sector development, leadership, policy and projects. 

The focus of our primary prevention work is to expand the reach, impact and sustainability of our activity supporting the development of the prevention workforce and sector. We are also focused on developing and adapting activities to respond to the emerging needs of the workforce, particularly in relation to COVID-19.

Building on the principles of primary prevention, our approach to capability building also seeks to impact change across the socio-ecological model by adopting a multi-model approach. Through this approach, we not only aim to support individuals with skills and knowledge, but also organisations and broader systems (particularly through our policy, advocacy and leadership activities).

Building on important partnerships we have established to date, we are seeking to strengthen and resource new and existing partnerships with diverse communities, prevention stakeholders and practitioners to inform our work. 

Key challenges for the sector

In any major reform – and any culture change activity – there are going to be challenges, and the prevention of family and gender-based violence is no exception.

Key challenges – historical, current and emerging:

  • piecemeal and project focused investment
  • lack of focus on infrastructure, policy and systems
  • hard to fund in the context of overwhelming response demand
  • leadership and ownership can be difficult
  • complex to maintain focus and public support
  • need for buy-in from a range of players
  • lack of shared understanding about evidence and key concepts
  • risks around watering down of conceptual framework
  • limited intersectional frameworks and siloed ‘diversity’ activity
  • evidence gaps
  • new sector and small workforce whose skills are still emerging
  • concurrent scale up and evidence building
  • impacts of COVID-19 on family and gender-based violence, particularly for those impacted by intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression
  • impacts of COVID-19 on the primary prevention workforce.

The future of the sector

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home measures have created new challenges for delivering primary prevention initiatives. It’s also had significant impacts on the wellbeing of practitioners in the sector, many of whom are women. 

The pandemic has also had varied impacts on different parts of the Victorian community, in many ways deepening inequality and creating higher risk of violence for women and groups experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage and oppression. The sector must adapt to continue to deliver effective primary prevention initiatives in this new context with continued remote working and online delivery of activities. 

Building prevention structures and systems is one of the key priority areas in the first Action Plan associated with Free From Violence. This focus reflects Australia’s national framework for primary prevention, Change the Story, which highlights the importance of strong infrastructure to support cross-sectoral practice, enable policy and legislative reform and provide the leadership and coordination necessary to drive broad, deep and sustainable change. While resourcing program delivery and evidence-building is also imperative, the reach and impact of local, programmatic activity will be limited without a strong and robust prevention infrastructure and workforce. 

Coordination and infrastructure are currently key gaps within the prevention sector. While Victoria leads the way in developing, testing and embedding innovative prevention practice and the industry has experienced rapid growth, most activity is not consistently coordinated. There remains no central point for government, practitioners and organisations to seek industry-informed advice.

Building an expert, qualified and connected prevention sector is critical to achieving the outcomes set out in the Family Violence Outcomes Framework and Free From Violence. In particular, the prevention workforce plays a key role in increasing awareness about violence, building skills and confidence to challenge violence-supportive attitudes, improving the safety of homes, organisations and communities, and building the capability of individuals to live and practice safe, equal and respectful relationships.

There are many interconnected structures required to embed evidence-based practice approaches and ensure that primary prevention activity in Victoria is consistent and effective. With a focus on strengthening the prevention workforce, a robust infrastructure must include mechanisms to support capability building and industry development, such as:

  • evidence-based policy and practice frameworks that support high-quality activities
  • open, multi-directional communication between practitioners, organisations, lead agencies and government 
  • industry-informed governance structures and advice to government 
  • quality assurance and improvement frameworks, both in terms of prevention practice and approaches to education and training for prevention practice
  • collaborative, cross-setting leadership and governance to inform policy, advocacy and support coordination
  • clear and accessible pathways for practitioner supply and career development
  • established practitioner credentials, encompassing qualifications, capabilities and experience
  • trusted, central points of information where professionals and organisations can access relevant, quality-controlled evidence, tools and resources
  • consistent, evidence-based pre-service education and training and ongoing professional development
  • cross-sector and cross-setting communities of practice to support collaborative learning
  • tailored, dedicated statewide, sector and setting-specific coordination
  • frameworks and guidelines for testing new and emerging practice approaches.


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin