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College Students’ Perceptions of Barriers to Bystander Intervention


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Sexual violence is a major problem on college campuses and is associated with a range of negative health consequences for victims. Teaching students to intervene as prosocial bystanders has become a common element of sexual assault prevention efforts; although these programs have demonstrated positive effects on participants? beliefs and knowledge, their impact on actual behavior is weaker. Understanding the factors that inhibit intervening in risky situations may enhance the effectiveness of bystander programs by identifying material that addresses these barriers. A sample of 281 first-year college students indicated whether they had encountered 10 situations that may present elevated risk of sexual or physical assault since arriving on campus, and if so, whether they had done something to intervene. If they had not intervened, they were asked to identify the barriers that had inhibited them. Participants also completed measures of two factors proposed to predict bystander behavior, self-efficacy and
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Journal of Interpersonal Violence
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DOI: 10.1177/0886260517706764
College Students’
Perceptions of
Barriers to Bystander
Kristen Yule1 and John Grych1
Sexual violence is a major problem on college campuses and is associated
with a range of negative health consequences for victims. Teaching
students to intervene as prosocial bystanders has become a common
element of sexual assault prevention efforts; although these programs have
demonstrated positive effects on participants’ beliefs and knowledge, their
impact on actual behavior is weaker. Understanding the factors that inhibit
intervening in risky situations may enhance the effectiveness of bystander
programs by identifying material that addresses these barriers. A sample
of 281 first-year college students indicated whether they had encountered
10 situations that may present elevated risk of sexual or physical assault
since arriving on campus, and if so, whether they had done something
to intervene. If they had not intervened, they were asked to identify the
barriers that had inhibited them. Participants also completed measures
of two factors proposed to predict bystander behavior, self-efficacy and
emotion regulation. A majority of participants intervened in most of the
situations, but only 27% of participants intervened in every situation they
encountered. Men and women differed in the barriers they identified most
frequently across situations, with men endorsing Perceived Responsibility
more often than women, and women reporting Skill Deficits more often
than men. Neither men nor women perceived Audience Inhibition to be a
1Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kristen Yule, Department of Psychology, Marquette University, 604 North 16thStreet,
Milwaukee, WI 53233, USA.
706764JIVXXX10.1177/0886260517706764Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceYule and Grych
2 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
significant barrier; it was salient in only one of the 10 situations. Students
higher in global bystander self-efficacy were more likely to intervene and less
likely to report barriers related to skill deficits and perceived responsibility.
These results suggest that existing bystander intervention programs efforts
can be improved by fostering a greater sense of collective responsibility in
students and teaching specific intervention behaviors.
sexual assault, intervention, sexual assault, prevention, sexual assault,
situational factors, sexual assault
Sexual violence, including sexual coercion and sexual assault, is a major
problem on college campuses nationwide. Approximately 20% of women
and 6% of men report experiencing sexual assault while in college (Krebs,
Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2007), and victims report a range of
mental health problems, including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder
(PTSD) symptoms, and suicidal ideation (Gilboa-Schechtman & Foa, 2001;
Najdowski & Ullman, 2009; Ulman & Brecklin, 2002; Ullman & Filipas,
2001). For many years, the dominant approaches to reducing sexual assault
on college campuses were to target knowledge of and beliefs about sexual
consent and coercion and to teach self-protection strategies (e.g., Borges,
Banyard, & Moynihan, 2008; Hollander, 2014; Orchowski, Gidycz, & Raffle,
2008). However, these methods have not proven to be effective in reducing
sexual violence (DeGue et al., 2014; Lonsway et al., 2009). Recent efforts to
prevent sexual violence on college campuses have shifted from focusing on
potential perpetrators and victims to focusing on individuals who witness
violent or potentially violent interactions (aka “bystanders”). Bystander
intervention programs teach members of the college community to stop situ-
ations they observe from escalating into unwanted sexual or violent encoun-
ters and to help victims after such incidents (Banyard, 2008; Banyard,
Moynihan, & Crossman, 2009; Banyard, Moynihan, & Plante, 2007; Coker
et al., 2011). Evaluations of bystander intervention programs provide promis-
ing support for their capacity to change beliefs and knowledge about sexual
consent and coercion (Banyard et al., 2009; Banyard, Plante, & Moynihan,
2005; Moynihan & Banyard, 2008), but relatively little evidence that they
lead to more responsive behavior. The goal of the present study was to better
understand factors that inhibit bystander behavior by examining college stu-
dents’ perceptions of barriers to intervening in situations that may present
risk of physical or sexual violence to another person.
Yule and Grych 3
Bystander Intervention
Bystander intervention programs are designed to help participants learn to
recognize potentially risky situations, instill a sense of responsibility for
helping others in their community, and teach effective intervention behav-
iors. This approach is based on Latane and Darley’s (1970) theory of the
determinants of responsive bystander behavior. Their model outlines a series
of steps required for intervention to occur: bystanders need to notice the
event, identify it as dangerous, take responsibility for intervening, know how
to intervene, and then take action. Empirical evaluations of campus bystander
programs indicate that they have moderate-sized effects on participants’
knowledge about sexual assault, self-efficacy for intervening, and intent to
intervene, but only small effects on actual behavior (Banyard et al., 2009;
Banyard et al., 2007; Coker et al., 2011; Foubert, Langhinrichsen-Rohling,
Brasfield, & Hill, 2010; Katz & Moore, 2013; Kleinsasser, Jouriles,
McDonald, & Rosenfield, 2015; Miller et al., 2013; Moynihan & Banyard,
2008). Several factors appear to increase the probability of engaging in
responsive bystander behavior; some are consistent with Latane and Darley’s
(1970) model (feeling responsible for acting, greater self-efficacy), whereas
others reflect personal or social factors. For example, individuals are more
likely to intervene in a risky situation if they have a relationship with the
victim or perpetrator, are younger, female, have a history of victimization,
and report peer norms that are unsupportive of sexual coercion (Banyard &
Moynihan, 2011; Bennett, Banyard, & Garnhart, 2014; Brown, Banyard, &
Moynihan, 2014; Katz, Pazienza, Olin, & Rich, 2015; Palmer, 2016).
However, there also are barriers that can inhibit observers from interven-
ing. Getting involved in a potentially dangerous interaction between other
people presents some risk for the bystander. Their involvement may not be
welcomed by one or more of the participants or by others who are also pres-
ent, and could be met by adverse social or physical consequences. Furthermore,
many potentially risky situations are ambiguous; it may not be clear if there
is a threat, and if so, what the appropriate course of action would be. Most
college students, especially those in their first year, are seeking acceptance
and friendships in their new context and may view the costs of intervening as
outweighing its potential benefits.
Although many studies acknowledge that there are factors that can inter-
fere with students intervening in high-risk situations, only a handful have
empirically examined the links between potential barriers and bystander
behavior (Bennett et al., 2014; Burn, 2009; Katz, Colbert, & Colangelo,
2015; Katz, Pazienza, et al., 2015b). Burn (2009) developed a questionnaire
to assess obstacles to intervention that reflect each stage in Latane and
4 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
Darley’s (1970) model: failing to notice the event, failing to recognize it as
high risk, not feeling responsible for intervening, lacking the skills to inter-
vene, and fearing negative evaluation from peers. She found that all five
potential barriers were negatively correlated with college students’ reports of
the likelihood that they would intervene in risky situations. Two were unique
predictors when all five barriers were analyzed simultaneously: failure to
take responsibility, and for women, perceived lack of skills (Burn, 2009).
