Excellent Overview of the Bystander Research on College Campuses

Dear Engaged Bystander: I was hooked on this new journal article because they created their program, Engaging Bystander Approach (ERB) with the understanding that it was essential to add the word "engaging" because the term bystander, alone may conjure a passive or negative image of men and women who witness a problem and do nothing.

"Conceptualizing the Engaging Bystander Approach to Sexual Violence Prevention on Campus" by Sarah McMahon, Judy L Postmus and Ruth Anne Koenick provides an excellent overview to the bystander research and offers some new insights for those intrigued with the potential of this approach. The authors point out that the idea of bystander behavior is well established in the field of social psychology (e.g., examining individual reactions to crime and emergencies), but the application to sexual violence prevention is fairly recent. The authors propose that understanding the Continuum of Violence is key to developing an effective bystander intervention approach. For the authors, one end of the continuum are sexually violence behaviors and the other end are behaviors that contribute to the existence of sexual violence (e.g., sexually degrading language).

Through CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) funding, the authors conducted an exploratory study with 1000 undergraduates attending a new student orientation. Here is a short list of their findings and their call for further research:

Confronting overt signs is easier to consider saying something. Incoming freshman are better able to conceptualize an intervention when they are faced with the more overt forms of sexual violence. They suggest that a student is more likely to confront a friend taking a drunk person back to his/her room rather than confront a friend or family member who uses sexist language.

Gender. They found that women had higher level bystander attitudes and behaviors. The authors suggest that further research is needed to see to adjust the context and the skills training by gender.

Knowing someone who was sexually abused. Understanding the impact of sexual abuse through a friend or family was a significant factor in more positive bystander behaviors but surprisingly not necessarily linked to any change in attitudes.

Previous rape education. Previous rape education did not produce an significant differences in bystander attitudes or behaviors.

High risk groups. The at risk groups such as fraternities and athletic teams have less positive bystander attitudes then their counterparts. The author suggests that these tight knit communities value loyalty and even secrecy and may serve as a barrier to engaging them as bystanders.

For more information about this article, here is the full citation:

McMahon, J., Postmus, Judy L., and Ruth Anne Koernick. (2011) Conceptualizing the Engaging Bystander Approach to Sexual Violence Prevention on College Campuses. Journal of College Student Development. Vol 52, NO 1.