Peer Groups Influence College Men’s Attitudes Toward Rape

Rape and other forms of sexual aggression are a sad reality in our society. Most sexually violent acts are committed by one person, but the act itself may be influenced by many. Aggression is a behavior that has been linked to peer association. For instance, high school students who associate with violent teens are more likely to engage in violence than those whose friends are nonviolent people. Likewise, sexual aggression may be heavily influenced by the attitudes of peers. Because many college-aged women will be victims of sexual violence at the hands of their classmates, it is important to understand how peer association shapes sexual attitudes among college men. To explore this in depth, Kevin M. Swartout of the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University interviewed 341 young adult men and asked them about their attitudes toward sexual aggression and women. They also were asked about their peer group and the attitudes peers held about sexual violence and women.

Swartout discovered that the men who supported sexual aggression were often in peer groups with men who held the same beliefs. Also, men who had looser peer networks tended to endorse hostility and sexual aggression more than men in more tightly woven peer groups. Specifically, the men who had close relationships with their friends had less violent attitudes than the men with more casual peer friendships. Swartout does not believe that men who endorse sexual violence wind up becoming friends because of their attitudes toward women and aggression. Rather, he believes these men hold higher masculine beliefs and may be attracted to one another through a demonstration of their masculine behaviors, such as risk taking and drug/alcohol consumption. Future research might attempt to extend this theory.

Clinically, these findings may shed light on some existing barriers to lowering sexually violent beliefs. Targeting men individually may be futile because when they return to their peers, men may be pressured into going along with the aggressive attitudes of their friends. Swartout suggests that efforts may be more successful if directed at a collective attitude toward sexual behavior. “These findings could be implemented into bystander intervention programs and social norms campaigns aimed at reducing sexual aggression,” he said.

Swartout, K. M. (2012). The company they keep: How peer networks influence male sexual aggression. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029997

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  • Rhett


    October 11th, 2012 at 4:16 PM

    Oh these guys all hang together, I can assure you of that. They run in packs all together, and they support one another’s ignorance. If one is to be apt to be aggressive with women then they are going to be in circles who all agree that this same kind of behavior is okay. Personally I have always found guys like that a little repulsive, but for some reason the college party atmosphere tends to bring them out in droves. And the weird things is that there are a lot of girls who are actually attracted to that type!

  • massey


    October 11th, 2012 at 11:36 PM

    whao!if one of my friends endorses sexual violence or rape then I’m running away from him ASAP!its just sick to even think of something like thinking its okay to be violent sexually.

    @rhett, these losers do tend to hand around together because maybe they are so insecure and need each other. only a coward would think of something like this about women.

  • Brecken


    October 12th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    too bad that the kind of influence that they tend to have on each other is typically bad

  • Athena


    October 12th, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Its pathetic how anybody can have such attitudes towards something that can absolutely destroy ones life and leave them mentally scarred forever. Such men certainly need some lessons. And its also important that the same is taught at home for young boys to learn and respect women.

  • JoeG


    October 13th, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    I would have hoped that we would have evolved a little farther than this by now

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