Root Causes of Sexual and Relationship Violence

Various forms of violence are interconnected and share many of the same root causes. Awareness of the underlying root causes of violence, the risk factors that increase someone's risk of causing or experiencing harm, and the protective factors that may reduce risk, can better prevent violence in all its forms.

Call the Wellness Exchange Hotline at (212) 443-9999 or chat via the app anytime and ask for a Crisis Response Counselor (CRC). They can talk through your medical, mental health, and legal options and meet with you in person. Available 24 hours a day, every day.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are the conditions, circumstances, or characteristics associated with an individual or their environment that may increase the chance of the individual causing harm or being harmed. Risk factors do not cause the harm, but rather they are factors that increase the risk that harm could occur in any given situation.

Protective Factors

Protective factors are the conditions or attributes in individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that help people cope with stressful events and mitigate or reduce risk. Protective factors do not eliminate the risk and do not address the underlying root cause of sexual or relationship violence. For those at risk of causing harm, a protective factor could be models of healthy relationships and communication in their life, emotional health and connectedness to others, and experiencing empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others.

Upstander or Active Bystander Intervention

Upstander or active bystander intervention is part of primary prevention of sexual and relationship violence — it is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome. An upstander is someone who believes that it is everyone's responsibility to prevent harm, and who is willing to intervene before, during, and after a situation.

Anyone can have a voice in situations that they observe to be potentially or actually harmful. First, everyone should consider their own safety when contemplating whether or not to intervene. It may not be safe to directly respond to the person who may be causing harm. Information below is taken from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) but can also be applied when observing situations that impact relationship abuse.

For more information and strategies related to upstander intervention, you can consider taking the Action Zone training. You can also speak with someone at the Wellness Exchange or Counseling and Wellness Services about bystander intervention and other opportunities for training.

This is not an exhaustive discussion of root causes, risk factors, protective factors or upstander intervention. It is important to understand these concepts and consider how you can make choices and changes in your own life to impact the underlying root causes of sexual and relationship violence. NYU is dedicated to creating a community of sexual and relationship respect. If you would like more information on primary prevention of sexual and relationship violence, contact Counseling and Wellness Services to speak with a counselor who specializes in this area.