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Student-Athlete Barriers to Bystander Intervention: Assessing Gender Role Conflict and Intentions to Respond Post-Sexual Assault


Abstract and Figures

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.
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Sport Social Work Journal, 2022, 1, 189-207
©2022 Ball State University and Alliance of Social Workers in Sports
Student-Athlete Barriers to Bystander Intervention:
Assessing Gender Role Conflict and Intentions
to Respond Post-Sexual Assault
Lorin Tredinnick
Kean University
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.
Keywords: sexual assault, gender role conflict, bystander intervention, prevention, student-
athletes, sport social work
Sexual assault is a pervasive issue on college campuses. Approximately 26% of females
and 6% of males experienced sexual assault (i.e., penetration or sexual touching as a result of
physical force or incapacitation) during college (Cantor et al., 2017). Sexual assault
victimizations are largely underreported to police, and only one in five student survivors seek
assistance from a victim services agency (Sinozich & Langton, 2014). Bystanders play a crucial
role in supporting survivors’ post-sexual assault (Foubert et al., 2010). Active bystanders can
support survivors after an incident occurs by helping peers access campus resources or reporting
a known offender to authorities (McMahon & Banyard, 2012). 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 student-
athletes (Exner-Cortens & Cummings, 2017; McMahon & Farmer, 2009).
Student-athletes are an important population of focus for promoting bystander
intervention. Data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health)
found that male and female students who participated in sports demonstrated a greater risk of
experiencing sexual assault than students who did not (Milner & Baker, 2017). Meanwhile, a
study that analyzed reports of sexual assault near schools with top ranked football and basketball
programs, male student-athletes made up 3.3% of the total male student population but
accounted for 19% of reported sexual assaults over a 3-year period (Crosset et al., 1995).
Participation in contact sport versus non-contact sport has also been identified as a predictor of
sexual assault (Sønderlund et al., 2014). Rates of sexual violence vary across National Collegiate
Athletic Association (NCAA) institutions, as there are higher reports at Division I schools
compared to Division II or III (Wiersma-Mosley & Jozkowski, 2019). Given that student-athletes
spend more time together and have stronger relationships with their teammates than non-athletes
(Clopton, 2010), student-athletes may be potential bystanders to sexual assault. However,
student-athletes have a lower willingness to intervene than non-athletes (McGovern & Murray,
2016; McMahon, 2015; McMahon et al., 2011). Therefore, it is essential to identify barriers to
bystander intervention among student-athletes, particularly supporting survivors after sexual
assault occurs.
Gender role conflict (GRC) may be a potential target for intervention for student-athlete
bystander intentions. GRC is a theoretical construct that considers how psychological or
behavioral issues stem from socialized gender norms in masculine contexts (O’Neil et al., 1986).
GRC has been seldom studied with student-athletes (Daltry, 2013; Desertrain & Weiss, 1988;
Steinfeldt et al., 2009; Steinfeldt & Steinfeldt, 2010). However, evidence from quantitative and
qualitative studies suggests that student-athletes may experience GRC at higher rates than non-
athletes as a result of the hypermasculine sports culture (Fallon & Jome, 2007; Steinfeldt et al.,
2009; Steinfeldt et al., 2010; Ramaeker & Petrie, 2019). GRC may be further exacerbated for
student-athletes aware of sexual assault allegations involving peer survivors or offenders. With a
heightened sense of masculinity, student-athletes may be more reluctant to come forward about
known sexual victimizations for fear of weakness or disloyalty to their team members (Corboz et
al.; McGovern & Murray, 2016; McMahon, 2007; McMahon & Farmer, 2009). To address gaps
in the literature, more research is needed to explicitly measure GRC with male and female
student-athletes to assess the impact of masculine norms within the sports culture. Moreover,
investigating how GRC may hinder student-athlete intentions to respond post-sexual assault will
be useful to improving bystander intervention programs. Thus, the goal of this study is to
describe the extent of GRC among student-athletes and examine whether GRC may inhibit
intentions to respond post-sexual assault.
Bystander Intentions to Respond Post-Sexual Assault
Researchers have found that most survivors of sexual assault disclose to one of their
peers instead campus police or campus authorities (Banyard et al., 2005; Banyard et al., 2010;
Dworkin et al., 2016). In a large national study with college females who experienced sexual
victimization, 2% of participants reported the incident to police, 4% reported to campus
authorities, and 70% reported to someone else, most often a friend (Fisher et al., 2000). As an
active bystander, students can offer support to survivors who disclose to them, direct survivors
on where to go for help, raise suspicion about a friend who may be an offender, provide
information to campus authorities or resident assistants, and corroborate information during an
investigation with police or university officials (McMahon & Banyard, 2012). Active bystanders
can also encourage survivors to report the incident to campus authorities or law enforcement for
further investigation and help survivors seek professional assistance when dealing with potential
trauma. In interviews with 2,000 females from 4-year colleges, nearly half of the participants
received a rape disclosure from a peer. Of those, more than two thirds encouraged survivors to
report the incident to the police or other authorities (Paul et al., 2013). Positive responses to
disclosures, such as providing emotional support and tangible resources for coping, are important
to a survivor’s well-being, as perceived negative responses have been linked to worse
psychopathological outcomes (Dworkin et al., 2019). In addition to supporting survivors who
disclose, a bystander may be aware of suspected sexual offenses by one of their peers. Active
bystanders can provide valuable information by talking with a residence life or a staff member
about these suspicions, reporting a friend to campus authorities, or cooperating during
investigations (McMahon & Banyard, 2012).