Bennett et al. (2014) used Burns’ measure to examine links between potential
barriers and college students’ reports of bystander behaviors that they had
engaged in over the prior 2 months. They found that two—failure to take
responsibility and skills deficits—correlated with lower levels of interven-
tion. Katz and her colleagues (Katz, Colbert, et al., 2015a; Katz, Pazienza,
et al., 2015b) took a different approach to assessing potential barriers by cre-
ating hypothetical vignettes that described a situation in which a student was
at risk of being sexually assaulted. They found that participants were less
likely to indicate that they would help the potential victim when they did not
believe it was their responsibility to intervene or reported concerns about
whether others would support them if they did.
These studies provide initial evidence of the barriers that are most likely
to impede even well-intentioned, well-informed students from engaging in
responsive bystander behavior, and suggest that perceived responsibility,
self-efficacy, and concerns about peers’ responses may be particularly
salient for college students. However, the conclusions that can be drawn
from these findings are limited because they assess barriers in relation to
general behavioral intentions or beliefs about how participants would act
in hypothetical situations rather than obstacles that inhibited participants
from intervening in situations that they actually had experienced. Many of
the questions on Burn’s (2009) measure are phrased hypothetically;
although participants may have encountered some of the situations, they
do not need to have personal experience in the situations to answer the
questions. For example, one of the responsibility items is “If I saw some-
one I didn’t know who was at risk for being sexually assaulted, I would
leave it up to his/her friends.” Research in social psychology has estab-
lished that behavioral intentions and beliefs are not strong predictors of
actual behavior (Bentler & Speckart, 1979; Kelley & Mirer, 1974; Webb &
Sheeran, 2006) and the kinds of situations in which bystander intervention
may be helpful often are stressful and anxiety provoking for bystanders
and are more complex than can be captured in an item on a questionnaire.
Consequently, it is not clear whether the results of these studies accurately
represent how participants perceive and respond to potentially dangerous
situations that they actually encounter.
Yule and Grych 5
Hoxmeier, Flay, and Acock (2016) addressed this issue by assessing
whether college students had the opportunity to engage in 12 bystander
behaviors that could occur prior to, during, or after a sexual assault and if so,
whether they engaged in each behavior. Bystander actions included, “Help
your friend who is passed out and being approached or touched by a guy or
group of guys” and “Interrupt the situation when you walk in on your friend
who is having sex with an intoxicated girl.” Participants also rated how easy
it would be to perform each behavior, how approving their friends would be
if they did, and how helpful the behavior would be. Compared with those
who reported engaging in a given bystander behavior, those who had the
opportunity but failed to enact the behavior reported lower efficacy to inter-
vene for eight of the 12 items and lower perceived approval from friends if
they engaged in the behavior for seven of the 12. The groups did not differ on
how helpful 11 of the 12 behaviors were perceived to be. This study provides
insight into factors that inhibited intervention in students who had experi-
enced a particular situation, but assessed only a few potential barriers and
only in the context of a sexual assault.
The Current Study
The goal of the present investigation was to increase understanding of barri-
ers that prevent responsive bystander behavior in college students. Knowing
why students who had the opportunity to intervene in potentially dangerous
situations but did not do so can improve bystander training programs by iden-
tifying the factors mostly likely to inhibit intervention. We focused on stu-
dents in their first semester on campus because they are at heightened risk for
assault at this time and often receive training in sexual assault prevention
(including bystander intervention) prior to or early in the first semester
(Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2009). We built on prior research
by examining a wider range of situations that could call for responsive
bystander behavior, including both physical and sexual assaults, and by
assessing barriers that occur at all of the steps described in Latane and
Darley’s (1970) model. In contrast to most studies of bystander behavior on
college campuses, we examined participants’ behavior only in situations that
they had actually experienced.
We also assessed three factors that might predict whether or not students
intervene. First, we examined whether there were gender differences in inter-
vention or barriers to intervening. Prior research has shown that female col-
lege students are more likely to engage in bystander behavior than are males,
but it is not known whether they perceive barriers to intervening differently.
Given that women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, we
6 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
anticipated that they would be less likely to report not feeling responsible for
intervening when they witnessed other women at risk. We did not make pre-
dictions for the other barriers. The second, self-efficacy, has been shown to
predict greater willingness to engage in bystander behavior in college stu-
dents (Banyard, 2008; Banyard & Moynihan, 2011; Banyard et al., 2007;
Palmer, 2016), but its relation to behavior in situations that students had actu-
ally encountered is less clear. We anticipated that participants with greater
self-efficacy for intervening would be less likely to report not knowing what
to do as a barrier. Finally, given the potential for risky situations to evoke
distress in bystanders, the capacity to effectively regulate emotion may be
important for engaging in responsive intervention behavior. More specifi-
cally, feeling high levels of anxiety about how to help and/or the potential
adverse consequences of intervening may inhibit bystander behavior.
Emotion regulation has not been examined as a predictor of bystander behav-
ior previously, and we predicted that students reporting more problems man-
aging emotional arousal would be less likely to intervene and more likely to
report lack of efficacy and fear of negative peer evaluations as barriers to
The present study aimed to answer the following research questions.
Research Question 1: How often do first-year college students intervene
in situations that present a risk of sexual and physical violence?
Research Question 2: For students who did not take action in these situ-
ations, what do they report were the primary barriers for intervening?
Research Question 3: Do the perceived barriers to intervention relate to
students’ (a) gender; (b) self-efficacy to intervene and (c) emotion
Participants were recruited from a midsized, private university in the
Midwestern United States. Toward the end of the fall semester, 650 students
were randomly selected from the first-year class (N = 1,547) and invited via
email to take part in an online study investigating how students handle risky
situations. Of the 297 (46%) who agreed to participate, 281 (43%) completed
the study and received a US$10 e-gift card for participating. The participants
(N = 281) ranged in age from 18 to 21 years (mean age = 19 years), and the
majority were female (65%) and identified their ethnicity as White (77.9%),
with smaller numbers identifying as Asian (8.5%), Latino/a (5.7%), Multiracial
Yule and Grych 7
(5.3%), Black or African American (2.1%), and American Indian (.40%).
Differences between students invited to participate and the final sample could
not be determined because demographic information was not available for
those who chose not to participate. However, the sample was comparable to
the first-year class as a whole in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity. Chi-
square goodness-of-fit tests indicated that the sample included somewhat
larger percentages of female (65% vs. 57%; χ2 = 7.568, p = .01) and White
(77.9% vs. 69%; χ2 = 10.49, p = .01) students than the first-year class as a
whole, but did not differ on other racial or ethnic categories.
The study was administered online using Qualtrics survey software. After
electronically signing the informed consent form, participants were directed
to a survey consisting of a series of self-report measures (described below)
that they completed anonymously. The university’s Institutional Review
Board approved all procedures.
Bystander situations. Participants completed the Bystander Situation Ques-
tionnaire, which was developed to assess situations experienced by college
students that present the threat or occurrence of sexual or physical assault.
