Defining 'Sexual Coercion'

Defining 'Sexual Coercion'

Are men far more likely than you might think to be sexually victimized? This study, which is making the media rounds, found 43 percent of its high-school- and college-age male participants to be victims of "sexual coercion." Key details from the abstract: 

More specifically, the [284] participants reported: verbal coercion (31%, n = 86), seduction coercion (26%, n = 73), physical coercion (18% n = 52), and substance coercion (7%, n = 19). ... Ninety-five percent of the respondents reported women as the perpetrators; participants also described internal obligation, seductive, and peer pressure tactics in descriptions of coercion experiences.

When the topic is sexual assault, it's important to define terms precisely -- what a researcher views as "coercive" can often be, at the very least, clearly noncriminal. The 43 percent statistic was generated using a modified version of the Sexual Coercion Inventory, which includes items ranging from "My partner threatened to stop seeing me," to "My partner encouraged me to drink alcohol and then took advantage of me," to "My partner threatened to use or did use a weapon."

Respondents were also asked to describe a specific incident in which they'd been sexually coerced, if applicable. Only 17 percent chose to do so -- the authors suggest "discomfort with elaborating" and "survey fatigue" as explanations for the difference (though perhaps some respondents didn't think that their Sexual Coercion Inventory responses constituted coercion).

In a chart (page 7), the authors provide brief definitions of the various types of coercion as well as examples drawn from the descriptions. Here are some:

Verbal coercion is "nagging, begging, or other verbal pressure." Example provided: "A girl wanted me to do oral sex to her. And begged. But I didn't do it."

Manipulation is "more specific tactics to manipulate, convince, bribe, etc." Example: "If my girlfriend is sad about something whether is concerning me or not she pressures me into having sexual intercourse with her."

Seduction coercion is "trying to seduce someone with sexual behaviors." The example, though I don't think it quite fits: "She asked to come in and use the phone because she lost her cell phone. I passed out, she stripped herself then me but I just rolled over and passed out again."

Physical coercion is "using physical aggression or blocking exits for sex." Example: "I was pushed into a bathroom by a girl and she started kissing me until I made her stop and explained that I didn't like her like that."

Finally, substance coercion is "involving alcohol or drugs, knowingly or not, for sex." Example: "Well she told me she could drink a ton and was giving me double shots to 'see if I could keep up'. After a couple hours things got blurry and I woke up next to her."

To put it mildly, this is a very wide range of incidents.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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