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Books & Research Conceptualizing the Engaging Bystander Approach

to Sexual Violence Prevention on College Campuses McMahon, S., Postmus, J.L., & Koenick, R.A. (2011). Conceptualizing the engaging bystander approach to sexual violence prevention on college campuses. JOURNAL OF COLLEGE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT, 52(1), 115- 130.


his study attempts to re-frame the bystander approach as a tool that can

be used to engage communities in primary prevention. Not all of the sexual violence or rape prevention programming on college campuses is focused on primary prevention. Previous research has shown that focusing on sexual assault information, empathy for survivors, and teaching risk reduction alone are unlikely to create behavior change. Te study asserts that the bystander approach is positioned for use as a primary prevention strategy, as it empowers individuals to change their community culture through attainable actions. Sexual violence occurs on a continuum ranging from sexist language to sexual assault; therefore bystander activities can occur all along this continuum. Tis conceptualization of the bystander approach is broader than rape prevention as many colleges envision it, and encompasses a larger social shift away from attitudes and behaviors that support the continuum of violence.

Nine hundred and fifty-one incoming college students participated in a study to assess willingness to engage in primary prevention bystander activities. Te study modified scales that measure bystander attitudes and behaviors in order to reflect relevant and realistic language and settings of the campus. Students responded to questions about their reactions or beliefs regarding hypothetical “high-risk for sexual assault” situations as well as less overt items such as sexist language.

Te findings provide some useful directions for future programming and research:

• Students were more likely to engage as active bystanders to more blatant situations. For example, students were more likely to object to an intoxicated person being carried into a bedroom than to a peer using sexist language.

• Consistent with previous studies, female students were more likely to have active and supportive bystander attitudes and behavior. Tis suggests that males may need additional bystander skill training.



Spring 2011 | Volume 3

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