Thursday, August 2, 2012

What is sexual coercion?

Coming home for the summer is one of the most exciting times of the year. I get to see familiar faces and catch up with my old friends after being away from them all year. Everyone greets me with a warm welcome wherever I go. The conversations that I’ve come across this summer range from studying abroad, to how to cook King Salmon, to Wiz Khalifa’s new release, and back to something school related. There is one specific conversation that keeps lingering in the town’s lips and it’s a conversation that has driven me mad.

This girl’s name rolls off of everyone’s tongue so matter-of-factly with words like “slut” and “whore” following immediately afterward. They have been telling me that she’s turned into an attention-needing, drama-stirring girl who has no self respect. I don’t know her very well but this is definitely not the description I expected when I heard her name. These rude and disgusting adjectives they keep using for her lead me to ask questions.

Looking back, the age that I began dealing with pressures of having sex is fourteen. In the past six years, I have come across many different types of guys. There were guys who thought that because I liked them, I was interested in sleeping with them. There were guys who have made me felt guilty for not sleeping with them, like my unreadiness made them upset and it was all my fault. There were guys who made me feel ashamed for not having the same sexual feelings towards them. There were guys who took their anger out on me when they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t interested. There were also guys who asked if the only reason I couldn’t let myself sleep with them is because I already had a sexually transmitted disease. There were even the “nice” guys who have complained about being put into the friend zone, like my friendship wasn’t worth anything and I owe them my body for their good manners towards me.

When I think about these pressures now, I realize that the blame was always put on me. Guys did not understand, or take into consideration, how I felt and why I chose to do things the way that I did. They’ve left me feeling like it was my fault and I should feel responsible for any tension between us. The fingers were never pointed towards them like they were the bad guy. 

Women [ED: individuals] begin to feel as if they owe the guy [ED: their partner] something after he's [ED: he/she has] been showing signs of disappointment. Rape can happen without the victim being aware that it is rape because they eventually have given their consent. Sexual coercion leads to making someone feel like they have to participate in sexual activity. You do not owe your body to anyone for favors that they have done for you. You do not owe your body to anyone who shows you good manners. You do not owe your body to anyone that is sexually frustrated.

Sexual coercion is a subdivision of rape that involves physical, verbal, and emotional pressures into having sex. A few examples of these kinds of behaviors include:

  • Hitting, Kicking, Slapping, or holding the victim down.
  • Continuing to convince the victim after they’ve said no and tried to pull away.
  • Threatening to use physical force against the victim.
  • Yelling at the victim.
  • Name calling, tricking, lying, blackmailing, and badgering.
  • Convincing the victim that they care more than they really do.
  • Threatening a break up.
  • Wearing the victim down with consistent tactics.
  • Making the victim feel obligated to participate.
  • Guilting the victim into participating.
  • Utilizing peer pressure.
  • Using the position of authority over the victim.

Sexual coercion can often happen while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. It is one of the most commonly used coercion strategies by men and is the leading tactic used by women. For example, supplying an abundance of alcohol to rid the victim of shyness or to take advantage of their drunkenness is a type of sexual coercion approach. Using alcohol in hopes that the victim is more easily persuaded is sexual coercion. 

Sexual coercion does not happen only when intercourse occurs, it can also include kissing, caressing, oral sex, genital touching, and any other sexual touching that makes the victim feel uncomfortable.  By trying to force the victim into participating in sexual acts when he/she does not want to is coercion. Being against the will of the victim and persistently trying to convince them into engage in having sex is coercion. If the victim continuously says no and pulls away while the perpetrator still tries to kiss and hold the victim, it is coercion. 

The most commonly used acts are kissing and vaginal intercourse. The most commonly used tactic is through alcohol and drugs (not to be confused with using rophypnol and GHB to obtain sex, that is rape), emotional manipulation, and lying. The most common reason for sexual coercion is arousal and the reports indicate that it isn’t about power, but about sex.

Recognize sexual coercion:
  • “Everybody’s doing it”
  • “Sex is the way to prove your love to me.”
  • “We’ve had sex before, so you can’t say no now”
  • Giving compliments that sound extreme or insincere
  • Put downs or guilt trips
  • Buying gifts or spending money to make you feel you “owe” sex.

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing sexual coercion:
  • Do you feel pressure from your date, partner, or friends?
  • Are there times you don’t want to have sex but feel like you can’t say no?
  • Have you ever had a sexual experience that left you frightened, angry or feeling guilty?
  • Have you ever had sex without using a condom because your partner didn’t want to use one?

