Bystander Engagement


UNI's CVP says NO MORE to sexual assault and abuse on our campus and in our community. Join us.


Traditional sexual violence prevention programming tends to focus mainly on men as potential perpetrators and women as potential victims, and prescribed awareness activities and risk reduction education for women in order to reduce their chances of being harmed or attacked. All individuals are capable of being both potential perpetrators and potential victims, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and ability status. A paradigm shift in prevention is currently underway at the University of Northern Iowa – the Mentors in Violence Prevention Strategies, bystander education, and student leadership is the new social norm.   The rise and popularity of the bystander education model and the social norms approach in the prevention of sexual violence and all forms of gender violence can be attributed to, in part, to the increase in funding and research for these interventions from both the public and private sectors.  Considered an innovation in violence prevention efforts, bystander education involves teaching everyone how to intervene and take responsibility in situations that involve violence and/or potentially hurtful and harmful behaviors.  This new role involves interrupting a situation that could lead to an assault before it happens, intervening appropriately at the time the offensive behavior occurs, speaking out against social norms that support sexual and gender violence, and learning skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors of violence and abuse.  Bystander education and primary violence prevention strategies will engage the entire UNI campus community in cultivating a safe, nurturing and thriving atmosphere.

Bystander and Social Norms Approaches to Gender Violence Prevention

 In contrast to previous approaches, a bystander approach focuses both on increasing community member's receptivity to prevention messages and training and supporting bystander behaviors.  It moves from an individual approach to one that helps all community members become more sensitive to issues of sexual/gender violence and teaching them skills to intervene with the intent to prevent assaults from occurring and support survivors who may disclose.

Bystander Prevention Programming:

  1. Increase awareness of gender violence
  2. Increase recognition that it is a problem
  3. Increase ownership/responsibility of the issue
  4. Develop skills base to intervene
  5. Increase recognition of such intervention

A social norms approach argues that behavior is often influenced by incorrect perceptions of how others within our social group think and act.  With respect to risk taking behavior, the theory predicts that overestimations of problem behavior will increase these behaviors, while under estimations of healthy behaviors will discourage individuals from engaging in them.  Programmatic efforts at correcting misperceptions of group norms are likely to result in decreased problem behavior or increased prevalence of healthy behaviors.

Patterns of misperceptions

  1. Pluralistic ignorance: when majority of people in a social group engages in healthy behavior yet perceives they are in the minority.  As a result  individuals may perceive encouragement to engage in the unhealthy behaviors that are seen incorrectly as normative.
  2. False consensus: when the minority of people with unhealthy attitudes and/or behaviors may incorrectly think that they are in the majority.  This  misperception functions to maintain an individual's denial that his or her attitude or behavior is problematic or unusual
  3. False uniqueness: when individuals who are in the minority assume that  the difference between themselves and others is greater than is actually the case - which often results in a withdraw from the larger social group.