The situations were chosen from two existing questionnaires, the Bystander
Behavior Scale (BBS; Banyard, 2008) and the Conceptual Framework for the
Prevention of Sexual Violence through Bystander Intervention (McMahon &
Banyard, 2012), and using input from a group of seven female undergraduate
research assistants (five, who identify as White; two, who identify as Latina;
mean age = 20 years) about the kinds of risky situations that they viewed
as most common on campus. The 10 situations selected represent a range
of interactions that could precede, occurring during, or follow a sexual or
physical assault and include the following: (a) Offensive joke: heard someone
make sexist, racist, or homophobic jokes, or catcalls; (b) Drunk and vulner-
able: saw an intoxicated person who appeared to be left alone at a party,
going home alone, or passed out at a party; (c) Uncomfortable woman: saw
a woman at a party or bar looking very uncomfortable with a man or group
of men around her; (d) Drugging: saw a drink get roofied or someone appear
to be trying to get another person drunk; (e) Questionable intentions: saw an
intoxicated person being led away by someone with questionable intentions;
(f) Sexual coercion: saw someone acting in a harassing or sexually aggres-
sive manner toward someone else; (g) Physical violence: saw someone act
aggressively (i.e., shoving, yelling, controlling) toward a person they were
8 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
dating or involved with; (h) Bruises: saw someone with unexplained bruises
that may be signs of an abusive relationship; (i) Learned of sexual assault:
learned or suspected that a friend was sexually assaulted; (j) Victim blaming:
heard someone imply or say, “she was asking for it” in reference to a person
who had been sexually assaulted.
Students reported whether or not they had encountered each situation
within the last 3 months (i.e., since the start of the semester) by checking
“yes” or “no.” If they chose “yes,” the next screen asked how many times
they had experienced each situation. If participants had been in a situation
more than once, they were asked to answer the questions that followed in
relation to their most recent experience. They then were asked to indicate
whether they had intervened or not. If they indicated that they had, they were
presented with a list of behaviors and asked to indicate which they had
engaged in; if they indicated that they had not intervened, they were asked
why they chose not to and presented with a list of reasons (i.e., barriers) for
not responding. The barriers were chosen to reflect the steps in Burn’s (2009)
model and worded to fit each situation. For instance, barriers for the “Drunk
and Vulnerable” situation included, “I didn’t think anything needed to be
done” (Perceived Risk), “I thought someone else would do something”
(Perceived Responsibility), “I didn’t know what to do” (Skill Deficit), and “I
was afraid that other people would make fun or criticize me if I did some-
thing” (Audience Inhibition). Participants also had the option of writing in a
response if there was a reason they had failed to intervene that was not listed.
Few participants wrote in responses (6%), and those that fit into one of the
four types of barriers described above were coded accordingly. Those that did
not correspond to any of the categories (many of which consisted of descrip-
tions of the situation or stated that someone else intervened instead) were
coded as “Other.” Because the number of “Other” responses is small, they
were not analyzed for this study.
Efficacy for intervening. Participants completed 14 items from the Bystander
Efficacy Scale (BES; Banyard et al., 2007) to indicate their feelings of effi-
cacy for intervening when witnessing actual or potential sexual assault situa-
tions. For each item, students rated how confident they felt performing each
particular behavior (0 = can’t do, 100 = very certain can do). Example items
include, “Ask a friend if they need to be walked home from a party” and
“Do something to help a very drunk person who is being brought upstairs to
a bedroom by a group of people at a party.” Item responses were averaged
to provide an index of feelings of efficacy with higher scores indicating a
greater degree of confidence intervening in potential situations of risk and
violence. Only one participant failed to complete all the items, but as only
Yule and Grych 9
two responses were missing, this participant’s score was computed as the
average of the 12 items they answered and included in the analyses. The
internal consistency of this measure in the current sample was α = .90.
Emotion regulation. Participants completed the Difficulties in Emotion
Regulation Scale (DERS; Gratz & Roemer, 2004) to measure emotion regu-
lation ability. The DERS is a 36-item self-report questionnaire that assesses
characteristic patterns of emotion regulation and includes items such as, “I
experience my emotions as overwhelming and out of control” and “I pay
attention to how I feel.” Respondents rated their level of agreement with
each statement on a 5-point scale (1 = almost never, 5 = almost always).
Item responses were summed to provide an index of emotion regulation. The
scores on items were reversed, so that higher scores reflect a greater emotion
regulation difficulty. The internal consistency of this measure in the present
sample was α = .93.
Rates of Experiencing and Responding in Risky Situations
Nearly all of the participants (n = 260, 93%) reported experiencing at least
one situation in their first semester on campus in which responsive bystander
behavior could have been helpful. The average number of situations encoun-
tered was two (M = 2.14, SD = 1.50) but the range was large, from zero to
nine. As Table 1 shows, the most common situation was hearing someone
make a sexist, racist, homophobic joke, or catcall (n = 239, 85%), and the
least common was seeing someone with unexplained bruises that could be
signs of an abusive relationship (n = 7, 3%). Many participants also reported
being in situations in which someone was at heightened risk for sexual
assault; nearly half reported seeing an intoxicated person alone at a party,
going home alone, or passed out at a party, and about 20% saw an intoxicated
person being led away by someone who appeared to have questionable inten-
tions or witnessed a woman at a party or bar looking uncomfortable with a
man or group of men. Participants also reported fairly high rates of bystander
behavior (see Table 1). In all but two situations, over half of the participants
reported intervening, and for many situations, 75% or more of participants
indicated that they did something. The situations that led to the highest rate
of bystander behavior were learning or suspecting that a friend had been sex-
ually assaulted (88%), seeing an intoxicated person left alone at or after a
party (84%), and seeing a woman who looked uncomfortable with one or
more men (82%). The situations in which the fewest participants reported
10 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
intervening were seeing someone with suspicious bruises (43%; also the least
commonly encountered situation) and hearing an offensive joke (56%; the
most frequently encountered situation).
Barriers to Intervention
Although bystander intervention was fairly common in this sample, there
were many instances in which participants reported that they did not do any-
thing in a potentially dangerous situation. Across the 10 situations, more than
half of the participants (73%) reported that they experienced but did not take
action as a bystander in at least one of the situations, and only 27% of partici-
pants reported actively responding in all of the high-risk situations that they
witnessed. Participants who failed to intervene generally identified more than
one factor as a salient barrier, which reflects the complexity of these situa-
tions. As Table 2 shows, the frequency of reporting each type of barrier varied
across situations, but in nearly every situation the most frequently identified
barriers to intervening were not feeling responsible for doing something and
not knowing what to do. Failure to identify the circumstances as potentially
Table 1. Situations of Violence Experienced and Action Response by First-Year
Students (N = 281).
(Since the start of the fall
semester, have you . . .)
n (%)
Number of
n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
1. Offensive joke 239 (85) 5.21 133 (56) 65 (27) 41 (17)
2. Drunk and
136 (48) 3.32 18 (13) 115 (84) 3 (2)
3. Questionable
56 (20) 2.14 15 (27) 41(73) 0 (0)
4. Uncomfortable
50 (18) 2.37 6 (12) 41 (82) 3 (6)
5. Learned of a sexual
34 (12) 1.74 3 (9) 30 (88) 1 (3)
6. Drugging 25 (9) 2.12 5 (20) 19 (76) 1 (4)
7. Victim blaming 21 (8) 1.67 3 (14) 16 (76) 2 (10)
8. Physical violence 19 (7) 1.74 7 (37) 10 (53) 2 (10)
9. Sexual coercion 10 (4) 2.2 4 (40) 6 (60) 0 (0)
10. Bruises 7 (2) 1.57 4 (57) 3 (43) 0 (0)
Note. Percentages in the response columns are calculated using the total number of students
who had experienced each situation.
Yule and Grych 11
risky was reported in several situations, but concern about how others in the
situation would respond was rarely identified as a barrier to action.
Because the number of participants reporting a particular barrier in a
particular situation tended to be small, we could not conduct statistical
tests to determine whether some barriers were significantly more likely to
be reported than others in each situation. However, we did examine
whether some barriers were reported more frequently than others across
situations and whether men and women differed in the types of barriers
they reported. A repeated measures ANOVA was conducted with barrier
type as a within-subjects factor with four levels and gender as a between-
subjects factor. Due to a sphericity violation (Mauchly’s W = .41, χ2 =
230.55, p = .001), a Greenhouse-Geisser correction was used for the tests
of within-subjects effects.