Student-athletes may be potential bystanders to peer survivors of sexual assault due to
evidence of strong relationships with their teammates (Clopton, 2010). In focus groups with
student-athletes at a school in the Northeast, both males and females expressed that close team
bonds were an important predictor for one’s willingness to intervene before or after a sexual
assault occurs (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). Since there are differential levels of social
interactions student-athletes who participate in different types of sport (Clopton, 2012), more
research is critical to understand sport participation and willingness to respond to post-sexual
assault. Studies with student-athletes document greater intentions to intervene after participating
in bystander intervention trainings (Jaime et al., 2015; McCauley et al., 2013; Moynihan et al.
2010). However, studies illustrate that student-athletes have a lower willingness to engage in
bystander behaviors than non-athletes (McGovern & Murray, 2016; McMahon, 2015; McMahon
et al., 2011), which may be attributed to context-specific barriers in the sports culture such as
fear of displaying weakness or betraying one’s commitment to the team (Corboz et al., 2016;
McGovern & Murray, 2016; McMahon, 2007; McMahon & Farmer, 2009).
Barriers to intervening in situations involving sexual assault are prevalent among college
students (Bennett et al., 2014, Burn, 2009; Yule & 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. Student-athletes expressed similar obstacles
including lack of knowledge about how to intervene, fears about making false accusations, and
impacting the reputation of a teammate (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). In a pilot study with 80
male student-athletes, those randomly assigned to participate in a bystander intervention program
described a handful of notable barriers: opinions of others, relationships with people involved,
and power differentials between teammates (Exner-Cortens & Cummings, 2017).
Descriptive information such as gender, race, or ethnicity may be fundamental to
understanding student-athlete intentions to respond post-sexual assault. In general, female
college students are more likely to report incidents of sexual assault to university affiliates and
law enforcement than male college students (Cantor et al., 2017). Some studies suggest that
female student-athletes have greater intentions to intervene as a bystander than male student-
athletes (McGovern & Murray 2016; McMahon 2015; Moynihan & Banyard, 2008), whereas
other studies find no significant differences (McMahon & Farmer, 2009). When compared to
males, females of all races and ethnicities may be more in tune to the issue of campus sexual
assault since they are at a greater risk (Krebs et al., 2016) and have a higher likelihood of
knowing a survivor of sexual assault (Weitzman et al., 2017). Bystander behaviors also vary
across racial and ethnic groups (Weitzman et al., 2017). In a recent study, 750 college students
participated in an online bystander intervention program and found that Black and Latinx
females had higher scores on their ability and intent to intervene than White females, but White
males had higher scores than Black and Latinx males (Burns et al., 2019). These demographic
factors have not yet been explored among student-athlete bystander intentions.
Gender Role Conflict
Some of the barriers faced by student-athletes may be framed using gender role conflict
theory. O’Neil (2008) defines gender role conflict theory as “a psychological state in which
socialized gender roles have negative consequences on the person or others” (pp. 362). GRC
causes devaluations of self or others, restrictions or limitations in one’s behavior, or violations
from harming oneself or others due to the norms of masculine ideology (O’Neil, 2008). This
theory posits that GRC occurs when one perceives contrasting expectations for their gendered
behavior, which is particularly true in the context of sport where sport promotes behaviors that
are traditionally masculine (Daltry, 2013). Just as male student-athletes are instilled with a fear
of femininity and expected to adhere to traditional male roles (O’Neil, 2015), female student-
athletes are often expected to balance their athleticism and femininity (Allison, 1991). Studies
with college-aged males demonstrate that athletes report significantly higher GRC scores than
non-athletes (Ramaeker & Petrie, 2019) and greater stigma toward help-seeking (Steinfeldt et al.,
2009). While less studied, females may be affected by patriarchal norms that cause GRC
(O’Neil, 2015). Female student-athletes may ascribe to male gender norms in the sports culture.
Among females, higher athletic identity is correlated with greater GRC compared to those with
lower athletic identity (Daltry, 2013). Female athletes also reported higher rates of masculinity
than non-athletes (Miller & Levy, 1996). Despite a body of literature supporting GRC with males
in various domains, more research is needed to describe the complexity of men’s and women’s
GRC (O’Neil, 2015), specifically in the context of sport.
