Why focus on risk and protective factors

pullquote risk and protection

What are risk and protective factors for violence? According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Violent behavior is complex. Many things increase or decrease the likelihood of violence ... Things that make it more likely that people will experience violence are called risk factors. Things that make it less likely that people will experience violence or that increase their resilience when they are faced with risk factors are called protective factors.” 

pulloutquote complexRISK FACTORS

  • INCREASE the likelihood a person will use violence. "They are contributing factors and may or may not be direct causes." (CDC)
  • ARE NOT determinative. "Not everyone who is identified as at risk becomes a perpetrator of violence." (CDC)


  • BUFFER against risk. They are conditions, characteristics, and influences that may decrease the likelihood of perpetrating or being the victim of violence.
  • ENCOURAGE a positive, health-promoting focus. They are at the core of asset-based or strengths-based prevention strategies.


Because risk and protective factors help to explain and predict the likelihood of violence, they can be incredibly useful tools for developing violence prevention strategies. When developing a prevention strategy to address the risk or protective factors relevant to your community, there are some important things to keep in mind:

      • Not all risk and protective factors are created alike. Some risk and protective factors have a much stronger influence on violence than others. For example, CDC identifies “being a victim of physical or psychological abuse” as one of the strongest, consistent predictors of intimate partner violence. Understanding which factors are more influential is essential to prioritizing which factors you should address. The strength of association between a risk or protective factor and a given outcome can be obtained by looking to resesarch published on the topic - meta-analyses and systematic reviews, two types of studies, provide the most complete picture on these relationships.
      • Not all risk and protective factors are changeable. It’s not possible, for example, to change an individual’s history of experiencing violence, an important risk factor for perpetration. However, you should not overlook risk and protective factors that can’t be changed; they can be used to identify individuals or communities that may benefit from enhanced interventions.

      • Risk and protective factors are additive. The more risk factors a person has, the greater their risk for perpetrating or being a victim of violence. The more protective factors a person has, the less their risk for perpetrating or becoming a victim of violence

connecting the dots


  • Some risk and protective factors are associated with multiple forms of violence and other health outcomes.

This is the thrust of the Prevent Violence NC project. Focusing on these shared risk and protective factors is likely to:

      • have an IMPACT on many outcomes
      • increase opportunities for NEW PARTNERSHIPS and audiences
      • allow advocates to LEVERAGE scarce prevention resources
      • ACKNOWLEDGE the complex reality in which violence takes place
      • EXPAND the notion of what constitutes violence prevention to include a larger selection of proven approaches to promote wellbeing

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Prevention Institute outlined the advantages and importance of using shared risk and protective factors in violence prevention in their brief, Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Between Multiple Forms of Violence. Given the countless influences on violence, the tendency for multiple forms of violence to co-occur within individuals, families, and communities, and the limited resources available to address violence, focusing on shared risk and protective factors can be a highly effective and engaging way to structure a comprehensive violence prevention strategy.

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Prevent Violence NC organizes a large set of risk and protective factors shared across North Carolina's five prioritized violence outcomes into a set of five Key Strengths for violence prevention. Each of these Key Strengths, when nurtured and supported in communities, families, and individuals, can help to prevent child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, suicide, AND youth violence. Read about how to use risk and protective factors and our Key Strengths to guide prevention efforts at the links below.

Using Risk and Protective Factors to Develop a Prevention Strategy