As shown in Table 3, the main effect for barrier type was significant,
F(1.87, 481.74) = 45.30, p = .001, partial η2 = .15, but the main effect for
Table 2. Barriers to Intervention Perceived by Students for Each Situation.
n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
n (%)
1. Offensive joke
(n = 133)
36 (27) 72 (54) 55 (41) 20 (15) 13 (10) 1.73
2. Drunk and
vulnerable (n = 18)
6 (33) 10 (56) 8 (44) 0 (0) 3 (17) 2.13
3. Questionable
intentions (n = 15)
3 (20) 13 (87) 6 (40) 1 (7) 1 (7) 1.92
4. Uncomfortable
woman (n = 6)
1 (17) 5 (83) 3 (50) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1.83
5. Learned of a sexual
assault (n = 3)
1 (33) 2 (67) 0 (0) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1.00
6. Drugging (n = 5) 1 (20) 4 (80) 4 (80) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1.80
7. Victim blaming (n
= 3)
0 (0) 3 (100) 1 (33) 0 (0) 0 (0) 2.00
8. Physical violence
(n = 7)
2 (28) 4 (57) 3 (43) 0 (0) 0 (0) 1.86
9. Sexual coercion
(n = 4)
0 (0) 0 (0) 2 (50) 0 (0) 2 (50) 1.00
10. Bruises (n = 4) 0 (0) 4 (100) 1 (25) 1 (25) 0 (0) 2.50
Total across situations
(n = 159)
46 (29) 93 (58) 72 (45) 21 (13) 19 (12)
Note. Percentages are based on total number that reported no action for each respective
situation. They do not sum to 100 because participants could choose more than one barrier
for each situation.
12 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
gender was not, F(1, 258) = .64, ns. Post hoc tests then were conducted to
evaluate whether there were significant differences among barrier types.
Pairwise comparisons utilizing the Bonferroni correction revealed that not
feeling responsible for intervening (Perceived Responsibility) was reported
significantly more often than failing to perceive the situation as high risk
(Perceived Risk), not knowing what to do (Skill Deficit), and fearing that
others would respond negatively (Audience Inhibition), while Audience
Inhibition was reported significantly less than Perceived Risk and Skill
Deficit barriers.
This main effect was qualified by a significant interaction between bar-
rier type and gender, which was explored by conducting simple main effects
tests separately for females and males. The main effect of barrier type was
significant for both males, F(1.51, 134.38) = 27.22, p = .001, partial η2 =
.23, and females, F(2.05, 346.54) = 19.61, p = .001, partial η2 = .10.
However, pairwise comparisons using the Bonferroni correction showed
that the pattern of means across barriers differed by gender (see Table 4).
Specifically, for males, failure to take responsibility was cited significantly
more frequently than any other barrier (pairwise differences with other bar-
riers all p < .001), and failure to perceive that the situation was dangerous
was the second most-endorsed barrier. For females, failure to take respon-
sibility and perceived skill deficits were the most frequently reported barri-
ers (pairwise differences with other barriers all p < .01), and did not differ
significantly from each other. Men also reported significantly more failure
to take responsibility barriers than did women, t(145.51) = 2.16, p = .03,
whereas women reported more skill deficit barriers to intervention than did
men, t(228.08) = −2.61, p = .01.
Table 3. Repeated Measures ANOVA of Barrier Type × Gender.
Source df
Sum of
Square F p
Between subjects
Gender 1 0.56 0.56 0.64 .42 .002
Error 258 224.00 0.87
Total 259 224.56
Within subjects
Barrier type 1.87 51.24 27.44 45.30 .001 .15
Barrier Type × Gender 1.87 9.83 5.26 8.69 .001 .03
Error 481.74 291.80 0.61
Total 485.48 352.87
Yule and Grych 13
Finally, we tested whether self-efficacy and emotion regulation were asso-
ciated with participants’ tendency to intervene in the situations that they had
encountered and the kinds of barriers to intervening that they reported. We
created a variable (“No Intervention”) that represented the total number of
times that participants reported experiencing a particular situation but not
engaging in any bystander behavior, and four variables representing the num-
ber of times that participants who failed to intervene in particular situations
identified each barrier as a reason they did not intervene. The correlations of
these variables with scores on the BES and DERS are shown in Table 5. The
results showed that participants reporting lower global perceived efficacy
reported more instances in which they failed to intervene in risky situations
that they had encountered. However, emotion regulation did not predict
whether or not participants intervened. Global self-efficacy and emotion reg-
ulation each were correlated with at least one barrier: Participants reporting
greater self-efficacy were less likely to report that they failed to intervene
because it was not their responsibility and because they did not know how to
intervene, and those reporting greater emotion regulation were less likely to
report Audience Inhibition as a barrier to intervening. Finally, we examined
Table 4. Reported Barriers by Gender (N = 260).
Variables M SD
Perceived risk
Male 0.26 .51
Female 0.16 .38
Total 0.19 .43
Perceived responsibility
Male 0.88a1.36
Female 0.52a1.04
Total 0.65 1.17
Skill deficit
Male 0.21b.51
Female 0.41b.68
Total 0.34 .63
Audience inhibition
Male 0.04 .21
Female 0.11 .33
Total 0.08 .29
aSignificant mean difference for males and females at p < .05.
bSignificant mean difference for males and females at p < .05.
14 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
whether any of the barriers were particularly strongly associated with partici-
pants’ tendency to not intervene in risky situations they had experienced. As
would be expected, the number of times participants failed to intervene was
significantly correlated with all of the perceived barriers, with Perceived
Responsibility and Skill Deficits exhibiting the largest associations (.53, .52)
and Perceived Threat (.29) and Audience Inhibition (.14) the smallest.
The goal of the current study was to better understand the barriers that inhibit
college students from engaging in responsive bystander behavior when they
witness situations that could present the risk of physical and sexual assault. It
builds on prior research in a number of important ways: it assessed situations
that students actually had experienced rather than asking about hypothetical
situations or behavioral intentions; it addressed a wide range of bystander
situations that students may encounter in college; it included broader assess-
ment of the factors that may be barriers to intervening in each situation. The
data showed it was common for students in the sample to encounter situations
where there is risk for sexual assault. Nearly half had seen an intoxicated
person left alone, passed out at a party or leaving a party alone, and
Table 5. Correlations and Descriptive Statistics for Study Variables.
Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1. No intervention
2. Perceived risk .29***
3. Perceived
.53*** .24***
4. Skill deficit .52*** .13* .57***
5. Audience inhibition .14* −.10 .31*** .28***
6. Bystander efficacy −.26*** −.07 −.18** −.14* −.01
7. Emotion regulation .07 −.09 −.04 .06 .15* −.04
n260 260 260 260 260 281 281
M0.94 0.19 0.65 0.34 0.08 74.04 2.30
SD 0.78 0.43 1.17 0.63 0.29 16.97 0.59
Range 0-6 0-2 0-8 0-5 0-2 10-100 1.2-4.2
Note. No intervention, Perceived Risk, Perceived Responsibility, Skill Deficit, and Audience
Inhibition are sums of participant responses across the 10 situations. Bystander Efficacy is
the mean score on the BES and Emotion Regulation the mean score on the DERS. BES =
Bystander Efficacy Scale; DERS = Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale.
