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Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) finds that SCREAM Theater positively impacts bystander behaviors
March 11, 2015

On March 11, the Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) released findings from its report, "SCREAMing to Prevent Violence," which highlights key research points from its recently completed CDC-funded study about preventing campus sexual assault. Overall, the study demonstrated that intervention from SCREAM (Students Challenging Reality and Educating Against Myths) Theater resulted in a number of positive outcomes for students who participated, including positively impacting bystander behaviors, especially in the short term.

SCREAM Theater is a peer education program developed by the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance at Rutgers University that grapples with topics like sexual assault.

The study compared level of exposure to SCREAM Theater and its impact on a range of bystander-related outcomes in situations involving sexual violence and incoming undergraduate college students. Analyses indicated a significant increase in helpful bystander behaviors in the short and long-term, as well as a positive indirect impact of the intervention on bystander behaviors through its effects on bystander intentions.

“Demonstrating a positive increase in actual behaviors is significant. Many bystander programs only measure attitudes or intentions rather than actual behaviors. The fact that participation in SCREAM Theater showed behavioral impact is promising,” said Sarah McMahon, assistant professor for Rutgers School of Social Work and acting co-director of VAWC.

Incoming undergraduate students were recruited to participate in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: students who received one-dose of SCREAM Theater only, those who received three doses, and those who received three doses plus a booster.

Students were invited to participate in a pretest at orientation and then five online post-tests over the next 18 months. Measures were used to assess bystander intentions, bystander behavior, bystander efficacy, perceptions of peer bystander norms, and rape myth acceptance. A total of 1390 students were included in the final sample.

According to findings, participation had a small but significant impact on bystander intentions, bystander efficacy, and ultimately on bystander behaviors. The study found a significant increase in behavioral intentions after one dose of SCREAM. The three-dose group also had significantly higher behavioral intention scores for the first three months after receiving the intervention.

The program successfully lowered some rape myths, but not others, said McMahon. Short-term results indicated that one dose of intervention was effective in decreasing rape myth beliefs for three subscales: She asked for it, He did not mean to, and She lied.

“Our analyses indicate that for a number of outcomes related to bystander intervention and attitudes about sexual violence, those who received more doses fared better,” said McMahon.

Campus sexual assault is a pervasive, important issue at the forefront of national discussion. Rutgers, through its Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, has been proudly on the front lines of responding to and preventing sexual violence on campus through programs like SCREAM.

“SCREAM Theater has been using bystander intervention for almost 25 years, long before there was a term to describe the behavior. We are delighted that the research confirmed the use of bystander intervention as a prevention tool. The collaboration between VAWC and VPVA is a unique one that should be replicated at other schools in order to support this type of research,” said Ruth Anne Koenick, director, VPVA.

The White House recently began focusing on raising awareness for the issue and is researching ways to combat the glaring statistics that one in five women will be victims of attempted or completed sexual assault during their time in college. As part of the White Houses’ efforts, this Rutgers was chosen to conduct campus wide sexual assault climate survey, which will be used to determine how large of problem sexual violence on campus is according to students, and will evaluate how effective students find the university’s response to sexual violence.

The “SCREAMing to Prevent Violence” event on Wednesday, March 11 was co-sponsored by the Rutgers Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance and Rutgers School of Social Work, Center on Violence Against Women and Children.

For more information on the study, contact Dr. Sarah McMahon at or visit More information about SCREAM Theater can be found at

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