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University student attitudes to prosocial bystander behaviours

Sarah E. Hennelly (Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Sofia Hussain (Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Tristan Hale (Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Martha Cadle (Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)
Joanne Brooke (Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, UK)
Emma Davies (Department of Psychology, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 13 November 2019

Issue publication date: 13 November 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Half of British university students experience assault and harassment behaviours; few report them. Bystander intervention training has been recommended as a means of reducing these behaviours, but there is little evidence about their potential effectiveness in UK contexts. The purpose of this paper is to understand UK students’ attitudes towards reporting and intervening in sexual assault, harassment and hate crimes.

Design/methodology/approach

A mixed methods cross-sectional survey (n=201; 75.6 per cent women) was conducted in one British university. Open text data were analysed using thematic analysis.

Findings

Students considered harassment and assault unacceptable, and were confident to intervene in and likely to report incidents. However, fear of backlash was a barrier to intervening and reporting, and they felt that victims should decide whether to report incidents. Students perceived perpetrators as being ignorant about what constitutes consent, harassment and assault. They identified a need for university community education about this and how to report incidents and support peers.

Research limitations/implications

This cross-sectional survey was conducted at one UK University. The data might not reflect other students’ attitudes, and may be subject to response bias. University community bystander training should be acceptable, report and support systems might be utilised by students. This may have potential to reduce prevalence and increase reporting.

Practical implications

University community bystander training should be acceptable, report and support systems might be utilised by students. This may have potential to reduce prevalence and increase reporting.

Originality/value

This is the first study to investigate UK student attitudes to prosocial bystander behaviours.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was funded by Office for Students and Oxford Brookes University. The authors are grateful to the participants for sharing their experiences and views and the students who helped with constructing the survey items.

Citation

Hennelly, S.E., Hussain, S., Hale, T., Cadle, M., Brooke, J. and Davies, E. (2019), "University student attitudes to prosocial bystander behaviours", Health Education, Vol. 119 No. 5/6, pp. 408-424. https://doi.org/10.1108/HE-05-2019-0023

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited