Bystander Approaches: Empowering Students to Model Ethical Sexual Behavior

Article excerpt

Sexual violence on college campuses is well documented. Prevention education has emerged as an alternative to victimand perpetrator-oriented approaches used in the past. One sexual violence prevention education approach focuses on educating and empowering the bystander to become a point of ethical intervention. In this model, bystanders to sexual violence become active agents working to move their communities toward ethical and respectful versions of sexual behavior. The purpose of this research was to develop and evaluate two bystander intervention models. Results indicate the efficacy of the bystander approach as a prevention strategy.

Sexual violence on college campuses is well documented, with current research indicating that 2.8% of female students experience rape or attempted rape during any given academic year (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000), and approximately 50% of female college students reporting some form of unwanted sexual behavior (Abbey, Ross, & McDuffie, 1996; Himelein, 1995; Koss, Gidcyz, & Wisniewski, 1987; Synovitz & Byrne, 1998). Two surveys conducted on the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) campus showed that approximately 3.8% of female students have experienced forced sexual intercourse while attending the university. National figures indicate that within a lifetime one in five women report experiencing sexual violence (Koss & Harvey, 1991); in Iowa the estimate is one in eight (Kilpatrick & Ruggiero, 2004). In the new millennium, prevention education, with goals of transforming cultural values and norms, has emerged as an alternative to more victimand perpetrator-oriented approaches used in the rape crisis movement of the 20th century (Banyard, Plante, & Moynihand, 2004).

One component of a number of current sexual violence prevention education programs is an emphasis on educating and empowering the bystander to become a point of ethical intervention within the community (Fabiano, Perkins, & Berkowitz, 2004). Ethical intervention involves engaging in behavior that follows a moral code and evaluating actions on the basis of a broader cultural context. The degree to which individuals intervene in contexts of sexual misconduct becomes a moral issue. With this model, the focus shifts beyond the victim and perpetrator to the people and culture that surround and allow the behavior to occur. The model requires that bystanders to sexual violence become active agents of transformation, moving the culture toward ethical and respectful versions of sexual behavior.

This study was designed to develop and evaluate two bystander intervention models-one focused on increasing the role that men play in decreasing violence against women, and the other using interactive theatre to empower and educate students during the fall orientation program.

CRITICAL RESEARCH AND BYSTANDER BEHAVIOR

Research assessing the success of gender-based violence prevention programs indicates that traditional information-only based prevention programs are not successful in changing the system or culture that supports the violence (Banyard et al., 2004). An ecological approach that seeks to transform social norms is increasingly supported (Berkowitz, 2003). According to Swift and Ryan-Fin "prevention approaches must go beyond changing individuals to changing the system that creates and maintains sexual abuse" (1995, p. 20). They argued that increasing traditional prevention education efforts focused primarily on providing information to students will not be effective unless gender ideology and related male and female gender constructions are challenged.

Attitudes and behaviors of male and female college students captured in national survey data indicate the correlation of gender ideology to the current high rates of gender violence (Fisher et al., 2000). Research with male students indicates that male perpetrators are often not self- or peer-identified as rapists, and in many instances feel validated for the behavior by normative measures of masculinity that define such behavior as sexual conquest (Lisak & Roth, 1990; Sanday, 1996). …