College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 11-21-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Megan Greeson, PhD

Second Advisor

Bernadette Sanchez, PhD


High incidence rates of sexual violence (SV) on college campuses and the limited effectiveness of traditional prevention programs has created a need for innovative prevention programing. In recent decades, bystander intervention approaches that target broader campus community norms have gained popularity. These programs aim to prevent SV by equipping student bystanders with the skills to intervene before, during, and after instances with the risk of SV. Student bystanders’ ability to effectively intervene hinges on their ability to recognize SV risk situations as problematic and worthy of intervention. However, situational ambiguities and mixed social norms messages often create challenges to recognizing SV risk situations.

To better understand how perceived social norms and peer communication influenced students’ perceptions during these initial stages of bystander intervention, the current study asked about their lived experiences in situations with risk of SV. The current study analyzed qualitative data from interviews with 17 undergraduate students from a midsize university in Chicago, Illinois. Participants identified two primary types of SV risk scenarios: sexual situations involving alcohol and unwanted sexual advancements. In any one situation, participants identified various social norms that influenced the extent to which they perceived the situation as problematic. This study indicates how important it is for bystander intervention programs to equip students with a clear, operational understanding of what SV is and the ability to recognize SV risk scenarios in the context of their own lives. In situations where the level of risk is ambiguous, students need actionable strategies for engaging in a process of information gathering in order to identify problematic SV risk situations.

SLP Collection