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NEWS | July 7, 2022

Positive peer influence can help prevent sexual assault

By Tara Davis Army Resilience Directorate

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you show me who your friends are, I can tell you who you are.”

When we think of peer pressure, we often think of negative peer pressure, such as convincing a friend to partake in risky behavior, but what about positive peer pressure? Positive peer pressure can influence others to adopt good habits and traits from their peer groups leading to beneficial outcomes.

Positive influence can look like lending a hand to someone in need, sharing personal resources, volunteering, sharing knowledge and working with others to achieve a common goal.

“When our friends, peers, and colleagues check in with us regularly, model asking for consent before a touch or even a tough conversation, or practice bystander intervention behaviors, that makes it easier for us to engage in similar behaviors,” said Olivia Harris, Executive Director of Speak About It, an organization that uses dialogue to empower students to prevent sexual violence, build healthy relationships, and create positive change in their communities.

These types of positive influences empower Soldiers to feel supported by their communities and help to normalize behaviors that let others feel safe and secure.

“None of us were born knowing how to talk about boundaries or how to step in when we see a potentially unsafe situation. Seeing others practice consent in real life not only normalizes those behaviors but provides us with reference points to borrow from,” Harris said.

According to Dr. Jacqueline Layton’s dissertation, “Informing Military Sexual Violence Prevention: An Exploration of Individual, Relational, and Sociocultural Factors,” two factors predictive of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are peer tolerance for sexual violence and perceived tolerance for violence within the community. Monique Marra, Victim Advocate at Fort Dix, New Jersey, said friends play a critical role in preventing sexual violence.

“If Soldiers can show that preventing sexual violence is important to them, then it will be more important to the individual and the community,” Marra said. “Individuals look up to their peers, which means they will need to be the example.”

Soldiers can make an impact by speaking up when friends or acquaintances are having derogatory conversations, work-inappropriate sexual conversations, or behaving in harmful ways. Being well-informed also plays an important role in how peers can impact each other in positive ways.

“Soldiers need to make sure they (let each other) know how important sexual violence (prevention) is by making sure they meet the obligation of training, Soldiers should also speak up at each training to show that it is an important subject to them,” stated Marra.

“I think the less tolerance there is for sexual violence in a community, the less likely folks are to hurt someone accidentally. We need to teach good communication skills and make sure that boundary violations are acknowledged and treated as teachable opportunities. Also, that means communities can intervene before harm happens, which is the whole point of bystander intervention,” said Harris.

To learn more about positive behaviors, see: