Newswise — The #MeToo movement that began in 2017 has increased attention to bystander training programs that encourage third-party witnesses to intervene (i.e., become involved in stopping aggression) in high-risk sexual situations. With limited information available on the effects of alcohol on bystander intervention in these situations, bystander training programs rarely train bystanders to intervene to prevent sexual aggression when they are intoxicated.  This study tested the impact of alcohol on the likelihood and speed of intervention in witnessed sexual aggression by men who self-reported an intent to help strangers.

Social-drinking men (n=74) aged 21 to 30 were recruited from a large metropolitan city. After study subjects completed a measure of intent to help strangers, they were randomly assigned to consume an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage and participate in a laboratory-based exercise.   In the exercise, they and four other individuals (2 female and  2 male confederates) observed another female confederate, who had previously expressed a strong dislike of sexual content in the media, watch a sexually explicit film. The outcomes that were measured included efforts by the male study subjects to stop the film and the time that elapsed before such actions were taken.  The researchers found that an expressed intent to help strangers predicted faster sexual aggression intervention overall; but more specifically, an expressed intent to help strangers predicated a higher likelihood and faster rate of sexual aggression intervention among sober, but not intoxicated, men.  

The researchers concluded that alcohol intoxication is a barrier to intervention for men who would otherwise intervene in situations of unwanted sexual aggression.  They called for bystander-training programs to reduce heavy drinking and to provide education to train bystanders on how to intervene when they are intoxicated.