To act or not to act, that is the question?: Barriers and facilitators of bystander intervention
A promising line of inquiry in sexual violence prevention involves training potential bystanders to intervene in situations where there is risk for violence. Theories of bystander intervention often discuss barriers to helping behavior, but there has been little empirical inquiry into this question. We will present findings of a study of both barriers and facilitators of helping behavior in the context of sexual violence among first-semester college students. Two hundred and forty-two first year college students completed surveys during their first year of college. Measures included assessment of bystander behavior, perceived barriers to helping, as well as a variety of other variables identified in the literature as key correlates of helping. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were used to (a) describe barriers and facilitators of helping, (b) examine the relationship between barriers and self-reports of helping, and (c) model individual differences in helping behavior. In quantitative analyses, barriers, as assessed in this study, were better predictors of helping behavior directed at strangers than helping of friends. Results suggested that open-ended responses about the facilitators and barriers to helping for sexual violence map well onto social-psychological models of bystander behavior, and that greater prosocial tendencies, an intrapersonal variable, increase actual helping behavior. A more specific understanding of what promotes and hinders helping can be used to enhance prevention education efforts focused on increasing helpful bystander actions.