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Safe neighborhoods, safe relationships: the role of community development

Written by Lisa Fujie Parks, MPH on December 4, 2017

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Momentum is growing for preventing intimate partner violence through supportive, equitable community environments

What would our neighborhoods look like if – by design – they supported safety and helped to prevent violence in relationships? How can community development partner with neighborhood residents to build environments that support these safe relationships? In August 2017, Build Healthy Places Network’s Mia Kirk participated in a gathering of representatives from the public health, housing, community development, and domestic violence services sectors to explore these questions. The meeting, held at Prevention Institute with generous support from Blue Shield of California Foundation, included representatives from 4 California communities, along with state partner organizations.

Community environments and intimate partner violence prevention: what’s the connection?

The Health Equity and Multisector Approach
to Preventing Domestic Violence report.

A new Prevention Institute report identifies six community-level factors that shape the dynamics of safety in our intimate relationships[i]: 

  1. Harmful norms that support: gender inequities and other power disparities within relationships; violence; and, lack of engagement and intervention in family matters.
  2. Weak social networks that result in distrust and isolation among individuals, couples, and families.
  3. Unwillingness to take action on intimate partner violence, or IPV, as a community issue that enables violence and discourages help-seeking.
  4. A retail environment with high alcohol outlet density and harmful marketing practices that model and reinforce harmful norms and culture.
  5. Housing insecurity that can contribute to stress, harmful coping behaviors, disruption of social networks, and economic insecurity.
  6. Economic insecurity for families and communities that can contribute to instability and difficulty providing necessary resources, and is related to concentrated disadvantage.

Because of the sector’s close relationships with residents and organizations, community development has an opportunity to promote resilience factors that are associated with safe relationships. Through promotion of: healthy norms; strong social networks and trust; willingness to take action on IPV as a community issue; low alcohol outlet density and healthy marketing practices; affordable, stable, and supportive housing; and family and community economic security, community development can influence factors associated with IPV and improve the health of the overall community.

IPV harms residents and impacts the community development sector

While years ago, sectors such as community development and housing may have viewed intimate partner violence as beyond their purview, awareness of the connections between IPV, health, housing, and community development are growing, and communities are beginning to address IPV through multisector strategies. As community development expands its focus on the social determinants of health, it is important to consider the influence that intimate partner violence has on the health and economic security of a community.

Graphic: The Environment Associated with Safe
Relationships and Reduced DV, from the report.

We know intimate partner violence causes harm to those directly involved, and contributes to injuries, housing insecurity, mental health and chronic health problems, including dependency on drugs and alcohol, and sexual risk behaviors.[ii] But there are even broader community ramifications, with IPV also increasing the risk of other types of violence (e.g., child abuse, sexual violence, and community violence)[iii] [iv] and diminishing the economic and social climate in neighborhoods. For example, IPV contributes to loss of productivity and lost wages from missing work.[v]

Experiencing and witnessing IPV harms the ability to form trusting relationships, tearing at the fabric of families and potentially contributing to intergenerational trauma. At the population level, these and other effects can be barriers to a healthy and vibrant community. IPV impacts the housing sector through increased turnover of housing units and associated costs. Reducing the incidence of IPV can have a positive impact on these and other issues that affect the community development sector, and can also contribute to reductions in other forms of violence.

A time of opportunity

There are an increasing number of community development corporations that are leveraging Community Development Block Grant funds and other resources and engaging in a range of IPV prevention and response activities. The potential for the community development sector to shape the community environment to support safe relationships and reduce IPV is vast, especially in partnership with residents, and housing, public health, and domestic violence services sectors.

To learn more about connection between community environments and intimate partner violence prevention, including specific strategies and examples, take a look at, A health equity and multisector approach to preventing domestic violence. This Prevention Institute report identifies opportunities for 13 sectors to shape community-level factors, including housing, community development, public health, and healthcare. It offers a method for multiple sectors to identify joint strengths, strategies, and outcomes to increase their effectiveness and impact. California organizations are encouraged to also visit the Sectors Acting for Equity (SAFE) project web page and contact to get involved.


[i] Prevention Institute. (2017). A Health Equity and Multisector Approach to Preventing Domestic Violence. Oakland, CA: Author.

[ii] Chibber, K, Cantor, J, and E Greenberg. (2016.) Domestic Violence Literature Review: Analysis Report. Boston, MA: JSI Research and Training Institute.

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2009). Child Maltreatment Fact Sheet.

[iv] Knickerbocker, L., Heyman, R. E., Smith Slep, A. M., Jouriles, E. N., & McDonald, R. (2007). Co-occurrence of child and partner maltreatment. European Psychologist, 12(1), 36-44.

[v] Chibber, K, Cantor, J, and E Greenberg. (2016.) Domestic Violence Literature Review: Analysis Report. Boston, MA: JSI Research and Training Institute.

About the Author


Lisa Fujie Parks, MPH

Lisa Fujie Parks, MPH, is an associate director at Prevention Institute where her portfolio includes projects and initiatives focused on promoting health equity and community resilience and preventing multiple forms of violence and trauma. Lisa has 20 years of leadership, program, and policy experience at the local, state (California), and national levels. Lisa’s work embodies a holistic, multi-sector approach that reflects her background in community development and public health and experience promoting healing and resilience. Lisa has designed, implemented, and evaluated local and state-level prevention initiatives employing policy, communications, and coalition-building strategies. She also has extensive experience providing capacity-building services, including curriculum development, in-person and online training and technical assistance, and facilitation of learning networks.