Abstract: A Nuanced Approach to Measuring Bystander Intervention Opportunity, Action, and Consequences (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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A Nuanced Approach to Measuring Bystander Intervention Opportunity, Action, and Consequences

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Alhambra, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jill Hoxmeier, PhD, Associate Professor, Central Washington University, WA
Sarah McMahon, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Julia Cusano, MSW, Phd Candidate and Research Specialist, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background and Purpose. Measures to capture bystander intervention (BI) behavior are varied, and scholars in this field continue to grapple with the complexity of assessing individuals’ experiences as witnesses to sexual violence (SV). Building on current research, this study describes a more nuanced methodology for measuring BI experiences that centers students’ perceived opportunities for, and reported frequency of engaging in, preventing SV though direct confrontation of those at risk for perpetration in four different situations. Additionally, we examine the consequences of engaging in such actions from the bystanders’ perspective, including both positive and negative outcomes of their intervention. Methods. This methodology was piloted in a cross-sectionals study at two college campuses in the mid-Atlantic (Campus 1, n = 1,153; Campus 2, n = 1,113) in the fall of 2020. Participants were asked whether they had the opportunity to intervene in four different BI situations, all focusing on their direct confrontation of those at risk for perpetrating SV. Of those reporting a perceived intervention opportunity, follow-up items captured 1) the amount of opportunity; 2) frequency of taking the described action; and 3) consequences of acting. Findings are presented at the item level to illustrate differences in individuals’ experiences. Results. Findings show that students’ perceived opportunities to intervene varied between the four SV risk situations we examined. The most reported intervention opportunity was to confront those making false statements about sexual assault (approximately 10% at each campus). Number of opportunities to intervene also varied, with students often reporting more than one opportunity to intervene in the past year (with the majority of individuals reporting 3 or less perceived opportunities for each situation). Frequency of taking action indicated bystanders intervened most of the time, with mean scores all above three, on a four-point scale, across the four situations examined in this study. The most reported consequence was that direct confrontation of the person at risk for perpetration did not cause further harm (with the majority of individuals’ reporting this occurred at least half the time they intervened). However, bystanders also reported that the person causing harm got mad or upset with them because of their intervention. Conclusions and Implications. With bystander-based models proliferating as a prevention strategy across the country, research about how these efforts specifically impact those at risk for perpetration is needed to understand how this model aligns with primary prevention of violence. Scholars must recognize the multidimensional nature of BI, and, in discussing this model as one for the prevention of violence, we must consider the broad evidence base, and the measures used therein, that support such conclusions. The methodology presented can help researchers better understand students’ attempts to intervene in situations leading to SV in a more nuanced manner, and thus can provide information for practitioners designing prevention programs. Importantly, these methods can be adapted to meet a range of research and programmatic objectives.