GRC is made up of four main subconstructs: (1) success, power, and competition; (2)
restrictive emotionality; (3) restrictive affectionate behavior; and (4) conflicts between work and
leisure-family relations (O’Neil, 2008). Each of the subconstructs that make up GRC manifest
within the context of sports. According to O’Neil (2008), success, power, and competition
describes attitudes about one’s personal success that are achieved through competition and
power. The college sports culture encourages student-athletes to place a greater emphasis and
priority on succeeding in athletics over their other responsibilities (Jayakumar & Comeaux,
2016). Second, restrictive emotionality depicts one’s fears and restrictions in regard to
expressing personal feelings and emotions. Student-athletes must demonstrate mental toughness
which romanticizes an elite athlete who is unable to display weakness (Caddick & Ryall, 2012).
Restrictive affectionate behavior is defined as one’s restrictions in expressing feelings or
thoughts with others of the same gender and also involves one’s difficulty touching others of the
same gender. With masculinity deeply entrenched in the sport culture, any display of femininity
by an athlete is considered the antithesis of sport. For example, Griffin explains that we often see
feminization of male athletes who fail and the masculinization of female athletes who succeed
(as cited in Ferez, 2012). Lastly, conflicts between work and leisure-family relations captures
one’s restrictions in their ability to balance work, school, and family relationships, which may
lead to health problems, overwork, stress, and a lack of leisure and relaxation (O’Neil, 2008).
Student-athletes must fulfill their dual role as a college student and an athlete which sometimes
creates conflicts in their identity and performance (Jayakumar & Comeaux, 2016; Harrison et al.,
2009; Yopyk & Prentice, 2005) and results in role conflict (Adler & Adler, 1991; Desertrain &
Weiss, 1988; Lance, 2004; Jayakumar & Comeaux, 2016).
Through this theoretical lens, student-athletes may fail to respond post-sexual assault in
fear of overstepping boundaries or being perceived as weak or disloyal to their peers. Focus
groups with teams and individual interviews at a Division I school in the Northeast revealed that
a victim-blaming culture exists among student-athletes as a result of GRC (McMahon, 2007).
Participants expressed how their physical strength and confidence would prevent them from
being victimized; yet also acknowledged how these expectations could create barriers in
reporting (McMahon, 2007). In another study, male student-athletes emphasized GRC in focus
groups because taking action to intervene would affect the entire team dynamic (McGovern &
Murray, 2016). GRC may be an important factor to consider since studies underscore how
perceptions of others can be a barrier to bystander intervention, especially teammates (Exner-
Cortens & Cummings, 2017; McMahon & Farmer, 2009).
Although these studies underline key insights into patterns of GRC, more research is
needed to measure GRC and the athletic experience (O’Neil, 2015). While student-athletes may
experience GRC due to the hypermasculinity of the sports culture, there is a scarcity of research
on GRC in male and female athletes. To date, the rates of GRC among student-athletes are
unknown. Moreover, initial findings from qualitative studies with student-athletes raise GRC as a
potential barrier for bystanders to intervene in situations involving sexual assault (McGovern &
Murray, 2016; McMahon, 2007) and therefore warrants further exploration. By looking at the
different ways in which the sport culture promotes certain expectations for both male and female
student-athletes through GRC, it is possible to gain a better understanding of student-athlete
intentions to respond to sexual assault after an incident occurs.
The Present Study
The purpose of this study is to describe the extent of GRC among male and female
student-athletes and to examine how different dimensions of GRC are related to intentions to
respond post-sexual assault. This study aims to fill a key gap by identifying barriers that may be
associated with intervening as a bystander to sexual assault among student-athletes who are often
overlooked as a vulnerable group of college students. Pinpointing what obstacles may exist for
student-athlete intentions to respond post-sexual assault will be useful for social workers
providing direct support to student-athletes, designing effective sexual assault prevention, and
advocating for the safety and well-being of student-athletes. In this study, it is hypothesized that
1) male student-athletes will exhibit higher GRC scores than female student-athletes, 2) student-
athletes with higher GRC scores will exhibit lower intentions to respond to post-sexual assault,
and 3) the relation between GRC and intentions to respond post-sexual assault will be moderated
by gender such that males will experience a weaker association compared to females.
College students 18 years or older who were members of an NCAA team sport were
eligible to participate in this study. Using convenience sampling, the researcher identified
contacts at five NCAA member schools in the United States across each division level (three
Division I, one Division II, and one Division III). Quota sampling was also used to attain an
equal number of males and female student-athletes. Recipients were given a $10 Amazon e-gift
card for their participation. The primary contact at each school were designated as gatekeepers.
These gatekeepers were responsible for emailing the survey link to their respective student-
athlete listserv to maintain researcher anonymity. The survey was sent to 1151 student-athletes
and 461 agreed to participate. Of those, 82 participants were screened out due to eligibility
criteria or quota conditions. An additional 79 participants were removed for insufficient data.
