On exerting peer pressure

(Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault)

Dear Dad,

I heard a really interesting study about rape on college campuses today on NPR. It started as too many stories I’ve read on the subject start: 6 percent of men sampled had raped someone they knew. Two-thirds of those were serial rapists, meaning they’d raped more than one woman. Together, 120 men admitted to more than 400 rapes. None were reported, mad none of those men considered themselves rapists.

Why? As psychologist John Lisak, who’d conducted the study, explained, these men didn’t see themselves as rapists:

Most of these men have an image or a myth about rape, that it’s some guy in a ski mask wielding a knife. They don’t wear ski masks, they don’t wield knives, so they don’t see themselves as rapists.

In fact, these men happily brag to their friends about what they’ve done, and often, they are met with no resistance from their friends, and so come to believe that “everybody’s doing it” or his friends approve of his actions, according to John Foubert, who studies rape prevention among young men at Oklahoma State University.

This silence is patriarchy, Dad. A sort of discomfort and fear of speaking out that leads rapists to believe that their actions are no big deal. But when men start being aware and vocal, they can make great strides in preventing sexual violence.

The report wasn’t all a downer, Dad. They proceeded to highlight a program called MVP, or the Mentors in Violence Program. High school upperclassmen meet with incoming freshmen through MVP. Often athletes, the older students talk with young men about how to be aware of other men’s actions, and when a woman is not consenting.

I learned a lot about peer pressure in school, and told not to give into it when offered drugs, alcohol or sex. But sometimes, like with MVP, exerting a little peer pressure can make a school a safer place. Starting in high school is key, as the study showed many serial rapists also got their start in high school.

It also opens men’s awareness up to power dynamics, as one MVP mentor, now in college, described seeing a female friend cornered by two men at a bar. Her body language concerned him. She was clearly uncomfortable. The mentor’s male friend said he didn’t see anything wring, so the mentor showed him what to look out for and they then joined the woman to help her feel safer.

It may seem minor, but such awareness and actions are an important part of creating a culture where sexual violence is entirely taboo, and where women are safe.



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