Increased Bystander Intervention After #metoo

According to RAINN, the nation’s largest sexual assault prevention organization, a bystander is a “person who is present when an event takes place but isn’t directly involved. Bystanders might be present when sexual assault or abuse occurs — or they could witness the circumstances that lead up to these crimes” (2019). In the United States alone, there are over 293,000 victims of sexual assault and rape each year (2019). This statistic only includes victims over twelve years old. Unfortunately, a majority of assaults are committed by a person the victim knows. Given this information, it seems especially important to recognize the role bystanders can play in stopping preventable crimes like sexual assault. The most common excuses people give as to why they don’t stop a perpetrator are: “I don’t know what to do or what to say.” “I don’t want to cause a scene.” “It’s not my business.” “I don’t want my friend to be mad at me.” “I’m sure someone else will step in.'' These reasons are typically given after the assault has occurred.

According to a study done at Central Coast University by researcher and professor, Shawn Meghan Burn, undergraduate students (378 women and 210 men) “completed an anonymous questionnaire measuring five barriers identified by the situational model of bystander intervention and bystander intervention behavior”. As Burn expected, the barriers were “negatively correlated with intervention, were greater for men than for women, and intervention likelihood was affected by perceptions of victim worthiness, especially for men” (2009). Burn hypothesized and supported the idea that there would be a positive relationship between knowing the potential victim or and whether or not the bystander would intervene. However, this study was conducted in 2008 and may be considered outdated, especially in light of the #MeToo Movement. I hypothesize that more people will be inclined to intervene now that sexual assault has gained significantly more media attention.

I would study this problem from a critical paradigm under a feminist lens. Critical theorists understand that cultural goods and media sources like films, video and magazines were used as mediums of ideological control by the capitalist societies. Today, those mediums are still utilized in addition to the use of social media. Because the #MeToo was so widely circulated, I believe that more people will be inclined to think its important, therefore, more people will be inclined to stop sexual assault before it happens.

Critical theory is a school of thought that stresses the reflective assessments and critique of a society and culture. Critical theorists are striving to promote human emancipation by involving and ensuring the representation of excluded groups in discussion of how to encourage more sensitive communities. In many ways this reflects the #MeToo movement. Many men and women who have fallen victim to sexual assault have refused to speak up due to fear of not being believed. But now as more people are speaking out about their stories, the excluded group (victims of assault) are now being vulnerable and sharing their experiences.

Furthermore, feminism is a theory focusing on emancipation and liberation based on gender (Tracy, 2013). According to Tracy, the goal for feminists is to “free marginalized groups from oppressive situations in society, organizations, family, and relationships” (2013). The feminist perspective fits my project well because women, statistically speaking, are far more likely to experience sexual assault than men. Granted, men get sexually assaulted as well, women are attacked at a staggeringly higher rate. Despite statistics proving the rate and frequencies of sexual assault, we still live in a culture that questions the survivor’s credibility. Women are expected to dress and act a certain way to prevent them from being sexually assaulted. This oppression can be seen in the political sphere, on college campuses, in families, and intimate relationships.

I think it would be appropriate to conduct interviews in bars considering a majority of sexual assault cases happen under the influence of alcohol. My site could be downtown Chico on various days and times. However, I think this research could also encompass any college students, bartenders, and the general community. Anyone could witness warning signs or even see someone being assaulted, so it seems fair that anyone who could witness it would be potential interview candidates. Anyone over the age of 21 could see someone being coerced at a bar. College students who are underage could witness someone being roofied at a party. Older participants might see an assault happen in a park. The sites I intend to use are various bars in downtown Chico to get the perspective from participants over 21, and the Chico State Campus to get data from students who may be under 21. I think it is important to have data from a college campus considering college students are the highest risk for sexual assault.

I am and always have been an advocate for sexual assault survivors. Unfortunately, much of the data regarding the bystander effect was recorded before the boom in social media and prior to the #MeToo Movement. I think the data will look drastically different in comparison to the data collected in 2008. From a critical feminist perspective I will be able to identify the ways in which survivors are oppressed and frequently not believed. More importantly, I think more people are inclined, now more than ever, to intervene in a situation where someone is being assaulted.


  • Burn, S.M. Sex Roles (2009) 60: 779.
  • Tracy, S. J. (2013). Qualitative research methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Your Role in Preventing Sexual Assault. (2019). Retrieved October 1, 2019, from 
16 August 2021
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