Young Boys Are More Likely to Engage in Bullying After Witnessing Female Abuse
Tue, April 20, 2021

Young Boys Are More Likely to Engage in Bullying After Witnessing Female Abuse

Teenage boys who witness their peers hurting their female counterparts are more likely to be violent towards others, a new study found / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF

 

Teenage boys who witness their peers hurting their female counterparts are more likely to be violent towards others, a new study found.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that young men's perception of girls relies on their peers' attitudes towards young women—meaning seeing abusive behavior will induce violence in terms of bullying, dating abuse, and even rape.

While boys who believe that genders are equal are less likely to display violent behavior, they are still just as likely as other peers to commit homophobic teasing and sexual violence on others.


Studying Teenage Boys' Attitude

The study involved analyzing data collected from 866 teenage boys aged 13 to 19 in 20 neighborhoods in Pittsburgh described as "lower resource." It is the first study to use data from young men in the US from community-based settings.

According to Psychology Today, the boys completed questionnaires that looked at attitudes toward gender and how they were likely "to intervene when witnessing male peers’ harmful behaviors toward girls."

The first questionnaire included statements from the Gender-Equitable Men Scale like, "A guy never needs to hit another guy to get respect," while the second had situations asking them if they would intervene if they saw a male peer telling jokes that disrespected women.

They also reported whether they've witnessed their peers displaying violent verbal, physical, or sexual behaviors against women or girls in the last three months. One instance is of their peers made rude comments about a female's body, clothing, or make-up.

The participants answered the questions again after nine months for the randomized trial. This time, the boys stated whether they coerced someone to have sex with them or if they committed a sexual act on someone too high or drunk to stop them. There were also questions about sexual harassment in person or online and about physical violence.

A Pressure to Conform

Analysis of the questionnaires showed that boys are more likely to be violent towards others if they'd witnessed their peers committing abusive acts against women and girls. That violent behavior is perpetuated regardless of the other person's gender, in which witnesses are twice as likely to rape and five times as likely to commit bullying.

"This reinforces that pressure to conform to stereotypes about masculinity that perpetuate harmful behaviors toward women and girls is also associated with getting in a fight with another guy," lead author Elizabeth Miller told CNN. "These behaviors aren't happening in silos—if we're going to stop one, we need to also be addressing the other."

While boys who believe girls are equal to them are less likely to be violent, CNN reports young men will still engage in such behaviors when it came to sexual violence against someone with whom they were not in a relationship. However, non-partner sexual violence was the least common of all harmful behaviors (5%), 

A "puzzling and troubling" finding is homophobic teasing being the most common harmful behavior, with 76.3% reported among the boys surveyed. Alison Culyba, one of the authors of the study, attributed this prevalence to the normalization of homophobic jokes.

"It is so commonplace, they may see it as a form of acceptable, possibly even pro-social, interaction with their peers," Culyba told CNN.

It was found that bullying is also a common violent behavior among young boys (73.2%) followed by youth violence (67.8%), sexual harassment (56.%), and dating abuse (32.6%).

While boys who believe that genders are equal are less likely to display violent behavior, they are still just as likely as other peers to commit homophobic teasing and sexual violence on others / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF


Reducing Violence

Persisting violence will always be distressing, but the results of the study provide some good news: it opens the opportunity to prevent or reduce such behaviors.

While there are significant disparities between sexual and non-sexual, as well as dating and non-partner violence, the authors argued that the consistent association found in the study emphasizes the opportunity for "cross-cutting strategies that reduce multiple forms of violence perpetration."

"These strategies include explicitly challenging gender and social norms, while simultaneously working with male adolescents to increase their skills in interrupting peers’ disrespectful and harmful behaviors toward female adolescents," they added.

The researchers noted the need for comprehensive primary prevention of dating, sexual, and youth violence toward teenage girls to promote healthy relationships—along with policies and programs aimed to reduce all forms of interpersonal violence.

Violence Against Women

Even if the world did become less violent, it can't be denied that violence towards women is still common—a global pandemic that affects one in three women in their lifetime.

According to World Bank data, 35% of women worldwide have experienced being physically and/or sexually abused and 7% have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner.

The numbers continue to be concerning: 38% of murders on women are committed by their partner while 200 million experienced genital mutation/cutting.

World Bank emphasizes the need for "significant learning and knowledge sharing through partnerships and long-term programs" to address the challenges in dismantling gendered-based violence.

However, based on the study, teaching boys to respect women and girls may pose great potential in preventing violent behaviors and possibly eradicate women's fear for their safety.

Even if the world did become less violent, it can't be denied that violence towards women is still common—a global pandemic that affects one in three women in their lifetime / Photo by: Sebastien Decoret via 123RF