The total sample included 300 student-athletes for a response rate of 26%. Missing data ranged
from 1% to 4% per entry but did not exceed 5%. As seen in Table 1, there were 139 male
(46.3%) and 161 (53.7%) female student-athletes. The majority of participants were White
(72.6%), followed by Black or African American (14.0%), Other (8.0%), Asian or Pacific
Islander (4.0%), and Native American or American Indian (1.3%). In terms of ethnicity, 86.9%
of participants were Non-Hispanic and 13.1% were Hispanic. Most student-athletes participated
in non-contact sport (63.2%) versus contact sport (36.8%). There were 169 (56.3%) student-
athletes who played in Division I, 49 (16.3%) in Division II, and another 82 (27.3%) in Division
Table 1
Student-Athlete Demographics
% (n)
Gender (n = 300)
Race (n = 299)
Black or African American
Asian or Pacific Islander
Native American or American Indian
Ethnicity (n = 298)
Type of Sport (n = 299)
Contact Sport
Non-Contact Sport
Division (n = 300)
This study utilized a non-probability cross-sectional survey design to distribute a self-
administered questionnaire through an anonymous web-based survey powered by Qualtrics. The
questionnaire was pretested with a group of 5-10 doctoral students at the host research institution
to reduce measurement bias. A unique link was created for participating schools and sent to the
designated gatekeeper at each school’s athletic department. The gatekeeper distributed the survey
link to their student-athlete listserv weekly until the sample size was reached. Athletic staff were
also invited to verbally remind their student-athletes about the opportunity to take the survey
during regularly scheduled meetings. Approval from the Institutional Review Board was
received from the host institution and each participating institution.
Gender Role Conflict
The independent variables in the study were measured using the Gender Role Conflict
Scale Male and Female Versions (O’Neil et al., 1986). Using the original scale, the female
version was modified by changing the pronouns in each of the questions that yielded similar
factor structures to the male version (Borthick et al., 1997). Although women’s GRC is currently
undefined and there is no theoretical measure of women’s conflicts with their gender roles
(O’Neil, 2015), this scale measures the ways in which athletes are expected to perform according
to male gendered norms. The subscales that make up GRC include success, power, and
competition; restrictive emotionality; restrictive affectionate behavior; and conflicts between
work and leisure-family relations. Success, power, and competition is a 13-item subscale which
focus on the individual’s perceptions of succeeding in one’s career and ability to perform
masculinity. Questions include “Being smarter or physically stronger than other men/women is
important to me.” Restrictive emotionality is a 10-item subscale that measures fears about
expressing one’s feelings and difficulty finding words to express basic emotions. For example, “I
have difficulty telling others I care about them.” Restrictive affectionate behavior included 8-
items that measures limitations in expressing one’s feelings and thoughts with other men/women
as well as difficulty touching other men/women such as “Affection with other men/women
makes me tense.” The last subscale for GRC included 6-items for conflicts between work and
leisure-family relations (e.g. “I feel torn between my hectic work schedule and caring for my
health”). Answer choices were on a Likert scale that ranged from 6 = strongly agree to 1 =
strongly disagree with a higher score indicating a higher endorsement of GRC. Each subscale
was recoded into one continuous variable that summed the total score. The internal consistency
of subscales ranged from .85 to .92 for the male version and .87 to .91 for the female version.
Intentions to Respond Post-Sexual Assault
A subscale from the Bystander Intention to Help Scale, formerly known as the Bystander
Attitudes Scale (Banyard et al., 2007; Baynard, 2008) measured intentions to respond post-
sexual assault (α = 94; Banyard et al., 2014). The 8-items listed strategies to support survivors or
report suspected offenders. Questions include “I would accompany a friend to a local crisis
center” or “If I heard that a friend was accused of sexual abuse or intimate abuse, I would come
forward with what I knew rather than keeping silent.” The questions were slightly modified to
measure bystander intentions rather than behaviors. Participants indicated how likely they think
they would engage in each type of bystander behavior on a five-point scale (1 = not at all likely
to 5 = extremely likely). This scale was recoded into one continuous variable that summed the
total score. A higher score indicated higher intentions to respond post-sexual assault.
Moderating Variables
Gender binary was used as a moderator to differentiate outcomes between those who
experience negative effects of GRC from those who do not (O’Neil, 2008). Survey participants
were asked to indicate whether they participated on a men’s or women’s team.
Control Variables
The control variables included race, ethnicity, type of sport, and division. Participants
were asked to specify their race (White, Black or African American, Native American or
American Indian, Asian / Pacific Islander, or Other). The majority of participants were White
(72.6%), with small percentages of other races. Therefore, race was recoded coded as binary
variable (White = 1, Non-White = 0). Participants were also asked to indicate their ethnicity as
Hispanic or Non-Hispanic. This variable was also coded into a binary variable (Hispanic = 1,
Non-Hispanic = 0). In an open-ended question, participants wrote in the name of their primary
sport which was recoded into a binary variable for contact (1) and non-contact (0). For division,
participants selected whether they played for Division I, II, or III. Division was dummy coded
into dichotomous variables to compare each division to the reference category (Division I).
