What is Sexual Coercion?
While one's relationship with their intimate partner should be a safe space for self-expression, sometimes it can become one of the most triggering situations to be in. Most people are familiar with the concept of sexual assault, which refers to the act of performing a sexual activity with someone without their explicit consent. The exact definition of sexual assault differs from state to state and country to country.
Often, rape is considered to be synonymous with sexual assault, however, rape is only a form of sexual assault that involves penetration of any bodily orifice by the perpetrator's body part or an alien object. More often than not, sexual assault like rape involves the use of force. Even though society may perpetuate stereotypes that blame the victim, it is objectively possible for the victim to know and ultimately believe that they have been sexually assaulted because of the obvious use of force or manipulation. However, victims of sexual coercion may not even realize that they are being abused or coerced into sexual activity.
Sexual coercion refers to the act of pressuring someone, making them consume alcohol or drugs, and forcing them to maintain sexual relations against their will. The perpetrator of sexual coercion is persistent in their efforts to manipulate the victim into believing that they are obliged to bestow sexual favors upon the perpetrator. Sexual coercion can be mapped across a spectrum. Sometimes the perpetrator verbally and emotionally manipulates the victim into believing that they owe them sexual activity, other times the perpetrator uses force to accomplish the sexual contact.
Who is Capable of Committing Sexual Coercion?
The perpetrator of sexual coercion can be anyone. They could be a stranger, an intimate partner, a date, a colleague, a neighbor, a superior, a friend, or a family member. Usually, it occurs between people who already have some relationship. Sexual coercion is also commonly committed by people of authority who leverage their superior position to gain sexual favors from their junior. If the perpetrator is a boss, they may threaten to deny opportunities to the victim if they refuse their sexual advances or they may reward them for obliging. If the perpetrator is an authority figure at an educational institute, they may follow similar tactics of reward and punishment to coax and manipulate the victim into submission. An intimate partner may induce feelings of guilt and obligation into the victim to accomplish a sexual activity.
How to Identify Sexual Coercion?
Sexual coercion is so manipulative that the victim may have difficulty identifying whether they are being coerced or not. However, what is certain during sexual coercion is that the victim's consent is being transgressed and the sexual activity leaves them feeling violated even if they did supposedly agree to engage in sexual activity. While there is no definite way in which sexual coercion takes place, the following are some commonly occurring characteristics of sexual coercion.
Persistent Attempts: A common plot in the supposedly romantic-comedy films of Hollywood is the relentless and persevering male protagonist pursuing the female protagonist despite her disinterest and rejection. The female protagonist eventually yields and falls in love with the male protagonist and they live happily ever after. It is through untruthful cinematic portrayals like these (among other factors) that women are conditioned to believe that if someone pursues them relentlessly, it is a sign of true love. However, the truth is far from it. Such behavior amounts to sexual coercion and should not be mistaken for a passionate portrayal of love or desire. Consent obtained by wearing the other person down is not authentic consent and is an act of sexual coercion. In a healthy relationship, boundaries are accepted without resentment by the partner, and consent is never obtained by wearing the partner down. When being pressured by the perpetrator, the victim may give consent but it does not arise out of a desire to engage in the sexual activity itself, but to end the coercion.
Manipulation: Often perpetrators of sexual coercion manipulate the victim into performing sexual activities with them. They may trick the victim into having sex or create a false reality so that the victim consents to have sexual relations with them. The victim's tendency to please people is abused by the perpetrator who makes them feel guilty for rejecting them or makes them feel obligated to bestow sexual favors upon them. The perpetrator may make statements like, "If you loved me you would do it", "girlfriends/ boyfriends are supposed to do it", or "why are you rejecting me now when we have already done it before". They may threaten the victim by saying that if they do not satisfy their desire they would find someone else, insult the victim's sexual performance, or withhold affection or financial or material help if the victim is dependent upon them. In marriage, sexual coercion may happen when the individual believes sexual intimacy to be the conjugal responsibility of their spouse and not their choice.
Transgressing Consent: It is also considered to be sexual coercion if the victim consented to one specific sexual activity but the perpetrator transgresses their consent and proceeds to other sexual activities without ensuring the victim's consent. It is a precarious situation for the victim because they are alone with the perpetrator in a very vulnerable situation. It is this precarious and vulnerable situation that the perpetrator abuses. One must always know that they have the right to withdraw consent at any point of time during the activity. It does not matter if they had previously consented to it. If one is not feeling secure at any stage of a sexual act, they have the right to draw a boundary and withdraw their consent. A supportive partner will gladly respect this boundary. An abusive partner would transgress it and try to manipulate or coerce the victim into performing the sexual activity.