The first step you can take to supporting, not only the MISS movement, but all these women [ED: victims] who have been silenced is to begin with yourself. Take these names of the story out of your mouth. Think twice before slut shaming a girl [ED: a person] without taking into consideration the power a guy [ED: a partner] can hold. Know that you are allowed to say no if you aren’t ready. Know that no means no, not “just kidding, yes” “maybe later” or “how about some other time?”

-Jacqui Lambert


  1. I am really excited to hear about your program and the good work you are doing. I thought the information in this article was accurate and arguments nicely made.

    I am really concerned, however, that you are alienating men. Working with women is only half the problem. (By the way, I have personally heard numerous stories of females abusing males sexually. It happens more often than mainstream society realizes. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused). Men need help as well. If we condemn men as evil and bad, then how are we fixing the problem? We are only alienating men and pushing them further away from the help they need.

    It may not be your intention, but the way the article talked about men can seem degrading. Don’t forget that men are not only half the problem, but men are also half the solution.

    If you really want to make a change, you will teach families (men and women) how to heal together. It is not about confronting men for their wrongs, because the instant you do that, they shut off their ears and refuse to listen. Even if you could have won them over to your side, now you lost your opportunity, because you offended them.

    Instead, teach men and women how to live together in a healthy way. Promote healthy men, rather than condemning unhealthy men.

    I admire and respect your drive, passion and heart. I hope you do well on your endeavors. I support the work you are doing.

    P.S. Google "Green Dot". They had much the same issues you do and can probably give you some insight into how to speak to men and get them rallied to your cause as well.

    1. Yes, it is me again. I wanted to add that I was not trying to justify men or anyone committing acts of sexual violence. If anyone commits abuse or harm of any kind, they should be subjected to the penalty of law.

      I was merely stating that in order to win this battle, we also have to win over the hearts and minds of men - not just women. So if we focus on rallying men to our cause, rather than alienating them, we will have accomplished a great deal.

  2. j,

    Thank you for your perspective on this piece,and we very much agree with your sentiments that men are a big part of winning this battle. While our focus is on women, MISS does not intend to alienate men or deny that men are also victims, in this case of sexual coercion. We will be sure to include gender neutral language in edits and pieces to come when issues are being discussed in a general manner. However, in the case of personal accounts gender specific language will be left up to the writer to ensure that no one is silenced.

    Hannah and Jacqui

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  4. Wow, this is an interesting thread. Although the person that spoke so eloquently about the larger issues that MISS touches on he/she completely misses the point of this movement! MISS is a very positive and empowering movement for WOMEN, for speaking out about demeaning, violent and personal issues women in the NANA region face. I'm thrilled this movement is taking off so women can share and learn from each other and grow among other caring and nurturing women!

    The person's comments could be construed and understood as another example of the coercion the MISS movement is addressing. I say we continue this movement for, by and about women.

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  6. Is sexual coercion illegal? if not perhaps the time has come that it should be..

  7. I agree that sexual coercion is a real issue. When I was in college, I got involved with an older guy who was quite sexually experienced. I was a virgin. We started hanging out and I liked him. We kissed which I was fine with, but he quickly wanted more. I would say no to his advances (to get undressed, engage in touching "below the belt", etc) and sometimes he would stop for a few seconds then start back again. Once when I tried to push his hand away, he held it down and when he saw how upset I was he said, "what? It's not like I'm going to rape you." He pushed and pushed me into performing oral sex on him even when I told him I didn't want to, and somehow I ended up doing it with him telling me I couldn't stop because he knew I really wanted to do it. I even cried twice. I thought it was all my fault, that I could've said no more firmly and he would e stopped

  8. So by "threatening a breakup" you mean what? That a guy has to hang around to provide a woman with ongoing emotional support when she does not want to have a physical relationship, or he is a rapist? That's really abusive.

    1. Actually, breakup threats after being denied access to another person's body is a known form of coercion used against people of all genders.
      Some people break up because they don't want the same things and that is fine.
      However, threatening to break up to change an emotionally reliant person's "no" into an obviously reluctant "yes" (since they previously did not want sex/weren't ready) is manipulative coercion.
      Leaving is not abusive. But making someone have sex with you when you are aware they are reluctant and don't actually want to have sex in order to keep you around IS abusive. No matter the gender/sex of the perpetrator.