Men’s Perspectives on Risk Identification, Taking Responsibility, and Prosocial Intervention: Primary Prevention or Harm Reduction?


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Abstract

Campus initiatives to prevent sexual violence by engaging students as prosocial bystanders are increasingly widespread in the United States. Despite the original articulation of the bystander intervention model as one with potential to serve as primary prevention of sexual violence, there has been little investigation into how students’ bystander experiences align with a primary prevention framework. The purpose of this qualitative study is to examine how college men identify risk for sexual violence, take responsibility for intervention, and intervene to better understand how these experiences align with a primary prevention or harm reduction perspective. Fifty-three undergraduate men from a large university in the northeastern United States participated in focus groups in 2015; discussions of 31 different bystander experiences were analyzed for this study. Results indicate that women’s alcohol consumption, or level of intoxication, often signify risk for sexual violence, as compared with other men’s sexual aggression. Men’s intervention responsibility is commonly motivated by a desire to protect women from victimization, rather than personal morals or ethics, yet their intervention responses seem to align both with primary prevention, through the confrontation of other men’s risk behavior, and harm reduction, through the confrontation of women’s risk behavior. These findings suggest that men’s bystander experiences may reflect benevolent sexism, or feelings of protective paternalism, rather than social justice or desire to combat gender inequity.

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