Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15629 Community Attitudes about Sexual Violence: Risk and Protective Factors

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 8:45 AM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Corinne Warrener, MSW, Research Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sarah McMahon, PhD, Assistant Professor/Associate Director, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sheila McMahon, MDiv, Research Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Purpose Using a public health model, primary prevention of sexual violence must include the reduction of risk factors and augmentation of protective factors (CDC, WHO, 2010). Three factors have been identified for examination in this study: Gender norms, media attitudes, and bystander behavior. Attitudes about gender roles have been identified as a critical area to focus on for sexual violence prevention because adherence to strict gender roles and belief in rape myths are risk factors for committing sexually violent acts (Berkowitz, 1992; Christopher et al, 1998; Lanier, 2001; Lyndon et al, 2007). Mass media has been identified as a prominent source for shaping our attitudes and norms about gender roles, therefore attitudes about media can be regarded as a risk factor (Hammer, 2009). The bystander approach suggests that every member of the community has a responsibility to be active bystanders in sexual violence situations and is regarded as a protective factor (Banyard et al, 2004; McMahon, et al., 2011).

This study focuses on primary prevention by establishing a baseline of certain risk and protective factors: attitudes about gender norms, attitudes about media portrayal of gender, and bystander intervention. By understanding how groups differ in their attitudes, prevention efforts can be tailored to specific communities and groups.

Methods Random digit dialing was used to obtain a sample of 886 from the population of New Jersey. The phone interviews took about 15 minutes to complete and asked about demographics, the participant's beliefs regarding gender roles, sexual violence, portrayal of gender in the media, and likelihood to intervene in situations ranging from use of sexually derogatory language to potential for sexual assault.

Results ANCOVA was used to compare demographic groups' Attitudes about Gender Roles, Attitudes about Media, and Attitudes about Bystander Behaviors. These 3 areas were measured by mean scores from scales following an exploratory factor analysis. Age, race, and gender were examined while controlling for education, as education was highly correlated with all 3 scales. Analyses used weighted data.

Results indicate that older people, minority racial groups, and men hold more traditional views of gender roles. For Attitudes about Media, only gender was significant, with women more likely to believe that the media portrays women negatively. Attitudes about Bystander Behaviors varied by gender and age, with women and older respondents reporting greater likelihood to intervene.

Implications Effective sexual violence prevention efforts must address the underlying assumptions held by individuals in a community in order to change rape supportive ideologies and social norms and, ultimately, to decrease sexual violence perpetration (Berkowitz, 2001; Davis & Little, 2002; Fabiano et al, 2003; Lonsway, 1996; Potter et al, in press; Stein, 2007). This study provides a foundation for tailoring prevention efforts to the various groups found in NJ by specifying groups that have higher risk attitudes about gender and media and the protective factor of willingness to intervene. Furthermore, this information provides critical information to sexual violence prevention efforts and can be used for future research and prevention efforts among communities and states beyond NJ.

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