Bystander Initiative Effectiveness

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UWindsor aims to reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus. Central to this effort is the UW Bystander Initiative, which offers sexual assault prevention workshops to undergraduate and first-year law students. The workshop we use is Bringing in the Bystander®. BITB® identifies everyone as a potential bystander with the ability to take action to prevent sexual assault.

BITB® is effective for both men and women and emphasizes the importance of working together to change social norms and behaviours on campus. Workshops are small (20-25 participants), offered separately to men and women, and led by students who have completed two full-semester BI courses where they learned about sexual assault and bystander behaviour and were trained to deliver BITB®.

Using well established social psychology measures and methodology, BI Team members, Drs Charlene Senn and Anne Forrest, found that students who participated in the 3-hour workshop were more willing and more prepared to take action when they identified a situation that could lead to sexual assault.

In their study of 827 UWindsor undergraduates that compared BITB® workshop participants with a control group, Senn and Forrest found that workshop participants were better able to identify ways to safely intervene to prevent sexual violence. Both male and female participants were more confident that they had the skills needed to intervene and reported fewer concerns about what others would think if they took action to support a friend or stranger. When participants had opportunities to take action, they reported proactive bystander behaviour, for example, by developing an intervention plan in case they witnessed a sexual assault or by raising sexual assault prevention in conversations with friends.


Fall 2017 Pilot Project

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This pilot project investigates a new model of delivering sexual assault prevention workshops to undergraduate students. Prior to Fall 2017, Bringing in the Bystander® was offered to over 1200 students a year, primarily in conjunction with their courses. Starting in Fall 2018, BITB® will be offered to all year 1 students. Those who complete the workshop will receive a $50 gift card for the University Bookstore plus a Certificate of Completion that can be added to their resumé.

To plan for Fall 2018, we need to know:

  • How many students are likely to participate.

  • Patterns of participation by gender, program, and faculty.

  • Why students decide to participate or not participate in the workshop.

Five hundred randomly selected, year 1 students have been invited to participate in the Fall 2017 pilot project. Those who complete the workshop will receive the $50 incentive, and those who participate in the research project will receive a small additional incentive.

The long-term goal of the Bystander Initiative is the creation of an anti-rape campus ethos supported by a critical mass of students who are willing and able to shut down rape jokes, challenge rape myths, and disrupt sexual assaults in-the-making. To produce this shift in campus culture, we must commit to sustainability. Sexual assault prevention cannot be a one-time, one-cohort intervention – every fall, we welcome to campus a new group of students for whom sexual and gender-based violence is normalized by the wider culture.

Offering BITB® to all year 1 students will expand the reach of the Bystander Initiative significantly, and offer sexual assault prevention education to students when they need it most.

Findings will be posted at the conclusion of the project.

International Student Project

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The University of Windsor is currently expanding delivery of Bringing in the Bystander® peer-led sexual assault prevention workshops to faculties where there is a higher proportion of international students. In 2017-2018 we are conducting a preliminary study to determine whether adaptations are needed to make the program more relevant and accessible to international students. The current phase of the study involves an anonymous online survey and small focus group discussions.

Interdisciplinary bystander research tells us much about social barriers to intervention in emergencies and in sexual violence, as well as how to successfully overcome them (Latane and Darley 1968; Banyard, Moynihan, Eckstein and Plante 2012). Although BITB® is the most rigorously researched university-level prevention program of its kind, there is currently no disaggregated data on its effectiveness with students who speak English as a second language or with international students. The growing number of studies on bystander intervention in cultural contexts outside of North America suggest that some cultural factors may require bystander training to address different areas than the standard North American model (Zhong 2010; Lambert et al, 2012; Ayodele and Aderinto 2016; Hassan et al 2016; Huang, Hu and Mao 2016; Kamimura et al 2016; Xue et al 2016).

At the University of Windsor, our study acknowledges that international student bystanders may experience additional barriers to intervention such as a lack of familiarity with Canadian social norms and local or university services, a smaller personal support network, and perceived social and linguistic exclusion compared to domestic student bystanders. In a recent large-scale study on sexual assault at six universities in Quebec, international students reported some of the highest rates of sexual assault and harassment (ESSIMU 2016).

As we institutionalize and expand our offerings into programs where international students are more concentrated, it is critical to ensure that the current BITB® workshop is accessible and appropriate for all UWindsor students. In short, our research seeks to identify any barriers arising for international students in our current curriculum, in order to adapt it as needed to deliver an effective and inclusive program. It will directly support the quality of the student experience at the University, and it will also address a research gap on identity and sexual assault prevention at a key moment for this field in North America. Although promising research is beginning to emerge (Levine 2004; Baker et al 2014; Harris and Linder 2017), the field will benefit from further research and discussion.

This preliminary study is led by Dr. Emily Rosser, with Bystander Team members Dr. Charlene Senn, Dr. Anne Forrest and research assistant Hio Tong Kuan.

Findings will be posted at the conclusion of the project.

