Researchers have reported that the nature of men’s conversations with their friends could encourage or discourage instances of sexual aggression toward women.

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Certain types of conversation among male friends could foster the perception that sexual violence is normative.

“Our study examined the role of perceived pressure to have sex by any means and the types of language friends used when discussing women in predicting young men’s self-reported sexual aggression,” write the authors. The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), someone in the US is sexually assaulted every 107 seconds. Each year, there is are an average of 293,066 victims of rape and sexual assault aged 12 and above.

It is clear that sexual violence is a huge problem in society. The new study also gives a frightening indication of how prevalent it can be.

For the study, the authors analyzed the responses of over 400 men aged 18-35 who were asked questions about dating experiences during interviews. The authors found that one quarter of the men surveyed reported making a woman engage in sexual activity, knowing that they were unwilling or unable to consent.

The authors also assessed additional information, including self-reported instances of sexual aggression, levels of satisfaction with male friends, perceived pressure from friends to have sex and participants’ comfort levels with statements of objectification.

Responses to interview questions and the language used were then coded, allowing the researchers to evaluate both the types of language used to refer to women and peer pressure from male friends.

Participants that reported committing acts of sexual aggression also reported perceiving more pressure from their friends to have sex in comparison with men who were not perpetrators of sexual aggression.

Male perpetrators of sexual aggression were also more likely to have friends who used objectifying statements about women during conversation and were more likely to feel uncomfortable when presented with egalitarian statements about women and dating.

Angela J. Jacques-Tiura, Ph.D., one of the authors of the study, told Medical News Today that their research could be used to enhance previously existing interventions to hopefully reduce the numbers of men committing acts of sexual aggression.

Bystander intervention programs, a common sexual aggression prevention strategy, could benefit by improving participants’ confidence in responding constructively to situations where women are being objectified. If such situations go unchallenged, they can foster the perception that sexual violence is normative.

The study only evaluated participants from the Detroit metropolitan area and collected responses from one point in time. As a result, further studies will be required to determine how representative of the general population the findings are.

Jacques-Tiura told Medical News Today that future research could include conducting surveys in which sexual aggression perpetration and peer norms are assessed at multiple points in time in order to evaluate their reciprocal effects.

RAINN state that sexual assault has fallen by more than 50% in recent years. They calculate that the progress made in reducing acts of sexual violence, partly attributable to bystander intervention programs, has saved an estimated 5.5 million Americans from becoming victims.

At the end of last year, MNT reported on a series published in The Lancet claiming that, despite some improvement, not enough is being done to tackle violence against women. The authors recommend five actions they say policy makers worldwide should undertake.