*p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
Yule and Grych 15
approximately 20% reported that they had witnessed an intoxicated person
being led away by someone else or a woman at a bar or party looking uncom-
fortable with a man or group of men. Fewer students reported seeing some-
one slip drugs into a drink and learned or suspected that a friend had been
sexually assaulted, but given that the study was conducted during partici-
pants’ first semester on campus, even these situations occurred at a concern-
ing rate.
It is encouraging that the majority of participants reported that they did
something to intervene when they witnessed a threatening situation. In eight
of the 10 situations, over half of the participants reported that they engaged in
bystander behavior, with rates of bystander behavior ranging from 27%
(hearing a sexist, racist, or homophobic joke) to 88% (learning or suspecting
that a friend had been sexually assaulted). However, there were many situa-
tions where participants did not intervene, and only a minority of participants
(27%) reported that they intervened in every situation that they encountered.
Thus, the findings also underscore the need to understand and address the
factors that serve to inhibit responsive bystander behavior.
The situations in which participants were least likely to intervene included
hearing an offensive joke and seeing someone with suspicious bruises.
Although sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes and comments contribute to a
culture that tacitly condones sexual coercion and aggression by devaluing
women and sexual and ethnic minorities (Gartner & Sterzing, 2016; Paludi,
1990; Vaux, 1993), they may seem further removed or less threatening to an
identifiable individual than most of the other situations. Indeed, over a quar-
ter of the students who reported experiencing this situation did not perceive it
as risky or threatening. However, considerably more students reported other
barriers, suggesting that they did see the behavior as problematic but either
did not feel that it was their responsibility to say or doing something (54%)
or did not know what to say or do (41%). Given the ubiquity of this kind of
situation, it is important for bystander programs to help students understand
how such jokes and comments can create conditions that enable aggressive or
assaultive behavior, underscore individuals’ role in changing these condi-
tions, and providing specific guidance in how to intervene effectively. Seeing
someone with bruises also is ambiguous, but given that very few students
reported this experience, we are reluctant to draw any conclusions about
whether the level of responding is representative of how students typically
act in that situation.
The measure used in the present study offered participants a list of poten-
tial barriers in each situation, and they could endorse as many as they found
to be salient. Students’ perceptions of factors that inhibited responding reflect
the complexity of the circumstances that call for bystander behavior.
16 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
Participants who did not intervene reported a range of barriers to responding
and on average identified two barriers per situation, indicating that bystand-
ers must overcome multiple potential barriers to intervene. This complexity
rarely is reflected in self-report measures, which typically are comprised of
items that ask about only a single response or barrier in a given situation.
Responses on such measures can be misleading because participants can
indicate that a particular barrier was not present in the situation but still have
failed to intervene for other reasons.
The most common barrier reported by students was the belief that it was
not their responsibility to intervene. This barrier was represented by items
such as “I thought someone else would say or do something” and “I felt it
wasn’t my place to say or do anything.” This is consistent with the original
work on bystander intervention by Latane and Darley (1970), which cited the
diffusion of responsibility as a primary obstacle to responsive behavior, and
with prior work on bystander behavior on college campuses (Bennett et al.,
2014). The context for many of the situations included in the present study
involved other people, and for some, potentially large numbers of people
(e.g., parties, bars). When there are many people present who could inter-
vene, the expectation that someone else—likely a friend of the vulnerable
individual—will do something is likely to be widespread.
Men were more likely to indicate that they did not feel responsible for
intervening across situations than were women. This gender difference may
be due to a number of factors. First, college students generally are more likely
to intervene when their friends are at risk (Banyard, Moynihan, Cares, &
Warner, 2014; Bennett et al., 2014; Katz & Nguyen, 2016; Katz, Pazienza,
et al., 2015b; McMahon & Farmer, 2009); female participants likely have
more female friends than male students do and so may have been more likely
to be friends with the woman who was threatened. Second, because women
are at greater risk for sexual assault than are men, they may feel more empa-
thy for potential victims and more willing to take responsibility for helping
them whether they are friends or not. These findings highlight the importance
of expanding students’ sense of collective responsibility for their fellow stu-
dents, encouraging them to care about the welfare of all and not just their
friends. For men in particular, it may also be important to directly address
perceptions of social norms and attitudes related to gender and sexuality and
to highlight the role that men can play in preventing sexual assault (e.g.,
Stewart, 2014).
Gender differences also were found in barriers reflecting skill deficits,
which included items such as “I didn’t know what to do.” Female participants
were more likely than male participants to report that they didn’t intervene
because they did not know what to say or do in the situation. Endorsing this
Yule and Grych 17
skill deficit barrier underscores the idea that recognizing a situation as risky
and feeling responsible to do something are not sufficient to motivate action,
and argue for the benefit of providing students with specific, concrete skills
for appropriately and safely intervening in risky situations. Strategies taught
in a one-session program may not be remembered, however, especially when
students are in the midst of a stressful situation. Supplementing training pro-
grams with apps that can be easily accessed by students on their phones may
be more effective for providing students with specific ideas of what to say or
do in the moment.
Failure to identify situations as high risk was the second most frequently
reported barrier by men, although it did not differ significantly from the fre-
quency of reporting skill deficits or audience inhibition or from women’s
mean level on this barrier, and was represented by items such as “I didn’t
think anything needed to be done.” Even though it was not among the more
prominent barriers reported in the study, recognizing the seriousness and
potential implications of situations that could lead to sexual assault is an
essential first step for responsive bystander behavior and consequently is an
important element to emphasize in prevention programs.
Finally, fear that others who are present in the situation would react nega-
tively to intervening was the least frequently endorsed barrier; in fact, the
only situation in which this barrier was common was hearing an offensive
joke or comment. As noted above, this type of situation rarely presents an
immediate threat of assault, and students who are striving for social accep-
tance may perceive the potential for criticism by their peers if they “call out”
someone for an inappropriate joke or comment to be a greater threat. Students
also may believe that not laughing at the joke or not agreeing with the com-
ment is a sufficient way to express their disapproval. It is not clear why audi-
ence inhibition was not reported in more situations given that it has been
identified as a significant barrier in other studies (e.g., Hoxmeier Hoxmeier,
Flay, & Acock, 2015). One possible, if optimistic, explanation for this finding
is that increased attention to sexual assault and promotion of bystander inter-
vention on college campuses has reduced fears that attempts to intervene will
lead to adverse consequences for the bystander. The format of the questions
also may have influenced participants’ responses: Students were presented
with a list of possible barriers for each situation, and although they could
choose more than one, some barriers may make others less salient. For exam-
ple, if participants did not feel responsible for intervening, the potential reac-
tion of others in the situation may not be relevant.
We also examined whether bystander behavior and the salience of particu-
lar barriers could be predicted by two intrapersonal characteristics, global
self-efficacy for intervening and emotion regulation. Individuals who
18 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 0(0)
reported more confidence in their ability to intervene in general were more
likely to intervene in the specific situations that they had encountered, and
were less likely to report that skill deficits and perceived responsibility were
barriers in situations where they did not intervene. In contrast, emotion regu-
lation predicted only one barrier, audience inhibition. Although the prospect
of intervening may be anxiety provoking, the ability to manage affect was not
related to whether participants intervened in the bystander situations that they
had experienced or their perception of most barriers. It appears that when
students perceive that someone is at risk, feel responsible for helping them,
and have confidence in their ability to respond effectively, their emotion reg-
ulation capacities are not a bar to intervening.
