Methods: Data were collected in an online survey, administered by a center associated with the School of Social Work, of all students at a northeastern university in the fall of 2014. The survey measured students’ attitudes, behaviors, and experiences regarding sexual violence and university climate. Respondents were asked a series of questions to assess bystander attitudes, adapted a validated bystander attitudes scale. Using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from very unlikely to very likely, students were asked about actions they might take to either prevent or respond to an incident of sexual violence in the future.
For the purposes of this study, only undergraduate students were included in the sample (n=8,217). Descriptive statistics were computed, and multivariate regression models using the ordinary least squares method were estimated to examine the proposed links among perception of peer supportiveness, gender, and bystander attitudes.
Findings: Results from the multivariate linear regression indicate that perceived peer supportiveness is significantly associated with bystander attitude scores. As perception of perceived peer supportiveness increases, students’ bystander attitudes increase, however this relationship is significantly moderated by gender (p<.001). For female students, each one unit increase in perception of peer supportiveness is associated with a .065 of a standard deviation higher bystander attitude score. However, among male students, as perception of peer supportiveness increases, bystander attitude increases by .19 of a standard deviation. Therefore, the effect of perceived peer supportiveness on bystander attitude scores is nearly three times stronger for male students compared to female students.
Conclusion and Implications: As bystander intervention strategies proliferate on college campuses, a number of research questions remain for the social work field. Findings confirm research identifying a positive relationship between perception of peer attitudes and beliefs towards sexual violence and students’ own attitudes and beliefs regarding sexual violence. Results confirm that students who perceive their peers as more supportive of sexual violence survivors’ on campus are more likely to yield higher bystander attitude scores, however this association is much stronger for male compared to female students. When developing prevention efforts on campus methods to increase students’ perceptions of their peers’ supportiveness of sexual violence survivors should be considered to help promote active bystander behaviors, particularly amongst male students. This is particularly important for social workers as well as Schools of Social Work as they can take active roles in this process.