Abstract: "You're Asking the Wrong Questions:" the Feasibility of Implementing Bystander Intervention Programs with Socially Disconnected Youth in Vulnerable Communities (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

"You're Asking the Wrong Questions:" the Feasibility of Implementing Bystander Intervention Programs with Socially Disconnected Youth in Vulnerable Communities

Friday, January 18, 2019: 3:15 PM
Union Square 25 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Pepin, MSW, MSW Student, Tulane University, LA
Heather Storer, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Jennifer McCleary, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Duluth, MN
Arianne Stallings, MSW, MSW Student, Tulane University
Background & Purpose

Bystander intervention programs are innovative primary prevention approaches to address high rates of sexual and dating violence and nurture the development of settings that are intolerant to gender-based violence. At the school and community-level, factors such as social cohesion, collective efficacy, the presence of supportive adults, and exposure to community violence have been found to influence use of bystander behaviors. Despite the explosion of literature examining the potential efficacy of these interventions, most existing studies are situated in college and high school campuses. There has been a limited exploration of the feasibility of this approach among vulnerable youth in resource poor communities that are not affiliated with formal school or work settings (i.e., socially disconnected youth). The purpose of the present study is to examine the relationship between socially disconnected youth’s perceptions of the functions of community, their own connections to their myriad communities, and their willingness to intervene and prevent dating violence at the community level.


We gathered data from 6 community-based focus groups of mix-gendered youth aged 16-24 (n=40) in New Orleans. The majority identified as African American. All participants were involved with youth-serving organizing with missions to positively engage socially disconnected youth. To assess face validity, the interview guide was pilot tested with youth in another youth organization serving the same population. We used a semi-structured interview guide to elicit definitions of community, barriers and opportunities for community engagement, and perceptions of the feasibility of using bystander behaviors in their neighborhoods and communities. Using a traditional thematic content analysis approach, we utilized multiple rounds of inductive coding. First, we read the transcripts and identified concepts relevant to the analysis. This process generated the first round of codes we applied to the data. Once we applied codes to the data, we employed matrices to surface key social processes both within and across the focus groups. We met throughout the analysis process to solicit a diversity of interpretive perspectives.


Youth participants described community environments where they where exposed to a multitude of types of community and structural violence. Due to a litany of day-to-day challenges, participants described “hustling” to get their daily needs met. Overall, youth felt it was better to “not get involved” in dating violence. Although the majority did not condone these acts of violence, they perceived intervention to be dangerous due to retaliatory violence and or they equated bystander behaviors to “snitching.” Furthermore, their distrust in law enforcement made them unlikely to involve the criminal justice system.

Discussion & Implications for Practice

The findings surfaced critical insights regarding the feasibility of translating existing bystander intervention programs to vulnerable youth in community settings where there is a high presence of unemployment, gun violence, racial discrimination, and structural violence perpetrated by law enforcement. These findings underscore the importance of looking at violence as a continuum, rather than just intervention in one type of violence. Additional implications regarding nurturing community connectedness as a violence prevention strategy with socially disconnected youth will be discussed.