What is Sexual Coercion?

By Kelsey McCoy, M.S., and James Oelschlager, Psy.D.
Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. This continuum includes many harmful and aggressive acts we hear frequently, such as rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault. We all know the definitions of the other behaviors on the sexual aggression continuum because the behaviors are very overt. Sexual coercion is different than the others on the continuum because of its subtitles. In fact, experts are still trying to figure out exactly how best to define sexual coercion because it encompasses so many behaviors and situations and includes a perceived unwillingness to get involved in sexual acts by the victim. The best definition of sexual coercion offered at this time is: “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will; … tactics of postrefusal sexual persistence [used are] defined as persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused” (Struckman-Johnson, Struckman-Johnson & Anderson, 2003, p. 76).
I know what you’re wondering … what does this definition actually mean? Let’s break the definition down into its parts so you can get a strong understanding of what sexual coercion is.

Sexual coercion lies on the continuum of sexually aggressive behavior. This continuum includes many harmful and aggressive acts we hear frequently, such as rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault. We all know the definitions of the other behaviors on the sexual aggression continuum because the behaviors are very overt. Sexual coercion is different than the others on the continuum because of its subtitles. In fact, experts are still trying to figure out exactly how best to define sexual coercion because it encompasses so many behaviors and situations and includes a perceived unwillingness to get involved in sexual acts by the victim. The best definition of sexual coercion offered at this time is: “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will; … tactics of postrefusal sexual persistence [used are] defined as persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused” (Struckman-Johnson, Struckman-Johnson & Anderson, 2003, p. 76).I know what you’re wondering … what does this definition actually mean? Let’s break the definition down into its parts so you can get a strong understanding of what sexual coercion is.

The act of using pressure … to have sexual contact:

Pressure in this case can mean physical pressure, verbal pressure or emotional pressure. Physical pressure

can include hitting, kicking and slapping the victim; holding the victim down; continuing with the sexual behavior after the victim has been told to stop; and even continuing to kiss the victim as he/she tries to pull away. Verbal pressure includes behaviors like threatening to use physical force against the victim, yelling at the victim, name calling, tricking, lying, blackmailing and badgering the victim. Emotional pressure is used much more frequently than physical and verbal pressure and is the most subtle of all the sexual coercion tactics. Using emotional pressure includes the perpetrator convincing the victim that he/she cares more for the victim than he/she actually does, threatening a break-up, wearing the victim down by using the same tactic over and over again, making the victim feel obligated to participate in sexual acts, guilting the victim participating, utilizing peer pressure and even the perpetrator using his/her position of authority over the victim.

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