Undergraduate Students as Bystanders to Sexual Violence Risks: Differences in Reported Intervention Opportunities and Behaviors by Racial Identity

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Department or Administrative Unit

Nutrition Exercise and Health Sciences

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Although substantial research has been dedicated to understanding the demographic and psychosocial correlates of bystander intervention behavior related to sexual violence, as well as the effectiveness of bystander training programs, both lines of inquiry often fail to examine potential differences in bystander intervention opportunities and behavior based on students’ racial identity. Indeed, current research generally suffers from a lack of diversity in the study samples. Given this gap in the literature, the purpose of this study is to examine whether—and how—students’ racial identity (White, non-Hispanic, African American, Asian American, Hispanic and multiracial) is associated with their reported intervention opportunities and prosocial response as bystanders to sexual violence risks. In the fall of 2014, undergraduate students (N = 9,358) completed web-based surveys to assess bystander intervention opportunities and behavior for six high-risk situations. Tests of independence revealed racial identity was significantly associated with bystander opportunities for four of the six situations, and logistic regression revealed that White students had significantly higher odds of reporting these intervention opportunities, compared with students of color. Tests of independence revealed that racial identity was not significantly associated with bystander intervention behavior, although logistic regression analysis revealed Asian American students had significantly lower odds of reporting prosocial intervention response for one situation, compared with White counterparts. In response to growing concerns about campus sexual violence, institutions of higher education are increasingly adopting bystander training programs to engage students as prosocial helpers who can intervene in risk situations. In line with these findings, research of this nature should include samples that reflect the diversity of their campus communities, explore what types of opportunities students of color identify as potential for intervention, and ensure these situations are captured in bystander behavior measures used in the field.


This article was originally published in Journal of Interpersonal Violence. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Journal of Interpersonal Violence


© The Author(s) 2018