Changing Campus Rape Culture, One Bystander at a Time

“I think universities need to accept that this is a problem, rather than thinking it is something that comes up only every once in a blue moon. They need a culture that supports victims while they are on campus.” — Laura Dunn, JD (SurvJustice.org)

Profs Kei Alegría-Flores, Kelli Raker, Robert K. Pleasants, Mark A. Weaver, and Morris Weinberger (Alegría-Flores, et al.) published “Preventing Interpersonal Violence on College Campuses: The Effect of One Act Training on Bystander Intervention” in Volume 30 of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, September 2015.

Why the study? In 2013, the Campus SaVE Act was passed by Congress as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). To combat campus rape and other violent acts against women, the Campus SaVE Act requires colleges and universities to start bystander education for new students. The law does not offer program components or a way to measure effectiveness, so this study looks at two programs,Helping Advocates for Violence Ending Now (HAVEN) and One Act and discusses their outcomes. (The One Act program was created by student leaders working with full-time staff and faculty. The program’s goal is  to train students on prevention of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and intimate partner violence by interrupting the bystander effect and taking action.)

Results of the study? The study compared training results at a large Southeastern U.S. university for the (response) program HAVEN and the (prevention) program One Act . The data show that One Act’s unique prevention focus on bystander training has a significantly larger positive effect than HAVEN response training. This means that One Act may be able to prevent interpersonal violence (IV) where other programs fail.

Quick summary? Data were collected over 2 academic years, both before and after One Act and HAVEN trainings were completed. A total of 1,487 students were trained during the 2 academic years. The final analytical data set had 1,681 observations from 930 participants (594/One Act and 336/HAVEN). Outcomes were graded using four measures: (1) college date rape attitudes and behaviors, (2) bystander confidence, (3) willingness to help, and (4) bystander behavior. The most statistically significant finding is that bystander confidence and willingness to help increased with One Act training, but not with HAVEN.

Take-aways?

  • Sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and intimate partner violence (all interpersonal violence or IV), are public health problems affecting 20% to 25% of female college students
  • Interpersonal violence is widespread on college campuses and it creates serious physical, mental, and emotional health problems, which threatens students’ academic achievement
  • IV victims report experiencing chronic pain, migraines/headaches, sexually transmitted infections, disability, depressive and anxiety symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts
  • Many college campuses still ignore laws and best practices when they respond to sexual violence among students
  • Overcoming the bystander effect is key to reducing interpersonal violence on college campuses.
  • One Act’s focus on diminishing the bystander effect significantly improves bystanders’ date rape attitudes and behaviors, as well as their confidence and willingness to help

So What?

  • With this knowledge, students can advocate for training programs similar to One Act
  • With this knowledge, journalists can include similar options in their stories about campus rape culture
  • With this knowledge, college administrators can comply with the law by seeking out programs that focus on preventative bystander training

Corresponding Author: Kei Alegría-Flores, Health Policy and Management Department, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dauer Dr., 1101 McGavran-Greenberg Hall, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. Email: kalegria@live.unc.edu

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