When it's safer to walk away: Urban, low opportunity emerging adults’ willingness to use bystander behaviors in response to community and dating violence

Heather L. Storer, Jennifer S. McCleary, Sherry Hamby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Bystander intervention programs are viewed as innovative community-level responses to sexual and dating violence among adolescents and young adults (Banyard, 2014; McMahon & Farmer, 2009; Moynihan et al., 2015; Storer et al., 2017). At the school and community level, factors such as social cohesion, collective efficacy, and exposure to community violence have been found to influence use of bystander behaviors (Edwards et al., 2014; Lucero et al., 2019; McMahon, 2015; Rothman et al., 2019). Despite the explosion of literature examining the efficacy of bystander interventions, most study populations are on college and high school campuses. There has been limited exploration of the feasibility of such programs among disadvantaged youth in resource-poor communities not affiliated with formal school or work settings (i.e., low opportunity youth). The purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate these emerging adults’ willingness to use bystander behaviors in response to witnessing dating and community violence. Data were collected from six focus groups at three youth-serving agencies in New Orleans. Participants were aged 17–22 (n = 39) and both male- and female-identified; the majority identified as African American. All participants were involved with community-based organizations with missions to positively engage emerging adults. Our exploratory thematic content analysis involved multiple rounds of inductive coding. Once we applied codes to the data, we employed matrices to construct key social processes both within and across the focus groups. Across the focus groups, participants described community environments that exposed them to racial injustice and to community, police-perpetrated, and intimate partner violence. Participants reported an overarching reluctance to utilize bystander behaviors. Although the participants did not condone these acts of violence, they perceived intervention to be dangerous due to retaliatory violence and/or they equated bystander behaviors to “snitching.” Participants were more willing to intervene in instances of extreme violence and when the incident involved a friend or family member. This study illustrates the intricate ways community violence and complex trauma influence emerging adults’ willingness to intervene in instances of community and dating violence. These findings challenge the idea that existing bystander intervention models can account for the multitude of community-level barriers faced by low opportunity emerging adults with trauma backgrounds when deciding to use bystander intervention behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105833
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge the support of our community partners in New Orleans for their support in conceptualizing and implementing this research project. We also would like to acknowledge the work of Emily Pepin and Arianne Stallings for supporting data collection and analysis. Lastly, we would like to thank the young people whose voices are represented in this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Bystander interventions
  • Complex trauma
  • Emerging adults
  • Low opportunity youth
  • Socially disconnected youth


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