Data Analysis
Data was analyzed in Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS, version 25.0).
After data cleaning, variables were recoded as described above. Since participants were
prompted to answer separate questions based on their gender identity for GRC, a new variable
for each GRC subscale was created that combined the data for males and females. The GRC
subscales were recoded into continuous variables that summed the total score. Independent
samples t-tests analyzed the average GRC scores between male and female student-athletes using
the full GRC scale and subscales. Preliminary analyses assessed whether there were significant
gender differences with the outcome variable. Results determined no violation of the
assumptions of normality, linearity, multicollinearity, and homoscedasticity. To reduce structural
multicollinearity, the predictor variables were mean centered which involved calculating the
mean for each continuous independent variable and then subtracting the mean from the original
values. Next, an ordinary least squares multiple regression model was used to determine whether
GRC differentiates between intentions to respond to post-sexual assault, controlling for race,
ethnicity, type of sport, and division. Gender was examined as a moderator between GRC and
intentions to respond to post-sexual assault. To account for missing data, analyses were run using
pairwise deletion to include available data.
Independent Samples T-Tests
Independent samples t-tests were used to determine overall GRC scores as well as GRC
subscales between male and female student-athletes (Table 2). For the overall GRC scores, the
relationship approached significance between male student-athletes (M = 135.86, SD = 29.50)
and female student-athletes (M = 129.48, SD = 29.43; t (298) = 1.870, p = .062). Male student-
athletes exhibited higher GRC scores than females. The next set of independent samples t-tests
analyzed the subscales for GRC between male and female student-athletes. Restrictive
affectionate behavior was the only statistically significant subscale as male student-athletes (M =
24.28, SD = 8.25) had significantly higher scores than female student-athletes (M = 19.79, SD =
8.38; t (296) = 4.654, p = .001). There were no significant findings for success, power, and
competition; restrictive emotionality; or conflicts between work and leisure-family relations.
For success, power, and competition, male student-athletes endorsed higher mean scores
(M = 55.52, SD = 10.72) than female student-athletes (M = 53.68, SD = 11.17). Male student-
athletes also endorsed higher mean scores for restrictive emotionality (M = 33.09, SD = 10.91)
compared to female student-athletes (M = 31.79, SD = 11.11). Meanwhile, female student-
athletes endorsed higher mean scores for conflicts between work and leisure-family relations (M
= 24.22, SD = 6.61) than male student-athletes (M = 22.98, SD = 6.97).
Table 2
Mean Differences Between Gender and Gender Role Conflict Subscales (n = 300)
Note. M = Mean. SD = Standard Deviation.
+p < .10, *p < .05, **p < .001
Ordinary Least Squares Multiple Regression
The ordinary least squares multiple regression examined the association between GRC
subscales (success, power, and competition; restrictive emotionality, restrictive affectionate
behavior, and conflicts between work and leisure-family relations) and intentions to respond
post-sexual assault, while controlling for race, ethnicity, type of type of sport, and division. The
moderating effect of gender on the outcome variable was also assessed. Preliminary analyses
revealed significant differences between gender and intentions to respond post-sexual assault as
male student-athletes displayed lower intentions to respond post-sexual assault (M = 30.08, SD =
8.29) than female student-athletes (M = 33.00, SD = 7.10; t (298) = -3.279, p = .001).
The total variance explained by the model as a whole was 11%, F (14, 282) = 2.49, p =
.002). The main effect of gender was significant with intentions to respond to post-sexual assault
(B = 2.52, p = .012). Female student-athletes had higher intentions to respond post-sexual
assault than male student-athletes.
Out of the GRC subscales, only conflicts between work and leisure-family relations was
statistically significant with intentions to respond post-sexual assault (B = .35, p = .006).
Student-athletes who scored higher on the conflicts between work and leisure-family relations
subscale had higher intentions to respond post-sexual assault than those who scored lower on the
conflict between work and leisure-family relations subscale. The other GRC subscales were not
significant. When moderated by gender, conflicts between work and leisure-family relations (B =
-.48, p = .007) was significant with intentions to respond post-sexual assault. Among female
student-athletes, but not male student-athletes, higher conflicts between work and leisure-family
relations was associated with lower intentions to respond post-sexual assault as a bystander (see
Figure 1). The other GRC subscales were not significantly moderated by gender.
Table 3
Gender Role Conflict Subscales and Intentions to Respond to Post-Sexual Assault
Race (Non-White=0)
Ethnicity (Non-Hispanic=0)
Type of Sport (Contact=0)
Division 2 (Division 1=0)
Division 3 (Division 1=0)
Gender (Male=0)
Success, Power, & Competition
Restrictive Emotionality
Restrictive Affectionate Behavior
Work-Leisure Conflict
Success, Power, & Competition*Gender
Restrictive Emotionality*Gender
Restrictive Affectionate Behavior*Gender
Conflict between Work, Leisure, Family Relations*Gender
Note. Reference categories are in parentheses
+p < .10, *p < .05, **p < .01
Figure 1
Moderating Effect of Gender on Conflicts between Work and Leisure-Family Relations
The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which student-athletes experience
GRC and how GRC may be associated with bystander intentions to respond post-sexual assault.