Limitations and Future Directions
The limitations to the study should be considered when examining the
results. First, the sample was predominantly White, and the findings may
not generalize to a more ethnically diverse student population. Second, the
current study included only students in their first semester on campus. This
is an important time to study bystander intervention because students are
at particularly high risk for assault during their first year (Krebs et al.,
2007), and these students may differ from their older peers in ways that are
relevant to both bystander behavior and their vulnerability to sexual coer-
cion and assault. For example, they have had less time to develop strong
social connections and less experience with campus social life than older
students. Consequently, they may feel less responsibility for helping other
students and know less about what kinds of behavior are normative or
acceptable in social settings and how to respond in potentially threatening
situations. It would be interesting to examine if college juniors and seniors
differ in their tendency to intervene and in the barriers they perceive to
intervening. Third, the study relied on self-report data, and on participants’
ability to recall specific situations and willingness to report the failure to
respond in a risky situation. In an attempt to reduce social desirability, the
study was conducted online and responses were collected anonymously,
but social desirability still may have influenced the results. It also is pos-
sible that students who had encountered more risky situations may have
been more inclined to participate in the study. Finally, presenting students
with descriptions of the situations reduced the capacity of the study to
assess the fifth barrier in Burn’s (2009) model, failure to notice an event.
It is not possible to determine whether participants who indicated that they
did not encounter a particular event actually were not exposed to the event,
or whether they were present but did not realize or notice it.
Yule and Grych 19
In summary, this study documents barriers to bystander intervention that
college students encounter when they are faced with situations that present
elevated risk of sexual assault. The findings have implications for efforts to
promote responsive bystander behavior on campus, and suggest that existing
efforts can be enhanced by explicitly fostering a sense of collective responsi-
bility for the health and safety of all members of the campus community and
teaching students specific behaviors to enact in risky situations through train-
ing programs and apps that could be accessed while in the situation.
We thank Christina Caiozzo and our undergraduate research assistants for their assis-
tance conducting this study, as well as their helpful comments on a draft of this
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
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Author Biographies
Kristen Yule is a clinical psychology doctoral student in the Department of
Psychology at Marquette University. Her research focuses on the promotion of resil-
ience and prevention of violence for at-risk youth. Her research interests also include
the prevention of sexual violence and reduction of risk for sexual assault victimization
among adolescents and young adults.
John Grych, PhD, is professor and chair of psychology at Marquette University. His
research has investigated a range of questions related to aggression in close relation-
ships, including the impact of family conflict on children’s development, the origins
of physical and sexual aggression in adolescent romantic relationships, and resilience
in children exposed to violence and other forms of adversity. He also has published
work on intervention and prevention, including the prevention of sexual assault and
interpersonal violence.
... Bystander intervention prevention is fundamental to educating potential bystanders on prosocial helping behaviors and instilling a greater sense of responsibility to respond to sexual assault (Banyard et al., 2004;McMahon & Banyard, 2012). Despite the growing popularity of bystander intervention programs to reduce campus sexual assault, college students perceive numerous barriers to intervening as a bystander (Bennett et al., 2014;Yule & Grych, 2017). These barriers are even more salient among studentathletes (Exner-Cortens & Cummings, 2017;McMahon & Farmer, 2009). ...
... Barriers to intervening in situations involving sexual assault are prevalent among college students (Bennett et al., 2014, Burn, 2009Yule & Grych, 2017). The situational model for bystander intervention developed by Latane and Darley (1970) propose that barriers to intervening as a bystander include failure to notice, failure to identify the situation as high-risk, failure to take responsibility for the intervention, failure to intervene due to skills deficit, and failure to intervene due to audience inhibition. ...
... Thus, student-athletes may be better prepared to handle difficult situations and feel a greater sense of responsibility to support peer survivors of sexual assault on their campus. Literature on bystander intervention shows that college students have a greater willingness to intervene if they feel a greater sense of responsibility (Burn, 2009;Latane & Darley, 1970;Yule & Grych, 2017). Researchers should continue to investigate how to instill a greater sense of responsibility to increase student-athlete bystander intentions to respond post-sexual assault. ...
Full-text available
Student-athlete barriers to bystander intervention have generally not been explored in the literature. This research examined how gender role conflict (GRC) inhibits student-athlete intentions to intervene post-sexual assault due to the masculine norms of the sport culture. Using a non-probability cross-sectional design, 300 student-athletes from five National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) institutions completed an anonymous web-based survey. Independent samples t-tests revealed that male student-athletes exhibited greater GRC than female student-athletes. Next, an ordinary least square multiple regression assessed GRC and intentions to respond post-sexual assault. Of all GRC subscales, conflicts between work and leisure-family relations was associated with intentions to respond post-sexual assault and was significantly moderated by gender. Results indicate that student-athletes are not only prone to GRC, but also exhibit barriers to bystander intentions as a result. These findings underscore the importance of engaging student-athletes in bystander intervention training to prevent campus sexual assault. Implications to field of social work will also be discussed.
... The findings of this study add to the growing body of literature (e.g., Burn, 2009;Deitch-Stackhouse et al., 2015;Yule & Grych, 2020) showing that Latané and Darley's (1970) situational model of bystander behavior is useful in examining the barriers and facilitators in non-emergency situations, sexual violence in nightlife setting in this case. The practical implications of our findings regarding the use of bystander programs in nightlife settings is, however, complex. ...
Unsolicited sexual behaviors that constitute sexual violence appear to be commonplace in nightlife settings in many countries and bystander intervention might be a way to eliminate them. However, few researchers have investigated the barriers and facilitators that affect Australian bystanders’ likelihood to help, and these should be considered in the planning of bystander intervention programs. Using a grounded theory approach, we interviewed fourteen men and women about their perceptions of factors that might influence bystander behavior in Australian nightlife settings. The categories identified suggest that it is difficult for nightlife patrons to notice and identify sexual violence occurring around them. Further, nightlife patrons respect other patrons’ right to engage in sexual behavior and will not intervene unless the recipient has been harmed by the behavior. Patrons are, also, much more likely to help when the recipient is a friend or a woman. Traditional bystander intervention programs on their own might not sufficiently address these barriers. Programs will also need to address patrons’ perceptions of sexual violence and the prevailing social and gender norms in nightlife settings regarding sexual behavior.
... Subsequent research using this framework has found that, among college-aged students, failure to identify risk for assault, particularly when alcohol is involved , failure to take intervention responsibility, and inadequate intervention skills were commonly reported influences of intervention behavior (Bennett, Banyard, & Garnhart, 2014). In studies examining gender differences in barriers, men have been found to report greater barriers to intervention (Burn, 2009;Hoxmeier, McMahon, & O'Connor, 2017;Yule & Grych, 2017). Collectively, this research suggests that the original 5-step bystander behavior model provides a helpful but potentially incomplete framework for examining the decision-making process of prosocial bystander intervention, and that understanding intervention behavior in sexual assault risk situations requires a more nuanced understanding of influences, from individual characteristics to contextual factors. ...
The bystander approach for sexual assault prevention, rooted in the understanding that violence is a community issue, necessitating a shift in cultural norms that support the use of violence against women, has gained traction in recent years. This approach offers the benefit of moving away from addressing men as potential perpetrators, yet evidence suggests that men may face considerable barriers to prosocial intervention. One variable aspect of the current slate of bystander programs is their degree of attention on the role of gender norms in both risk for sexual assault perpetration and bystander inaction. The purpose of this chapter is to (1) briefly review the history of the bystander intervention model, (2) summarize theoretical models of bystander behavior and empirical evidence of influences of men’s intervention behavior, (3) review evidence-based programmatic initiatives based on this model, and (4) offer considerations for engaging men and boys as prosocial bystanders for the prevention of sexual assault.
