The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Applying the Theory of Planned Behavior to Sexual Violence Prevention

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Sheila McMahon, MDiv, Research Assistant, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sarah McMahon, PhD, Assistant Professor/Associate Director, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Christopher T. Allen, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswisk, NJ
Judy L. Postmus, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Title: Applying the Theory of Planned Behavior to Sexual Violence Prevention

Background and Purpose: Social workers encounter millions of women and girls affected by gender-based sexual violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as holding particular promise for sexual violence prevention. According to the TPB, behavioral intent is comprised of the following facets: individuals’ behavioral beliefs, normative beliefs, subjective norms, situational control beliefs which results in perceived behavioral control. Behavioral intent, in the TPB, is considered the indicator that a person is ready or has the intent to perform a given behavior.  While TPB has been used to predict and explain other health-related behaviors (e.g. smoking), there is no empirical work applying the theory to sexual violence prevention. The aim of this study is to apply TPB for the purpose of program evaluation pertaining to a sexual violence program which trains college students to act as pro-social bystanders. We address the following research question: does the TPB fit data assessing changes in individual attitudes and behaviors following exposure to a sexual violence prevention program?

METHOD: The data come from a CDC-funded longitudinal randomized control study (Grant Number: 5R01CE001855-02) investigating the effectiveness of a peer education model to impact  behavioral intent and behaviors related to sexual violence and bystander intervention.

The sample includes survey responses from 4,054 first year students who attended orientation at a large public university in the northeast. This analysis examines data from the study pre-test, a paper and pencil survey students completed prior to viewing a peer-led theater program on sexual violence.

Drawing on TPB’s theoretical framework, the proposed model in this study assumes that rape myths (e.g. attitudes) and confidence (e.g. perceived norms, and efficacy) influence bystander attitudes (e.g. behavioral intent) which in turn influences actual bystander behavior.  Several scales were used to measure these variables including the Bystander Attitudes Scale Revised and Bystander Behaviors Scale Revised, Bystander Efficacy Scale (Banyard et al 2005), revised Rape Myth Scale and a newly developed scale to measure  perceived norms, they Bystander Friend Norms scale.   

Results:  Findings from the path analysis indicated that the model demonstrated strong model fit statistics (χ2 = 15.35,  p ≤ .001; CFI = .99; TLI = .98; RMSEA =  .06; SRMR = .02). Attitudes, perceived norms, and efficacy accounted for 67.5% of the variance in behavior intent. However, behavioral intent accounted for only 3.2% of the variance in bystander behaviors. The TPB is a good fit to the data when the focus of inquiry is on behavioral intent.

Conclusions This study demonstrates the potential utility of TPB for predicting behavioral intent in this sample. Further empirical and theoretical work will be required in order to predict and explain the gap in the TPB’s utility to predict behavioral intent versus actual behavior. This study provides an opportunity for further research among social work researchers to contribute to the development of knowledge in the field of primary prevention approaches.