This study also sought to explore gender differences between male and female student-athletes
bystander intentions to respond post-sexual assault. Results supported the first hypothesis, as
male student-athletes experienced higher GRC scores than female student-athletes. These results
are consistent with past literature, as male student-athletes are more susceptible to GRC
(Ramaeker & Petrie, 2019; Steinfeldt et al., 2009; Steinfeldt et al., 2010). Not surprisingly, males
are expected to uphold masculinity more than females as per ascribed gendered norms. While
acknowledging that gender role expectations are changing, future research should develop more
appropriate ways to measure GRC for female student-athletes that distinguishes male gendered
ideals within the context of sport and female gendered expectations in social situations.
In addition, male student-athletes experienced higher restrictive affectionate behavior
than female student-athletes. Studies have found that restrictive affectionate behavior subscale
has been significantly correlated to homophobia (Kassing et al., 2005; McDermott et al., 2014).
According to O’Neil (2008), “Men struggle with intimacy and self-disclosure with women and
other men because of their gender role socialization” (p. 391). These homophobic attitudes
permeate the sports culture to maintain hegemonic masculinity (Anderson, 2002).
Homosexuality is commonly used as a label for athletes who are deemed weak or cowardly
(Ferez, 2012), which could lead to social marginalization among male student-athletes (Pascoe,
2007). Thus, male student-athletes may have difficulty showing affection with their peers in fear
of any negative connotations. Although there were no significant differences between gender and
the other GRC subscales, these findings suggest that student-athletes as a whole have been
socialized into the sports culture where they must prioritize winning, balance multiple demands
(Jayakumar & Comeaux, 2016), and practice mental toughness (Caddick & Ryall, 2012).
Contrary to the second hypothesis, student-athlete intentions to respond post-sexual
assault increased as conflicts between work and leisure-family relations increased. These
findings suggest that student-athletes may be proactive bystanders post-sexual assault despite
conflicts between work and leisure-family relations. Participating in athletics has been found to
be more beneficial than harmful to student-athletes, as student-athletes learn important time
management and organizational skills that allow them how to be more responsible, more
productive, and more engaged in school activities (Rothschild-Checroune et al., 2012). 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.
Regression analyses revealed that female student-athletes had higher intentions to
respond post-sexual assault than male student-athletes. Mounting evidence supports a greater
willingness to intervene by female student-athletes compared to male student-athletes
(McGovern & Murray 2016; McMahon 2015; Moynihan & Banyard, 2008). These findings
mirror the overall gender differences among the general student population, as females are more
likely to intervene in situations involving sexual assault than males (Burn, 2009). These gender
differences may be attributed to greater rape myth acceptances by college-aged men (McDaniel
& Rodriguez, 2017). Rape myth acceptances are widely held attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate
male violence against women and have been found to be higher among student-athletes
compared to other college students (Navarro & Tewksbury, 2017; Young et al., 2016).
The results of the moderated effects of gender between GRC and intentions to respond
post-sexual assault were supported in Hypothesis 3 only for conflicts between work and leisure-
family relations subscale. These findings reflect the overall institutionalization of sport as a
masculine domain which influences masculine traits regardless of gender (Chalabaev et al.,
2012). However, higher conflicts between work and leisure-family relations was associated with
lower intentions to respond to post-sexual assault for females but not for males. Findings suggest
that there may be greater pressures for female student-athletes to succeed within the masculine
sports culture, which may further prevent them from intervening as a bystander to sexual assault.
Female student-athletes perceive more role conflict between academic and athletic expectations
than male student-athletes (Lance, 2004). Furthermore, female student-athletes exhibit greater
GRC if they have a lower ability to cope with and endure negative emotions (Daltry, 2013). Due
to collective beliefs in the sports culture that sexual assault happens to weaker women who put
themselves in precarious situations (McMahon, 2009), it may be perceived as an additional
burden for female student-athletes to get involved as an active bystander. Future studies should
delve into these complexities perceived by female-student athletes that hinder their bystander
intentions to respond post-sexual assault.
