Abstract: Youth Actionists to Prevent Disparities Caused By Peer Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

597P Youth Actionists to Prevent Disparities Caused By Peer Violence

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Victoria Banyard, PhD, Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Katie Edwards, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
Kimberly Mitchell, PhD, Associate Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, Durham, NH
Lisa Jones, PhD, Associate Research Professor, University of New Hampshire, Durham, Durham, NH
Background: Adolescents are a high risk age group for peer violence including sexual harassment and sexual assault. These forms of violence disproportionately affect youth from underrepresented groups. One promising prevention approach is training youth to be actionists – to step up and intervene to stop violence from happening and to promote healthy relationship norms. The current study examined the active bystander behavior of youth in grades 7-10 in a diverse community in the Great Plains region of the U.S. The study had three aims (1) To describe youth opportunity to intervene across four types of unwanted sexual experiences, (2) To describe the range of strategies youth use to help, and (3) to examine risk (alcohol use) and protective (mattering, positive social norms) factors for being an actionist. We hypothesized that youth who used alcohol would report greater opportunities to be an actionist and based on alcohol myopia theory and research with college students that they would report greater problematic bystander behaviors (doing nothing or laughing and treating the situation as non-serious) and lesser helpful actions.

Methods: In-school surveys were given to 2225 youth in grades 7-10 who had parental permission. Youth were from a diverse community and 18% were Native American. Eighty-six percent were retained 6 months later for a second survey using the same methods. We included reliable and valid measures of bystander behavior/actionism, alcohol use, social norms, and mattering.

Results: While a majority of youth reported witnessing unwanted sexual contact by peers (55%), fewer had the chance to take action against sexual assault (15%), sexting (33%) or peers who spread sexual rumors (43%). Very few youth reported proactive actions such as talking to peers or adults about healthy relationships (23%) and using social media to promote sexual violence prevention (18%). Correlational and regression analyses revealed that use of alcohol in the past 6 months was related to greater opportunities to be an actionist. It was also related to greater likelihood of doing nothing or not taking the situation seriously. Perceiving positive social norms was related to lesser likelihood of doing nothing or not taking the situation seriously. Both alcohol use and higher social norm perception were related to greater use of distraction as an action. Greater social norms perceptions were related to higher levels of delegating, direct, and supporting victims.

Implications: Youth are an under-tapped resource for the prevention of peer interpersonal violence including peer sexual violence. The current study showed that a substantial sub-sample of youth in late middle and early high school are in situations where there is risk for sexual harassment or assault and they are in a position to interrupt to prevent the situation or to support a victim. Students who engage in risky behaviors like underage drinking may be on the front lines. School social workers can be important gatekeepers to this prevention work in secondary schools.