The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Moving Beyond Individual Level Indicators: Integrating Community-Level Factors Into Understanding Youth' Bystander Behavior

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:00 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Storer, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Erin A. Casey, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Washington, Tacoma, WA
Taryn Lindhorst, PhD, Carol LaMare Associate Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Todd I. Herrenkohl, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Claire Andrefsky, BASW, Bachelors Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Youth-centered bystander programs have been introduced as innovative approaches to prevent teen dating violence (TDV). Bystander programs equip youth with the competencies to positively intervene when they witness a range of abusive behaviors among their peers. To date the bystander literature has focused exclusively on the individual factors that can motivate teens to positively intervene. Given the pivotal role social context plays in the development of community norms that are permissive to TDV, this paper responds to the call to identify mezzo and community-level factors that can influence youth’s bystander behaviors.


Data & Sample:We gathered data from 8 community-based focus groups and included youth aged 14-18 (n=53) in an urban locale in Washington state. We used a semi-structured interview guide to elicit youths’ examples of TDV and initiate a discussion about the range of factors that would influence their decision to intervene as positive bystanders.

Analysis:We utilized multiple rounds of coding to facilitate the data analysis process. First, we read the transcripts and identified concepts relevant to the analysis. This inductive reading of the transcripts generated the first round of codes we applied to the data. Then we coded all the transcripts with both inductively derived codes, and deductive codes that represented sensitizing concepts from the bystander literature. Once we applied codes to the data, matrices comparing codes both within and across the focus groups were created to highlight the key social processes. We met throughout the analysis process to ensure congruence in coding and to resolve discrepancies.


Youth reported a reluctance to positively intervene when presented with examples of TDV. Systems’ level barriers to utilize bystander behavior fell into 3 primary domains: 1) Permissive school cultures with safety issues that impede active bystander behavior; 2) Online communities (i.e. Facebook and Twitter) where abusive behavior went unchecked, and there were few examples of positive bystander behavior, and family environments where discussions about being a positive bystander rarely occurred. Specifically, youth characterized schools as environments where administrators didn’t differentiate dating abuse from other kinds of violence or were perceived as unresponsive to abusive incidents. Additionally, there were few opportunities for youth to learn about the dynamics of TDV or get involved in anti-violence activities. Lastly, youth described peer group acceptance of dating abuse happening via their online communities with examples of “sexting” explicit images and reinforcement of negative social attitudes about TDV victims.


This study is an important first step in developing a nuanced understanding of the ecological factors that influence youth’s bystander behaviors. It revealed that an attention to social context is paramount for the design and implementation of youth bystander programs. Trusted adults such as teachers, parents and school administrators need training on partnering with youth to create more respectful and responsive school, family and social media climates where there is intolerance to TDV and a modeling of positive bystander behavior.