... While some theorists suggest these programmes are successful in reducing rape supportive attitudes (e.g. Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2011), recent research argues these programmes are less successful in altering behaviour (Yule & Grych, 2020). ...
This research examined how masculine honour beliefs (MHB) relate to individuals’ intentions to volunteer for organisations that aim to prevent rape or to provide services to women who have been raped. We predicted both men and those higher in MHB would be more supportive of efforts intended to prevent rape and less supportive of efforts intended to provide support to women who have been raped. Participants (N = 195) were recruited at a large Midwestern university and indicated their willingness to volunteer for ten organisations, three of which addressed either the prevention of rape or the provision of support to women who have been raped. Participants also reported their adherence to individual difference variables, including MHB. Our results supported our hypotheses, suggesting that for both men and those higher in MHB, protecting women from rape, or deterring and preventing rape, appears more important than supporting women who have been raped. This research extends our understanding of how gender roles and MHB relate to perceptions of rape, its prevention, and its consequences. Practice Impact Statement This research suggests it may be possible to rally college students to address the issue of rape on their campuses in targeted ways. That is, male students and students with higher levels of MHB may be more willing to participate in efforts to prevent rape on college campuses (where rape is particularly prevalent) than they are to participate in advocacy (e.g. centres for advocacy, campus advocacy groups) or supportive services (e.g. crisis centres).
... Yet, many witnesses to violent and discriminatory acts appear to be only passive observers (Banyard, 2008;Hyers, 2007). Leveraging the knowledgebase regarding emergency situations and various forms of interpersonal violence, barriers to bystanders' actions include failure to identify the situations as risky or harmful, diffused responsibility to help, and low levels of disapproval of transgression Yule & Grych, 2020). To enhance the impact in reducing-and ultimately eliminating-discriminatory acts and to mitigate their negative health consequences, it is important to understand factors that facilitate individuals' engagement in bystander behaviors in response to racism and discrimination. ...
The goals of this mixed-methods study were to examine self-reported behavior of bystanders who intervened in specific situations of potential sexual violence and physical dating violence, to explore their sense of preparedness to intervene, and to assess bystanders’ emotional reactions to their self-reported action or inaction when witnessing potential sexual and dating violence. The participants ( n = 553, 65.2% female, 76% freshmen, M age = 18.7 years), responded to a sequence of questions pertaining to witnessing and intervening in specific potentially dangerous situations, emotional reactions to their action or inaction, and preparedness. Bystander participants also provided narrative responses describing their behavior. We used joint display analyses to integrate, analyze, and interpret the qualitative and quantitative data. Of the 553 participants, 38% witnessed “a man talking to a woman and she looked uncomfortable,” 27% witnessed “someone taking an intoxicated person up to their room,” and 39% witnessed “someone grabbing or pushing their boyfriend or girlfriend”; of those who witnessed, the percentage of those who intervened was 42%, 25%, and 19%, respectively. Bystander behavior involved one of 5Ds: distract, direct, delegate, distance, diffuse, or a combination. Although most bystanders did not get involved, most (94.6%) reported that they felt prepared to intervene. For those who intervened, most reported feeling positive about their action; however, most who did not intervene reported feeling negative about their inaction. Implications for college bystanders and bystander education programs are discussed.
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Bystanders have an important role in preventing sexual violence, but they are often reluctant to intervene due to a range of barriers. In this study, we investigated relationships between the Dark Triad of personality (i.e. psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism), rape myth acceptance and five bystander barriers. We addressed the paucity of research by collecting data from three countries (Indonesia, Singapore, and United Kingdom). In total, 716 University staff and students participated in an online survey. We found very few country-level differences in the correlations between the variables. In regression analyses, Machiavellianism and rape myth acceptance both had significant, positive relationships with failure to identify risk, failure to take responsibility, skills deficits and audience inhibition. Narcissism and psychopathy were significantly, negatively associated with audience inhibition and skills deficits. Findings indicate similarity in predictors of perceived barriers to bystander intervention across the three countries.
Failure to take responsibility for intervening has been identified as a primary barrier to bystander intervention. Building on these findings, we examine how perceptions of responsibility affect responses to witnessing victimization in the online realm—a topic that has received limited attention. Using a maximum-likelihood selection model, we analyze data from the Pew American Trends Panel ( N = 3709) to estimate the effects of respondents’ perceptions of the role different groups should play in addressing online harassment on their likelihood to engage in intervention, target hardening, or inaction in response to witnessing online harassment, conditioned upon their likelihood of having witnessed such behavior. Findings indicate that the greater role respondents believe online users should have in addressing online harassment, the more likely they are to intervene. ( b = .310). The greater role respondents believe law enforcement or elected officials should have in addressing online harassment, the less likely they are to intervene ( b = −.135 and −.072, respectively). These findings have implications for future efforts to curb online harassment through users’ crime prevention efforts.
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While dating and sexual violence (DSV) prevention through bystander intervention receives much attention in college samples, adult community samples and rural communities receive comparatively little study. An understanding of bystander actionist opportunities, who are the bystanders that have the opportunity to act to prevent to violence, is lacking. The goal of this study is to explore whether various individual identities relate to actionist opportunity rates in DSV situations. Mailed surveys were collected from 1,529 adults in a rural community sample. Five factors (sex, relationship status, race/ethnicity, income, and age) were compared to rates of witnessing six DSV actionist opportunities (victim blaming, supporting a survivor, hearing neighbors fight, seeing a couple fight, seeing an intoxicated person alone, and seeing an assault) using logistic regression models. Both age and household income were inversely related to an increased likelihood of witnessing most DSV situations. Bystander sex was related to a great likelihood of noticing an intoxicated person all alone. Being in a relationship recently was related to more opportunities to support a survivor and of noticing a couple fighting on the street. Bystander race was not related to any opportunity rates. These findings suggest that opportunity to intervene deserves more attention in studies of DSV prevention among community samples. Bystander intervention education efforts in community settings should be tailored with consideration of the intended audience demographics. Programs should move beyond race or sex of the attendees to also include things such as relationship status, community income level, or age.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration increases throughout young adulthood and is particularly widespread among college students, resulting in mental health and academic consequences. Deficits in emotion regulation (ER) are an important factor associated with IPV perpetration; the developmental tasks and challenges associated with college, including relationship stressors and hazardous alcohol use, implicate ER as a particularly relevant risk factor for IPV perpetration. Thus, college presents an important opportunity for intervention in order to change the trajectories of IPV perpetration across young adulthood. The purpose of this review was to synthesize findings regarding ER and psychological, physical, and sexual IPV perpetration among college students. Twenty-one articles met inclusion criteria. Studies were organized into five categories: (a) direct associations of ER with IPV perpetration, (b) qualitative assessment of ER and IPV, (c) ER in indirect effects models, (d) ER in moderation models, and (e) experiments with ER instructional sets. Overall, ER emerged as an important inhibiting factor for IPV perpetration, particularly impulse control and access to ER strategies. ER deficits in the context of impelling (e.g., negative affect, trauma history) and instigating (e.g., provocation) factors emerged as consistent predictors of psychological and physical IPV perpetration for both male and female students. Deficits in ER were associated with sexual IPV perpetration among men; however, very few studies examined sexual IPV. Experimental paradigms suggest cognitive reappraisal may reduce IPV perpetration, while suppression may, in some contexts, increase perpetration. Methodological strengths and weaknesses and implications for IPV prevention and interventions programming for college students are discussed.
