Men Who Intervene to Prevent Sexual Assault: A Grounded Theory Study on the Role of Masculinity in Bystander Intervention

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Sexual violence is a significant public health problem, particularly on college campuses, and disproportionately impacts women. Bystander intervention training has been identified as a promising intervention against sexual assault, as a third party is present in ∼1 in 3 incidents of sexual assault. However, research has found that men report greater barriers to intervention and less efficacy and intention to intervene. Research suggests that men’s masculine norm socialization may contribute to reluctance to intervene, but there is little research on the role of masculinity in potentially facilitating intervention. The purpose of this study was to identify an outlier population of college men (N = 15) who have intervened against sexual assault and to qualitatively examine the social and gender-relevant factors that influenced their intervention. Using grounded theory analysis, results indicated that the core category of “bystander intervention” was composed of direct, indirect, and passive bystander behaviors. These behaviors were influenced by five key categories, which included (a) exposure to training, (b) the role of alcohol, (c) social factors, (d) individual characteristics, and (e) masculine norms. Participants described their development and navigation of masculine norms, which in turn shaped their individual characteristics, exposure to training, and how they navigated the high-risk environments where they noticed potential assaults. Participants also described their decision-making process around intervening and the strategies they used to intervene. We present an emerging theory for understanding college men’s bystander intervention against sexual assault, incorporating both individual and social factors and the complex role of masculine norms.

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