This study has important implications for the field of social work. Findings confirm that
student-athletes are indeed a vulnerable population at-risk of GRC. High rates of GRC have been
linked to maladaptive behaviors (i.e. violence and abuse), mental illness (i.e. depression and
anxiety), and lower help-seeking (O’Neil, 2015). Social workers can strive to better address the
health and wellness of student-athletes struggling with GRC. Using a more holistic perspective,
social workers can address some of the attitudes that may lead to problematic behaviors. More
specifically, social workers can encourage positive identify development, including healthy
masculinity and healthy sexuality. Encouraging healthy masculinity is imperative to move away
from attitudes and behaviors that reflect GRC (O’Neil, 2008). Social workers can facilitate
conversations to reduce the stigma of homosexuality and encourage help seeking. Furthermore,
social workers can teach effective coping strategies and time management skills for student-
athletes. Since time management has been recognized as an important tool for academic and
athletic success (Rothschild-Checroune et al., 2012), student-athletes can be encouraged to
utilize these skills to better manage their stress and effectively communicate their needs (Gomez
et al., 2018). This is especially important for females who may be experiencing higher conflicts
between work and leisure-family relations, as female student-athletes may experience greater
pressure to succeed in a male-dominated environment. Therefore, this research establishes the
need for increased services and resources in athletics to support student-athlete wellness and
normalize help-seeking behaviors, which has often been stigmatized among student-athletes
(Moore, 2017; Ramaeker & Petrie, 2019).
By identifying specific barriers to respond post-sexual assault in intercollegiate athletics,
such as GRC, social workers could create customized prevention programs for the student-
athlete population. Designing more relatable training curricula for student-athletes will promote a
more conducive learning environment to learn prosocial bystander behaviors. By creating safe
spaces for intimate dialogue, student-athletes can practice how they would intervene as an active
bystander and respond to incidents of sexual assault involving their peers. In addition,
curriculum on bystander intervention tailored to student-athletes could adopt a more culturally
relevant model for diverse populations, which has shown positive increases in attitudes toward
bystander intentions (Lawson et al., 2012).
Taken together, social workers can advise athletics departments as they implement
policies and best practices for mental health and sexual assault prevention. The NCAA formed
the Mental Health Task Force in 2013 and published the Inter-Association Consensus Document:
Best Practices for Understanding and Supporting Student-Athlete Mental Wellness to promote
the health and well-being of student-athletes (NCAA Sport Science Institute, 2016). According
to this document, athletic departments should seek licensed counselors to provide mental health
services, develop policies and procedures in the event that a student-athlete experiences a mental
health challenge, develop and apply mental health screening tools and referral plans prior to
student-athlete’s participation in athletics, and promote a culture in the athletics department that
encourages mental well-being and resilience (NCAA Sport Science Institute, 2016). Social
workers can assist athletic departments through the process of assessing and connecting student-
athletes to mental health services. Due to their knowledge in clinical practice, social workers
would be a valuable resource to shape institutional policies and practices to address crises and
improve internal supports.
Similarly, social workers can help athletic departments maintain compliance with policies
around sexual assault and prevention. The three main principles of the NCAA Policy to Combat
Campus Sexual Violence (2020) stipulate that athletic departments should be aware of
institutional policies and processes to address sexual assault; refer to the latest Sexual Violence
Prevention Toolkit (2019) to provide ongoing sexual assault prevention education for student-
athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators; and actively participate in campus activities
organized to combat sexual and interpersonal violence. Social workers can support NCAA
member institutions as they annually attest their compliance that they are actively engaging in
steps to respond to, address, and prevent sexual violence in their respective programs. Social
workers can also enforce Title IX (1972) regulations, which prohibits sex discrimination at
institutions receiving federal financial assistance, when responding to allegations of sexual
assault involving student-athletes. Additionally, social workers can offer insight on how to
improve protocols that better protect student-athletes if an incident occurs and encourage policy
reform to expand services. For the reasons listed above, social workers play an instrumental role
in supporting and shaping policies that prioritize the health and wellness of student-athletes.
There were several limitations in this study. First, this study only assessed a small
number of bystander situations by measuring intentions to respond to post-sexual assault. Other
studies should investigate a wider range of bystander opportunitiesincluding attitudes and
behaviorsfor student-athletes before, during, an after a sexual assault occurs. The survey also
did not allow for more inclusive gender identities (e.g. nonbinary, trans individuals). Moreover,
many participants did not fully complete the web-based survey, which may be due to participant
fatigue. It is possible that participants felt uncomfortable answering some of the sensitive
questions around their emotions or sexual assault. To address dropout rates, it may be useful to
distribute a paper survey during regularly scheduled meetings versus a web-based survey.
Researchers should consider employing random sampling for similar studies moving forward.
Finally, cross-sectional studies do not allow for causal inference and results cannot infer that
GRC directly impacts intentions to respond to post-sexual assault. Future studies need to better
assess predictability of GRC on responding to sexual assault and strengthen the research design
to increase generalizability to the student-athlete population.
The results of this study shed light on both GRC and bystander intentions among the
student-athlete population. This research is the first to explicitly measure gender differences in
GRC between male and female student-athletes, revealing that males experience greater GRC
than females. Furthermore, these results highlight GRC as a potential barrier to respond post-
sexual assault as an active bystander, particularly for females who experience conflicts with
work and leisure-family relations. Social workers are well-positioned to build context-specific
support and sexual assault prevention for student-athletes.
