Research has demonstrated that sexual violence on college campuses is a prevalent problem. Krebs and colleagues (2009) found that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. Exposure to sexual violence has been associated with a variety of negative mental health outcomes such as humiliation, fear, guilt, mistrust, suicidal ideation, and loss of self-esteem.
Bystander interventions, which focus on men and women as bystanders to change social norms in a peer culture that supports abusive behaviors, have been developed to help prevent sexual violence on campus. The bystander model focuses both on increasing community members’ receptivity to prevention messages and training and supporting bystander behaviors. The purpose of this study was to explore university students’ perspectives on bystander interventions to inform the development and implementation of a campus-wide, bystander intervention program.
Four student focus groups were facilitated to gather student perceptions regarding the implementation of bystander interventions to prevent sexual violence at a university in the Southwestern part of the U.S. in 2016. A purposeful sample of university students (student leaders, resident assistants, and athletes) was recruited for this investigation. Twenty-four students (12 women and 12 men) participated in the focus groups. Students participated in one 60- to 90-minute focus group that included a maximum of eight participants. The focus group sessions included questions that addressed students’ perceptions regarding development and implementation of a bystander intervention program on campus as well as barriers and facilitators to acting as a pro-social bystander.
The focus group sessions were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using Dedoose. A thematic analysis was used to identify students’ perceptions regarding best practices for bystander intervention programming on campus.
The results of this study found that the relationship to the victim, perceptions of others present, location, and consequences of bystander action were the main themes that contributed to whether someone would or would not act as an active bystander in risky situations. Results also found that participants would prefer bystander intervention programming to be presented by peers in small groups and include an interactive component such as role-playing. Participants also provided several different suggestions, both punitive and reward-based, to incentivize students to act as pro-social bystanders in risky situations. Some suggestions included making the program mandatory by restricting class registration until completion of the program or developing a university social media platform to recognize positive examples of bystander action.
Conclusion and Implications
The results of this study will help guide the continued development and implementation of a student-focused, campus-wide, bystander sexual violence prevention initiative on campus. The results of this study will allow universities to develop and implement bystander intervention initiatives that are relevant and impactful to university students to ensure that this programming will affect change in the student population.