The Impact of the Bystander's Relationship With the Victim and the Perpetrator on Intent to Help in Situations Involving Sexual Violence

J Interpers Violence. 2017 Mar;32(5):682-702. doi: 10.1177/0886260515586373. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


A large body of research has explored the individual and situational factors that influence bystander intervention for sexual violence. However, little research has explored the how the bystander's relationship to the victim and the perpetrator impacts helping. To explore this gap in the literature, the present study used vignettes to experimentally manipulate the bystander's relationship to the victim, and the bystander's relationship to the perpetrator to examine how these factors impact intent to help in low (i.e., unwanted contact) and high (i.e., situation at high risk of rape) severity situations of sexual violence. The gender of the bystander was also examined by recruiting a sample of women and men. Results suggested that bystanders were more likely to intervene when the situation was more severe and when the bystander was female. Results were mixed regarding intent to help when the bystander knew the victim or the perpetrator. Moreover, these factors interacted in complicated ways such that, for example, women are equally likely to intend to help a victim whether they know the perpetrator or not while men are more likely to help a victim if the perpetrator is someone they do not know. The results of this study suggest that bystander intervention for situations involving sexual violence are complex and future research should further tease out the moderating effects. Prevention programs using a bystander framework may need some segments of training that are more gender specific and that directly address the relationship between the bystander and the victim and perpetrator.

Keywords: bystander intervention; relationship to perpetrator; relationship to victim; sexual violence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Crime Victims / psychology*
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance
  • Sex Offenses / psychology*
  • Young Adult