Chung-Ang University Study Highlights Barriers Preventing Bystander Help During Gender-Based Violence

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 16, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Gender-based violence (GBV) encompasses acts of violence based on individuals’ sex or gender, such as intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual assault, and violence against women. GBV can cause serious physical harm, ranging from psychological effects to even homicide. In case of acts of GBV in public settings, bystanders witnessing the act can intervene and alleviate the occurrence of such incidences by engaging in swift and prosocial action to protect victims. Bystanders’ presence can empower victims and suppress the behavior of perpetrators. However, despite their potential to act in such situations and play a preventive role, their willingness to act may be hindered by some barriers.

In a previous study, Latane and Darley (1970) proposed a situational model of bystander behavior to understand the bystander’s engagement to act during situations of GBV. It highlights various steps experienced by the bystander during GBV incidents, such as becoming aware of the situation, identifying it as a problem, taking responsibility, analyzing what to do, and ultimately, acting to prevent the perpetrator from committing the crime.

Burn (2009), however, pointed out some barriers which can prevent bystanders from experiencing each step. These include failure to notice, failure to recognize the situation as a risk, reluctance to take responsibility due to the lack of knowledge and incompetence in addressing the situation. In addition to it, Moschella and Banyard (2021) recently revealed that negative consequences in previous intervening experiences can deter bystanders from intervening again in future. Despite extensive research, however, the power of these barriers on bystanders’ willingness to intervene is still not well understood.

To bridge this gap, a team of researchers from Korea, led by Dr. Sihyun Park, an Associate Professor at the Department of Nursing at Chung-Ang University systematically reviewed and analyzed the barriers hindering bystander interventions during GBV. “To improve the bystander intervention, it is important to identify these barriers, understand their powers on bystanders’ likelihood to intervene, and to develop evidence-based educational initiatives that prioritize the most critical barriers,” says Dr. Park. Their study was published in Trauma, Violence, & Abuse on October 30, 2023.

To comprehensively understand the barriers, the team collected data on how the barriers affect bystanders’ interventions by reviewing existing literature. They used this data to determine the effect sizes (ESs) of each of these barriers, which indicated how strongly the different variables are related in the data. They also explored the impact of bystander population, gender, and types of GBV situations on ESs.

Their analysis revealed that the most significant barrier preventing bystanders from intervening was the lack of success in previous intervention attempts resulting in negative emotions and feeling of uncertainty. Thus, the future bystander-related programs should focus on mitigating this specific barrier.

Moreover, the researchers also found that people in universities and colleges are particularly vulnerable to these barriers, suggesting the need for programs tailored to this population of bystanders. Furthermore, these barriers were more potent in cases of violence against women and sexual assault than in cases of IPV, indicating the need for targeted and intervention strategies.

In summary, these findings provide important directional guidance for the future of bystander intervention education programs. While maximizing the efficacy and responsibility of bystander interventions should definitely be aimed for, addressing past failures and negative emotions among bystanders can lead to more targeted actions.


Title of original paper: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Bystander’s Barriers to Intervene in Gender-Based Violence and the Role of Failed Prior Attempts

Journal: Trauma, Violence, & Abuse


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Sungki Shin

SOURCE Chung-Ang University