Sex Roles

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Toward a More Complete Understanding of Bystander Willingness to Help: What Role Does Critical Consciousness Play?

  • Elsa E. Rojas-AsheEmail author
  • Ruth V. Walker
  • Samantha C. Holmes
  • Dawn M. Johnson
Original Article


Sexual assault is a common phenomenon on university campuses with about one in five women victimized while in college. Consequently, bystander intervention programs have been gaining momentum. To improve such programs, research has begun to identify factors that may facilitate or impede individuals’ willingness to help a potential victim of sexual assault. The current study adds to this literature by: (a) examining potential differences in rape myth acceptance, critical consciousness, and willingness to help based on types of self-reported exposure to sexual assault; (b) exploring the previously unexamined mediating role of critical consciousness in the relationship between exposure to sexual assault and willingness to help; and (c) clarifying how the extent of rape myth acceptance impacts the relationship between exposure to sexual assault and willingness to help. Using a sample of 511 U.S. undergraduate students, results generally demonstrated that those with multiple types of exposure to sexual assault victimization demonstrated the highest levels of critical consciousness and greater willingness to help. Additionally, there was both a significant indirect effect of exposure to sexual assault on willingness to help via critical consciousness and a conditional effect of exposure to sexual assault on willingness to help that was stronger at lower levels of rape myth acceptance. Results highlight the importance of programming targeted at increasing critical consciousness.


Bystander behavior Sexual assault Critical consciousness Prevention Bystander intervention 



The authors would like to acknowledge that this research was supported by Defined Lines, a student organization at the University of Akron dedicated to ending sexual assault and changing the culture surrounding sexual assault on campus. Funding support for the research was provided by the Avon Foundation for Women, which awarded Defined Lines a 2104 Avon Campus Grant. Work on this paper by the third author was supported by NIH grant T32 DA019426.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Participants were shown the below informed consent in Qualtrics and indicated their consent by continuing to the next page of the survey and completing the study measures.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesStanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and GerontologyMissouri State UniversitySpringfieldUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryYale School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyThe University of AkronAkronUSA

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