A Situational Model of Sexual Assault Prevention through Bystander Intervention

Abstract

Bystander intervention is a potentially potent tool in the primary prevention of sexual assault but more information is needed to guide prevention programs (Banyard 2008). Undergraduates (378 women and 210 men, primarily White) at a central coast California university completed an anonymous questionnaire measuring five barriers identified by the situational model of bystander intervention (Latane and Darley 1970) and bystander intervention behavior. As expected, the barriers were negatively correlated with intervention, were greater for men than for women, and intervention likelihood was affected by perceptions of victim worthiness, especially for men. Hypotheses predicting a positive relationship between having a relationship with the potential victim or perpetrator and intervention were supported. Implications for sexual assault bystander intervention programming are provided.

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Acknowledgment

The author would like to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their comments as well as undergraduates Alyssa Bogetz, Kelli June, Jennifer Ledbetter, Caitlin Busso, Stephanie Marasco, Caitlin Madden, Linda Sosa, and Casey Tolosa, who assisted in various tasks such as collecting literature, questionnaire pretesting, data collection, data entry, and proofreading.

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Correspondence to Shawn Meghan Burn.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Barrier Subscale Items

Failure to Notice

  1. 1.

    At a party or bar, I am probably too busy to be aware of whether someone is at risk for sexual assault.

Failure to Identify Situation as High Risk

  1. 1.

    In a party or bar situation, I find it hard to tell whether a guy is at risk for sexually assaulting someone.

  2. 2.

    In a party or bar situation, I think I might be uncertain as to whether someone is at-risk for being sexually assaulted.

  3. 3.

    Even if I thought a situation might be high in sexual assault risk, I probably wouldn’t say or do anything if other people appeared unconcerned.

Failure to Take Intervention Responsibility

  1. 1.

    Even if I thought someone was at risk for being sexually assaulted, I would probably leave it up to others to intervene. (diffusion of responsibility)

  2. 2.

    If I saw someone I didn’t know was at risk for being sexually assaulted, I would leave it up to his/her friends to intervene. (diffusion of responsibility)

  3. 3.

    I am less likely to intervene to reduce a person’s risk of sexual assault if I think she/he made choices that increased their risk. (worthiness)

  4. 4.

    If a person is dressed provocatively, or acts provocatively, I am less likely to intervene to prevent others from taking sexual advantage of them. (worthiness)

  5. 5.

    If a person is extremely intoxicated I am less likely to intervene to prevent others from taking sexual advantage of them. (worthiness)

  6. 6.

    If a person is dressed provocatively, or acts provocatively, I feel less responsible for preventing others from taking sexual advantage of them. (worthiness)

  7. 7.

    I am more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault if I know the potential victim than if I do not. (relationship of bystander to potential victim)

  8. 8.

    I am more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault if I know the person that may be at risk for committing sexual assault than if I do not know him. (relationship of bystander to potential perpetrator)

Failure to Intervene Due to a Skills Deficit

  1. 1.

    Although I would like to intervene when a guy’s sexual conduct is questionable, I am not sure I would know what to say or do.

  2. 2.

    Even if I thought it was my responsibility to intervene to prevent sexual assault, I am not sure I would know how to intervene.

Failure to Intervene Due to Audience Inhibition

  1. 1.

    I am hesitant to intervene when a man’s sexual conduct is questionable because I am not sure other people would support me.

  2. 2.

    Even if I thought it was my responsibility to intervene to prevent a sexual assault, I might not out of a concern I would look foolish.

Appendix 2

Bystander Intervention Items

Women

  1. 1.

    To reduce sexual assault risk, I never leave a friend alone at a party or bar even if the friend insists she’ll be all right.

  2. 2.

    I try to be a good friend by not letting my intoxicated female friends go to a private location with a guy.

  3. 3.

    To reduce sexual assault risk, I discourage my friends from going to a private location with a male acquaintance.

  4. 4.

    I remind my female friends to take actions to reduce sexual assault risk.

  5. 5.

    If I see a man pressuring a woman to leave a party or bar with him, I intervene.

  6. 6.

    If I see a situation in which it looks like someone will end up being taken advantage of sexually, I intervene.

  7. 7.

    If I see someone “putting the moves” on a person that is very intoxicated, I say or do something about it.

  8. 8.

    If I hear someone making inappropriate sexual comments to someone else, I say or do something about it.

Men

  1. 1.

    To keep my friends out of trouble, I stop them from doing things that might meet the definition of sexual assault.

  2. 2.

    I intervene if I see a friend trying to take advantage of someone’s intoxicated state to have sex with them.

  3. 3.

    I say something if I hear a friend talking about getting someone intoxicated in order to have sex with them.

  4. 4.

    I discourage my friends from talking about women in sexually degrading ways.

  5. 5.

    I will interfere with another guy’s “action” if I think it might stop them from possibly committing a sexual assault.

  6. 6.

    I intervene if I see a stranger or acquaintance trying to take advantage of someone’s intoxicated state to have sex with them.

  7. 7.

    I say something if I hear a stranger or acquaintance talking about taking sexual advantage of someone’s intoxicated state.

  8. 8.

    I discourage strangers or acquaintances if I hear them talking about women in sexually degrading ways.

Both Women and Men

  1. 1.

    I am more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault if I know the potential victim than if I do not.

  2. 2.

    I am more likely to intervene to prevent sexual assault if I know the potential perpetrator than if I do not.

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Burn, S.M. A Situational Model of Sexual Assault Prevention through Bystander Intervention. Sex Roles 60, 779–792 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9581-5

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Keywords

  • Sexual assault
  • Prevention
  • Bystander intervention