Parental Warmth and Interpersonal Empathy as Predictors of Sexual Assault Bystander Intervention Efficacy

Jan-Louw Kotze, Lisa A Turner
Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2019 April 12, : 886260519842170
Sexual victimization rates of women in the United States remain worryingly high. Much research has focused on the reduction of sexual violence with varying levels of success. One promising avenue of sexual violence reduction research provides evidence that bystanders who intervene appropriately can effectively contribute to a reduction in sexual assault. The Ecological Model for Bystander Intervention provides a conceptual framework for investigating what motivates and what inhibits bystanders. Empirical evidence on various levels of the model has been garnered; however, little is known about the association between particular developmental variables and bystander intervention efficacy situated in the microsystem. The goal of this study was to explore developmental predictors of bystander intervention efficacy. We predicted perceived parental warmth would be related to bystander intervention efficacy and that the relation would be mediated by empathy. University students (mean age = 19.2 years) completed anonymous online self-report measures of perceived maternal and paternal warmth, empathy, and bystander efficacy. The mediation model was supported by the data. As predicted, the path from parental warmth to empathy was significant ( p < .001) and the path from empathy to bystander intervention efficacy was significant ( p < .001). The indirect effect of parental warmth on bystander efficacy through empathy was significant ( p = .001). One implication of these findings is that characteristics that are related to bystander tendencies may develop early in the family environment. Efforts to increase bystander intervention may benefit from the recognition that empathy may be founded in earlier life experiences. Limitations and future directions are discussed.

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