This paper explains how a public health framework can be applied to prevent violent extremism, with a focus on lessons learned from the evaluation of Safe Spaces, a public health model for preventing violent extremism.
The Safe Spaces Program has the goals of strengthening community resilience and promoting a healthy environment by empowering communities with practical and effective tools. A public health approach is an alternative to the national security framing of violent extremism prevention. Under the public health model, primary prevention may include community-based strategies that mitigate modifiable risk and leverage protective factors, such as parenting support and social and behavioral education. Secondary prevention may include strategies focused on individuals who have been identified as exhibiting characteristics known to be risk factors for violent behavior. Tertiary prevention refers to strategies that focus on individuals who have already shown a commitment to terrorist organizations or committed violent acts. Safe Spaces as implemented by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) had training, technical assistance, and implementation issues that undermined its effectiveness. Suggestions for improving Safe Spaces implementation pertain to reframing programs to address broader community needs; committing to public health language and framings; focusing on one level of the model at a time; and delivering public health violence prevention across multiple communities.