Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 44, Issue 12, pp 2308–2320 | Cite as

Victim Reports of Bystander Reactions to In-Person and Online Peer Harassment: A National Survey of Adolescents

  • Lisa M. JonesEmail author
  • Kimberly J. Mitchell
  • Heather A. Turner
Empirical Research


Bullying prevention is increasingly targeting education to bystanders, but more information is needed on the complexities of bystander actions across a wide variety of incidents, including both online and in-person peer harassment. The current study analyzes victim report data from a nationally representative survey of youth ages 10–20 (n = 791; 51 % female). Bystander presence was common across all harassment incident types (80 % of incidents). In contrast to previous research, our study found that supportive bystander behaviors occurred at relatively high rates. Unfortunately, antagonistic bystander behaviors, although less common, were predictive of higher negative impact for the victim. A large percentage of victims (76 %) also disclosed the harassment to confidants, who play an important role as secondary bystanders. While friends were the most common confidant, incidents were also disclosed to adults at high rates (60 %) and with mostly positive results. The findings suggest that prevention programs could increase their impact by targeting education to both direct witnesses and confidants, and considering a wider variety of peer victimization incident types.


Bullying Cyberbullying Bystanders Youth Internet Prevention 



This project was supported by Grant No. 2012-IJ-CX-0024 awarded by the National Institute of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this presentation are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Author contributions

L.J. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript; K.M. participated in the study design, data analysis, interpretation and writing for the manuscript; H.T. participated in the interpretation of the data and writing for the manuscript. All authors read and approved the current manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.


  1. Abt SRBI, Inc. (2014). Technology-based Harrassment Victimization Survey: Methodology report. Silver Spring, MD: Author. on 7/15/15.
  2. Craig, W. M., & Pepler, D. J. (1997). Observations of bullying and victimization in the school yard. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 13(2), 41–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Craig, W. M., Pepler, D., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of bullying in the playground and in the classroom. School Psychology International, 21(1), 22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davis, S., & Nixon, C. (2010). Preliminary results from the youth voice research project: Victimization and strategies. Retrieved from on 08/18/15.
  5. Dempsey, A. G., Sulkowski, M. L., Nichols, R., & Storch, E. A. (2009). Differences between peer victimization in cyber and physical settings and associated psychosocial adjustment in early adolescence. Psychology in the Schools, 46(10), 962–972.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ferráns, S. D., Selman, R. L., & Feigenberg, L. F. (2012). Rules of the culture and personal needs: Witnesses’ decision-making processes to deal with situations of bullying in middle school. Harvard Educational Review, 82(4), 445–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. (2013). Violence, crime and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. Pediatrics, 167(7), 614–621.Google Scholar
  8. Hawkins, D. L., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. M. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development, 10(4), 512–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Johnson, S. L., Waasdorp, T. E., Debnam, K., & Bradshaw, C. P. (2013). The role of bystander perceptions and school climate in influencing victims’ responses to bullying: To retaliate or seek support? Journal of Criminology, 37(3), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kärnä, A., Voeten, M., Little, T. D., Poskiparta, E., Kaljonen, A., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). A large-scale evaluation of the KiVa antibullying program: Grades 4–6. Child Development, 82(1), 311–330.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Kohut, A., Keeter, S., Doherty, C., Dimock, M., & Christian, L. (2012). Assessing the representativeness of public opinion surveys. Washington D.C: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.Google Scholar
  12. Kowalski, R. M., & Limber, S. P. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), S22–S30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L. M., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Wolak, J. (2015). The role of technology in peer harassment: Does it amplify harm for youth? Psychology of Violence,. doi: 10.1037/a0039317.Google Scholar
  14. Nishina, A., & Bellmore, A. (2010). When might peer aggression, victimization, and conflict have its largest impact? Microcontextual considerations. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 30(1), 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. O’Connell, P., Pepler, D., & Craig, W. (1999). Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention. Journal of Adolescence, 22(4), 437–452.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2010). Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus bullying prevention program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(1), 124–134.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Polanin, J. R., Espelage, D. L., & Pigott, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of school-based bullying prevention programs’ effects on bystander intervention behavior and empathy attitude. School Psychology Review, 41(1), 47–65.Google Scholar
  18. Sainio, M., Veenstra, R., Huitsing, G., & Salmivalli, C. (2010). Victims and their defenders: A dyadic approach. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 0165025410378068.Google Scholar
  19. Salmivalli, C. (2010). Bullying and the peer group: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(2), 112–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Salmivalli, C. (2014). Participant roles in bullying: How can peer bystanders be utilized in interventions? Theory Into Practice, 53(4), 286–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behavior, 22(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Salmivalli, C., Voeten, M., & Poskiparta, E. (2011). Bystanders matter: Associations between reinforcing, defending, and the frequency of bullying behavior in classrooms. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 40(5), 668–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sticca, F., & Perren, S. (2013). Is cyberbullying worse than traditional bullying? Examining the differential roles of medium, publicity, and anonymity for the perceived severity of bullying. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(5), 739–750.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Stueve, A., Dash, K., O’Donnell, L., Tehranifar, P., Wilson-Simmons, R., & Slaby, R. (2006). Rethinking the bystander role in school violence prevention. Health Promotion Practice, 7, 117–124.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Turner, H. A., Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L. M., & Shattuck, A. (in press). Assessing the impact of harassment by peers: Incident characteristics and outcomes in a national sample of youth. Journal of School Violence. Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa M. Jones
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kimberly J. Mitchell
    • 1
  • Heather A. Turner
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC)University of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

Personalised recommendations