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Public attention has been increasingly paid to how friends, family members, and others can best support survivors of sexual assault and other forms of violence. The broader social support literature posits that perceiving social support positively is more important to well-being than the degree to which social support is actually received, and that negative interactions with social supporters are more harmful than positive interactions are helpful (potentially because negative reactions violate expectancies of social supporters). This may be especially true after a crisis, such as interpersonal violence. Thus, this systematic review and meta-analysis summarizes the literature on social reactions to interpersonal violence. Meta-regression analyses were performed on 1871 correlations from 51 studies reflecting the degree to which receiving specific reactions more frequently, or perceiving reactions more positively, was associated with psychopathology. Results indicated that negative social reactions to disclosure—especially reactions involving controlling, distracting, and treating survivors differently—were associated with worse psychopathology, whereas positive social reactions did not appear to be protective. Perceiving reactions more positively was associated with less severe psychopathology, but (although causation cannot be concluded) positive perceptions’ potential benefit appeared to be smaller than the potential risk conveyed by negative reactions. These findings indicate that interventions which reduce the degree to which survivors receive negative social reactions are needed.
Contemporary views regarding masculinity have focused on the ways in which socialized masculine ideologies influence, particularly negatively, the physical and psychological lives of men. Although sport has been conceptualized as an environment in which hypermasculine ideologies (e.g., emphasis on competition and indifference to physical pain) are learned and reinforced, few studies have quantitatively explored how, or if, masculine norms and gender roles differ between athletes and nonathletes and may be related to psychological distress and help-seeking. Male collegiate athletes (n = 220) and nonathletes (n = 203) completed a series of questionnaires to assess their level of conformity to masculine norms and gender role conflicts, depression, substance use, self-stigma, and attitudes and intentions to seek help. Through a series of multivariate and mediational analyses, we found that (a) athletes reported significantly higher levels of masculine norms (e.g., heterosexual self-presentation) and role conflicts than nonathletes; (b) gender role conflicts, such as between work and family, significantly predicted depressive symptomatology, whereas masculine norms, such as risk-taking, were related to greater alcohol use; and (c) across both groups of men, self-stigma partially mediated the relationship of conformity to masculine norms to negative attitudes about, and intentions to seek, psychological help. Although athletes more strongly identified with certain masculine norms, in both groups of men, overall conformity to masculine norms, but not gender role conflict, predicted more negative attitudes about seeking help, both directly and through increases in self-stigma.
Acquaintance rape is distressingly common on college campuses. Differing models of the perpetration of sexual assault make diverging predictions regarding the degree to which individual differences may distinguish among such sexual offenders and nonoffenders. Much research investigating these issues has primarily sampled students from large, commuter colleges. Such data may not generalize to students in other university settings (e.g., private schools, students in university housing). The present study sought to examine the rate of self-reported sexual assault among college men at a private school at which most students live in university housing. Furthermore, we examined whether individual difference characteristics—namely, endorsement of masculine gender norms and endorsement of modern myths about sexual assault—predicted participants’ perceptions of acquaintance rape. A total of 219 college men completed a survey consisting of the Male Role Norm Inventory (MRNI), followed by the Acceptance of Modern Myths About Sexual Aggression (AMMSA) and the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES). They then read a hypothetical acquaintance rape scenario and provided several ratings regarding their attributions of blame. Approximately, 4.6% of men self-reported having committed sexual assault. A Bayesian analysis indicated that self-reported offenders did not score differently on MRNI and AMMSA than self-reported nonoffenders, nor did they view the hypothetical scenario differently. Overall, men who endorsed male role norms tended to accept modern myths about rape and tended to attribute more blame to the victim and less blame to the perpetrator in the acquaintance rape scenario. We discuss methodological difficulties in conducting this type of research and identify several directions for future research.
The prevention of sexual violence on college campuses is a pressing public health issue. Given recent U.S. federal and state requirements for campus responses to sexual assault, many campuses may plan to implement brief, bystander-based programs to create a violence-free environment. This pilot study evaluates one such program for male undergraduate athletes, Wingman 101. The primary purpose of this study was to determine the feasibility and acceptability of participation in Wingman 101, as well as barriers to program implementation. Data for this project were collected from 80 undergraduate male athletes (M age = 19.99) on three contact sport teams in spring 2012. Participants were randomly assigned to program or a no-program control condition. Implementation data were collected at the end of each session from program participants and facilitators. Outcome data were collected over three waves (pretest, posttest, 2-month follow-up) and assessed bystander attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Analysis of implementation data indicated that the program was well received and implemented with high fidelity, with facilitator relatability emerging as a particularly important aspect of implementation. However, participants also listed numerous barriers to potential bystander intervention following the program. The presence of these barriers supports quantitative reductions in positive attitudes about intervention at posttest. Implications of findings for policy and practice on postsecondary campuses are discussed.