First followers, positive peer pressure (& other prevention alliteration)

2 Apr

While we like to think we are solely unique, original beings that operate independently of other’s opinions, thoughts, and perspectives…the truth is that most of us care deeply about what others think or don’t think about us.

The Asch Experiment –a time-tested experiment on group dynamics and pressure to conform– shows how our smallest actions can be influenced by peer pressure and the desire to fit in, even among strangers.

When it comes to street harassment, peer pressure plays a key role in not only perpetration (how likely someone is to commit it) but also its prevention. There are many reasons why someone may not intervene to call out or prevent street harassment –fear of retaliation, not sure what to do — but peer pressure is one of the biggest factors. We see this time and again with the bystander effect; aka the belief that someone else will do something, and while waiting for someone else to make the first move, no one does anything.

Being the first person to “do something” takes courage and quite a bit of risk. That person may also become the target of harassment, or face ridicule. Taking action can also be lonely and isolating. If others aren’t stepping in to back them up, their voice can get lost in a culture that endorses and minimizes street harassment.

“The best way to make a movement is to courageously follow, and show others how to follow.”

The more voices there are, however, the harder they are to drown out or overlook. One person stepping in to prevent street harassment is easier to shrug off or intimidate than four or five or twenty people. Being the first to intervene in a situation is a critical step towards ending street harassment, but being the second person to intervene is equally important. By stepping in to provide support to the “First Intervener,” you reinforce the message that harassment is not ok. You also send the message that stepping in is the right thing to do, and justify the first person’s intervention.

Once the “Second Intervener” has made their show of support, it’s much easier for others to get involved. The most difficult barriers have already been broken down: more than one person has demonstrated that it is their business to intervene, and how to intervene. The responsibility for taking action has been disbursed, and the chances of any one person being singled out or retaliated against are severely lessened.

The point: taking action against street harassment is necessary, but it is also important to support others in their interventions WHENEVER POSSIBLE. If you see someone standing up for something you believe in, help them. Show that you support their actions, and make your support public! In doing so, you add your strength to the message and underscore (and highlight, and capitalize) that street harassment should never be tolerated.

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