Collective efficacy could contribute to willingness to intervene in problematic situations, while bystander theory suggests that individuals may be more likely to intervene if they identify with the victim or feel comfortable in the environment. We used hypothetical randomized vignettes to examine associations between neighborhood context, collective efficacy, and likelihood of intervening or reporting a potential incident of elder physical abuse.
METHODS: We conducted an online survey with a mixed-mode random probability and quota-based sample of 946 Californians. Using a vignette-experimental design, participants were exposed to one of two hypothetical descriptions of an older person experiencing a potential act of physical abuse. Participants were randomized to two conditions: A) the potentially abusive situation occurred in their own neighborhood; B) the situation occurred in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Weighted ordinal logistic regression models were used to estimate the odds of indicating the vignette was abusive, intervening in the vignette, or reporting the situation to authorities, controlling for demographic characteristics.
RESULTS: While the vast majority of respondents interpreted the vignette as abusive (88%), smaller percentages reported that they would intervene in or report the behavior described in the vignette. Neighborhood context was not associated with the outcome variables, suggesting that individuals would intervene in or report the incident at equal rates whether or not they perceived it to occur in their own neighborhood. Individuals with higher collective efficacy scores were more likely to report that they would intervene in the vignette. Finally, a two-way interaction between neighborhood context and collective efficacy was significantly associated with likelihood of reporting the incident to authorities. At high levels of collective efficacy, individuals were more likely to state that they would definitely not report the incident if they believed it was occurring in their own neighborhood vs. an unfamiliar neighborhood.
CONCLUSION & IMPLICATIONS: Individuals in the general population may not be willing to report witnessed acts of elder abuse, even if they believe that abuse is occurring. This suggests an ongoing need for informing the public about the consequences of elder abuse and functions of Adult Protective Services. While high collective efficacy may empower individuals to intervene against problematic situations, it may also discourage them from bringing authorities to their own neighborhood. Although the trust generated by collective efficacy may consequently boost informal bystander assistance, it may also discourage involvement of formal systems. Interventions designed to educate the general population about Adult Protective Services or other authorities in an embedded community context may foster beliefs that agencies can help communities and support the well being of older adults.