Sexual and Domestic Violence Risk Factors

Sexual and Domestic Violence Risk Factors

A visual depiction of sexual and domestic violence risk factors. The graphic is explained below.


Explanation of the graphic:

Sexual and domestic violence can be visualized as a four-level circular graphic. There are four circles, or layers, and each is inside the next layer. This is a part of systems theory, when each system, or level, influences the others based on a micro or macro level of importance.

At the very center, inside of everything, is the Individual level

Individual – Influences: attitudes and beliefs that support sexual and domestic violence; impulsive and anti-social behavior; childhood history of witnessing sexual or domestic violence; alcohol and drug use.

Surrounding the individual level is the Relationship level.

Relationship – Influences: Association with aggressive peers (physically and sexually); family environment that is emotionally unsupportive, physically violent, or strongly patriarchal.

Surrounding the Relationship and Individual levels combined is the Community level.

Community – Influences: general tolerance of sexual assault and domestic violence; lack of support from police or judicial system; poverty, lack of employment opportunities, weak community sanctions against perpetrators.

Surrounding the Relationship, Individual, and Community levels is the final level, societal.

Societal – Influences: Inequalities based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, economic, and social policies.




To prevent sexual and domestic violence, we have to understand what factors influence its occurrence. The model offers a framework for understanding the complex interplay of individual, relationship, social, political, cultural, and environmental factors that influence sexual and domestic violence, and also provides key prevention and intervention points.


  • Individual-level influences are biological and include personal history factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or perpetrator of violence. Interventions for individual-level influences are often designed to target social and cognitive skills and behavior and include approaches such as counseling, therapy, and educational training sessions.
  • Interpersonal relationship-level influences are factors that increase risk as a result of relationships with peers, intimate partners, and family members. A person’s closest social circle – peers, partners, and family members – can shape the individual’s behavior and range of experience. Interventions for interpersonal relationship-level influences could include family therapy, bystander intervention skill development, and parenting training.
  • Community-level influences are factors that increase risk based on community and social environments and include an individual’s experiences and relationships with schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. For example, lack of sexual harassment policies in the workplace can send a message that sexual harassment is tolerated, and that there may be few or no consequences for those who harass others. Interventions for community-level influences are typically designed to impact the climate, systems, and policies in a given setting.
  • Societal-level influences are larger, macro-level factors that influence sexual and domestic violence that create or sustain gaps and tensions between groups of people. For example, rape is more common in cultures that promote male sexual entitlement and support an ideology of male superiority. Interventions for societal level influences typically involve collaborations by multiple partners to change laws and policies related to sexual and domestic violence or gender inequality. Another intervention would be to determine societal norms that accept violence and to identify strategies for changing those norms.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexual Violence prevention: beginning the dialogue. Atlanta, GA: CDC; 2004.


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