Two studies have affirmed the usefulness of Draw-the-Line campaign materials to expand the reach of the Bystander Initiative and reinforce its prosocial bystander message.  DTL, created by Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes and the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, is an interactive, multi-media social marketing campaign designed to raise awareness about sexual assault, challenge viewers to speak out against sexually aggressive language, and intervene when they witness aggressive sexual behaviours. DTL images describes incidents and ask the viewer what they would do. Viewers are encouraged to go to the DTL website for more information.

The first study was designed to identify social marketing materials that appeal to students and, so, reinforce the central messages of the Bystander Initiative.

Focus group participants examined DTL posters and postcards, which were strewn around the room, then discussed their reactions to each. Both men and women found the images visually appealing, clear and concise, and the situations depicted easy to relate to. They were also drawn to the bold format, which asked the reader what they would do if faced with a particular situation, e.g., “A friend sends you a naked picture of a girl he knows” followed by “Is it a big deal to share it with others?” Some messages were considered more appealing than others; however, lack of appeal did not mean lack of engagement – the images that appealed least provoked a great deal of discussion, which is the overall purpose of the DTL campaign.

Engagement was limited in two ways. First, very few participants noticed the website address on the materials, and those who did saw no reason to visit the site. Secondly, participants who handled the postcards failed to turn them over, so did not see the more extensive information about sexual assault prevention printed on the back.

Lead researcher: Twiladawn Rutherford

The second study evaluated the extent to which students notice Draw-The-Line materials when displayed around campus and take away the messages intended by the campaign’s creators.

DTL posters were displayed in five high-traffic locations around campus. In some locations, zap banners were used; in others, the messages were presented on TV and computer screens. Five weeks later, students who frequented these locations were asked if and where they had noticed the images and what messages they took away. Over half of the participants had seen the materials, and said the purpose of the campaign was to (i) raise viewers’ awareness about the frequency and meaning of sexual assault, and (ii) encourage viewers to take action in the situations depicted. None of the students who viewed the materials visited the DTL website for more information.

The messages students took away were explored further in a series of focus groups. Participants said they paid attention to the zap banner displays because they looked official and were attractive. When asked about the meaning or purpose of the images, the majority of participants provided messages that were consistent with the DTL developers’ intentions, i.e., to increase awareness about sexual assault and encourage prosocial bystander behaviour. Some participants said the images had sparked conversations with friends afterwards. When asked about the accompanying DTL website (, most participants said that they did not notice it and likely would not visit the website because they had no reason to do so.

Lead researcher: Chelsea Mclellan

UWindsor Campus Climate

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The UWindsor Campus Climate Survey measures changes in students’ experiences of sexual assault, attitudes toward their campus community, and perceptions of their role in creating change. The research was initiated in 2010 – the year before the start of the Bystander Initiative at the University of Windsor – and will conclude in 2020.

Participants are University of Windsor and St. Clair College students. In 2015, we added questions about students’ satisfaction with the support they received on campus when they tell someone about their experiences of sexual assault.

Until now, academic research has focused on the development of prevention interventions that change individual attitudes and behaviours. In theory, these programs can reduce the incidence of sexual assault on a campus by activating student-bystanders to speak out against social norms that support sexual assault and coercion and act to prevent sexual assaults before they happen.

To date, however, this connection has not been demonstrated in Canada, we think, because no institution has delivered prevention programming year after year, to the large number of students required to change campus culture.

The UWindsor model of workshop delivery allows us to test the effectiveness of prevention efforts campus-wide. Tipping point theory hypothesizes that a marked shift in attitudes or behaviours within an organization can be accomplished if as few as 10-15% of its members are influenced, then choose to become influencers of others.

Findings will be posted at the conclusion of the study.

Why We Chose Bringing In The Bystander

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We chose Bringing in the Bystander® as our prevention intervention because it is theoretically sound, proven to be effective for both women and men, and codified for consistent delivery.

Bystander-type interventions are among the most effective forms of campus sexual assault prevention education (Basile et al., 2016; Flood, 2011; Lonsway et al., 2009) and were specifically endorsed by the Obama Task Force Report. BITB®  is one of the best known and most effective.

Created by researcher-activists at Prevention Innovations, University of New Hampshire, both versions of their BITB® (90 minutes and 4 ½ hours) are designed to help students understand the importance of speaking out against social norms that support sexual assault and coercion, recognize and safely interrupt situations that could lead to sexual assault, and be an effective and supportive ally to rape survivors (Banyard, Eckstein, Plante, & Moynihan, 2007; Banyard, Plante, & Moynihan, 2004; Moynihan et al., 2014).

With the agreement of our UNH partners, we have created a 3-hour version of BITB® that uses Canadian data and examples, and we deliver our workshops using established best-practices. Workshops are:

  • Led by well-trained students-peers, which enhances effectiveness.

  • Whenever possible, workshops are led by mixed-gender pairs, which emphasizes the importance of men and women working together to reduce the incidence of sexual assault.

  • Offered to men and women separately, which encourages full and frank discussion of sensitive issues. Trans students are invited to choose the workshop where they would feel more comfortable.

Our research has determined that the UWindsor version of BITB® coupled with our course-based education and training of workshop leaders is effective.  

Learn more about Prevention Innovations at the University of New Hampshire.