March 28, 2017
2 min read

Bystander intervention program reduced sexual violence among high-school students

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Sexual violence and other forms of interpersonal violence perpetration were drastically reduced among Kentucky high schools following the implementation of a modified ‘bystander program’ initially developed for college students, according to a recent study.

“At the individual level, bystander interventions may reduce violent behaviors by increasing willingness and self-efficacy to challenge violence-supportive norms and behaviors in one’s peer group and intervene in risky situations to prevent violence,” Ann L. Coker, PhD, MPH, from the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky, and colleagues wrote. “These individual interventions within peer groups can diffuse the benefits of training through social networks to produce changes in social norms and behavior at the community level. Emerging evidence suggests that bystander approaches to violence prevention may increase bystander intentions, promote positive bystander behaviors and reduce violence among college students and adolescent male athletes.”

Ann Coker, MD
Ann L. Coker

The Green Dot bystander intervention program was implemented in 26 Kentucky schools over the course of 5 years. To determine the effectiveness of the program in reducing sexual violence and similar forms of interpersonal violence, the researchers randomly assigned schools were to two groups: one of which received intervention training, whereas the other used control (wait list) conditions.

Among schools that were randomly assigned to the intervention group, educators trained in Green Dot conducted training sessions with popular opinion leaders in schools and held schoolwide presentations. Outcomes included sexual violence perpetration and other forms of interpersonal violence victimization and perpetration, which were measured by anonymous student surveys that were collected by school and year, along with provided school-level counts.

By the end of the study, 89,707 high school students had completed surveys, with researchers incorporating linear mixed models and generalized estimating equations in the primary analyses, which were held between 2014 and 2016. The condition-time interaction on violent outcomes were determined using these methods.

Green Dot was fully integrated into school systems by the third and fourth years. On average, 120 events involving sexual violence were prevented using the promoted interventions, and 88 were prevented in the fourth year. When the sexual violence perpetration in the intervention and control groups was compared, the prevalence rate ratios were 0.83 in the third year and 0.79 in the fourth year. Sexual violence victimization, sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence perpetration and victimization demonstrated comparable results.

“The identification of Green Dot as an effective intervention for reducing school-level violence advanced the evidence base for bystander programming by demonstrating bystander program impacts on more than one violence form with a stronger effect for perpetration than victimization,” Coker and colleagues wrote. “Bystander programs were hypothesized to reduce violence rates over time. Data from this 5-year trial also indicated that sufficient time is required to see the ultimate effect of the bystander training on violent behaviors; results from these approaches may not appear with short-term implementation.” —by Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.