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This study explored bystander responses to risk for an alcohol-facilitated rape perpetrated by a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. Undergraduates (N = 331) were randomly assigned to read 1 of 3 scenarios in which an apparently sober male friend, acquaintance, or stranger leads an intoxicated woman into a bedroom. Participants completed self-report measures of intent to directly intervene and barriers to intervention. Compared to men, women reported greater intent to help the potential victim and fewer barriers to intervention. Participant gender moderated the effect of the bystander’s relationship with the potential perpetrator on intent to confront and responsibility to intervene. Men reported more confrontation and more responsibility to intervene when perpetrators were identified as either friends or acquaintances than strangers. In contrast, women reported more confrontation when perpetrators were identified as friends than either strangers or acquaintances. Bystander education programs that address specific barriers to intervening with strangers and acquaintances could promote more frequent bystander behavior.
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The recent shift in sexual assault prevention programming aims to engage college students as prosocial bystanders. Bystanders to sexual assault have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the incidence of sexual assault on the college campus, in addition to reducing the harm of one that has already occurred. Given the spectrum of sexual assault situations students have the opportunity to witness, it is important to know how students' intent to intervene varies between the different prosocial bystander behaviors. A sample of 815 undergraduate students completed the Sexual Assault Bystander Behavior Questionnaire in the fall of 2014. Students reported significantly greater intent to intervene with the potential or actual victim compared to the potential or actual perpetrator. Females reported significantly greater intent to intervene with both the potential or actual victims and perpetrators compared to males. Both males and females reported the greatest intent to perform postassault intervention behaviors, compared to pre- or midassault. The results of this study suggest that students may conceptualize prosocial helping behaviors differently depending on the context of the situation. Although tertiary prevention plays an important part in potentially mitigating the harm of an assault that has occurred, only primary prevention can reduce the incidence of an assault. Thus, the differing contexts of the assault situations—and gender differences of intent to behave prosocially—should be considered when developing programs aimed at increasing prosocial intentions among potential bystanders to sexual assault.
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A framework proposed by McMahon and Banyard outlines the opportunities college students have to engage in prosocial helping behaviors before, during or after an incident of sexual assault or dating abuse. To build on this framework, this study (i) used confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling to test the proposed framework and (ii) examined the correlates associated with student behaviors along a continuum of opportunities to prevent or respond to these types of crimes in a college setting. The structural equation model results demonstrated that there are different factors associated with whether students engaged in behaviors to prevent sexual assault or dating abuse, whether they engaged in prosocial behaviors after an incident of violence or whether they intervened in risky situations involving alcohol. Observing others engage in similar prosocial behaviors was the most consistent predictor. Past victimization and respondent sex were also associated with different types of interventions. Practical implications of these findings are addressed.
Demographics, assault variables, and postassault responses were analyzed as correlates of PTSD symptom severity in a sample of 323 sexual assault victims. Regression analyses indicated that less education, greater perceived life threat, and receipt of more negative social reactions upon disclosing assault were each related to greater PTSD symptom severity. Ethnic minority victims reported more negative social reactions from others. Victims of more severe sexual victimization reported fewer positive, but more negative reactions from others. Greater extent of disclosure of the assault was related to more positive and fewer negative social reactions. Telling more persons about the assault was related to more negative and positive reactions. Implications of these results for developing contextual theoretical models of rape‐related PTSD are discussed.
Given recent attention to emotion regulation as a potentially unifying function of diverse symptom presentations, there is a need for comprehensive measures that adequately assess difficulties in emotion regulation among adults. This paper (a) proposes an integrative conceptualization of emotion regulation as involving not just the modulation of emotional arousal, but also the awareness, understanding, and acceptance of emotions, and the ability to act in desired ways regardless of emotional state; and (b) begins to explore the factor structure and psychometric properties of a new measure, the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale (DERS). Two samples of undergraduate students completed questionnaire packets. Preliminary findings suggest that the DERS has high internal consistency, good test–retest reliability, and adequate construct and predictive validity.
A problem with the current conceptualization of youth sexual violence is its exclusion of chronic, “low-severity” forms of violence known as gender microaggressions. A review of the sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender microaggression literatures is undertaken to identify the unique and overlapping characteristics of each construct. A theoretically grounded conceptualization of youth sexual violence is presented with gender microaggressions, sexual harassment, and sexual assault existing along a continuum from chronic, low-severity to infrequent, “high-severity” offenses. In this reconceptualization, gender microaggressions exist as a unique form of youth sexual violence and function as a potential “gateway mechanism” to legally actionable offenses.
Sexual assault is a major concern on the U.S. college campus. Engaging students as pro-social bystanders has become more common as a potentially effective mechanism for reducing the incidence of sexual assault and mitigating the harm of assaults that have already occurred. Understanding the influences of pro-social bystander behavior is imperative to developing effective programs, and the use of an evidence-based theoretical framework can help identify the differences between students who intervene and those who do not when presented with the opportunity. A sample of 815 undergraduate university students completed the Sexual Assault Bystander Behavior Questionnaire, a survey based on the theory of planned behavior (TPB) that investigates students’ perceived behavioral control to intervene, subjective norms that support intervening, attitudes toward intervening, and intent to intervene in the future. Two-tailed t tests revealed interveners reported significantly greater perceived behavioral control than non-interveners for eight of the 12 intervention behaviors, more supportive subjective norms than non-interveners for seven of the 12 intervention behaviors, more positive attitudes than non-interveners for only one of the 12 intervention behaviors, and greater intent to intervene in the future for six of the 12 intervention behaviors. Differences in the four TPB variables were not consistent for the 12 intervention behaviors. The use of a theoretical framework found to be effective in explaining—and changing—other health-related behaviors, and the inquiry into students’ opportunities to intervene to compare against their reported intervention behaviors, is new to this body of literature and contributes to the understanding of the influences of pro-social bystander behavior.
The current study presents the Men's Project, a sexual assault prevention program that targets college men. The Men's Project integrates social norms, empathy, and bystander education programs into one program for college men. Male student leaders were recruited to participate in the 11-week program for 2 hours each week. The beginning of the program introduces men to issues of gender socialization, male privilege, and sexuality, followed by a few weeks exploring the breadth and depth of sexual violence, including its emotional and psychological impacts on survivors. Finally, participants learn about bystander intervention at individual and institutional levels. Participants completed a survey before and after participation in the Men's Project. Results demonstrate that from baseline to posttest, participants reported reductions in sexism, rape myth acceptance, and gender-biased language use in addition to increases in collective action willingness, feminist activism, and bystander efficacy. Discussion centers on men's role in ending sexual violence and the need for more prevention programs targeting men. The present article demonstrates the utility of the Men's Project in engaging men to work toward ending sexual violence.
Prior research documents that perceived peer norms are related to bystanders' intentions and intervention behaviors in the context of sexual violence. Given the popularity of bystander intervention programming, it is important to know if variables like gender, race, or year in college impact intervention attitudes/behaviors or interact with perceived peer norms. Also relatively unexplored is the question of missed opportunities for intervention. For our final sample of 232 college students (66% female, 36% Black), screened by age, race, and missing data from an initial pool of 315 respondents, perceived peer norms supporting intervention positively predicted willingness to intervene against sexual violence (bystander intentions) but did not independently predict bystander behaviors or missed opportunities for intervention. Although women reported greater bystander intentions than did men, and Black participants reported more bystander behaviors than did White participants, gender, race, and year in college often interacted with peer norms and with each other in complex ways. Specifically, the predicted positive relationship between peer norms and bystander behaviors was observed only among Black students in at least their second year of college, and the predicted negative relationship between peer norms and missed opportunities was observed only for Black men. These nuances in factors that influence bystander actions have important implications for tailoring prevention tools on college campuses.