Are Campus Bystander Intervention Programs Effective in Reducing Sexual Assault?

The prevalence of sexual misconduct, assault, and rape on college campuses is a major concern. Some studies have shown that between 15 and 20 percent of women college students experience some form of sexual assault during their college years.

As a result, many colleges and universities have instituted sexual assault awareness programs as part of their orientation programs. These programs include training on how bystander intervention can reduce the number of sexual assault incidents. Bystander intervention programs encourage young people to intervene when witnessing incidents or warning signs of sexual assault.

A recent study led by Heather Hensman Kettrey, an assistant professor of sociology at Clemson University in South Carolina, finds that these bystander intervention programs are not as effective as college and university administrators had hoped they would be in reducing the number of sexual assaults on campus.

The study found that bystander programs have a significant effect on bystander intervention. But there is no evidence that these programs have an effect on rates of sexual assault perpetration. This suggests that bystander programs may be appropriate for targeting the behavior of potential bystanders but may not be appropriate for targeting the behavior of potential perpetrators.

The authors also found that the beneficial effects of bystander programs on bystander intervention were diminished after six months. Thus, booster sessions may be needed to yield any sustained effects.

Dr. Hensman Kettrey holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Middle Tennessee State University. She earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She joined the faculty at Clemson University in 2018.

The full study, “Effects of Bystander Programs on the Prevention of Sexual Assault Among Adolescents and College Students: A Systematic Review,” was co-authored by Robert A. Marx of San Jose State University and Emily E. Taylor-Smith of the University of Oregon. It was published in Campbell Systematic Reviews. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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