by Ms. Paula D. Fraass, LCSW
50th Space Wing
We are all familiar with the terms rape and sexual assault. We’ve been trained on what constitutes rape and the damaging effects it has on the victim and the Air Force mission. The Air Force is currently being trained on Bystander Intervention to learn how to identify and act on situations that are sexually inappropriate or unsafe. However, the topic of sexual coercion is not as widely discussed.
According to Dr. Stuckman-Johnson, sexual coercion is the act of using pressure, alcohol, drugs or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will. It’s persistent attempts to have sexual contact with someone who has already refused. Simply put; sexual coercion is being persuaded to have sex or engage in any type of sexual activity when you don’t want to. It is when someone tries to make you feel you have to have sex, or that having sex is the right choice, even when you have doubts. Sexual coercion is an onslaught of advances that too often are dismissed as “joking” or accepted as the societal norm.
Coercive situations may not be obvious, even to the individual being coerced. Below are some examples of commonly used coercive behavior.
Verbal Pressure: Begging, flattery, name calling, tricking, arguing, lying or misleading. For example: “You are just so hot/fine/sexy, I can’t help myself.” “I am so turned on. Please don’t make me stop now.” “Please. You know you want it.”
Social Pressure: Peer pressure or the threat of social isolation. Buying gifts or spending money to make you feel you ‘owe’ sex. For instance: “Everyone expects us to have sex.” “You’re being a tease.” “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
Emotional Pressure: Taking advantage of the level of trust or intimacy in a relationship. Exploiting your emotions or threatening the loss of the relationship. Making you feel guilty about not engaging in sexual activity and wearing you down by using the same tactic over and over again. Phrases like these may be used: “If I don’t get it from you, I will get it from someone else.” “I want to show you how much I care about you.” “If you love me, you will have sex with me.” “You have had sex before, what’s the problem?”
Drugs/Alcohol: Alcohol in the context of sexual coercion is one of the most frequently methods by men and women to lower the victim’s inhibitions (“loosen them up”) or lessen their verbal resistance to sexual advances.
How prevalent is sexual coercion? According to research by Dr. O’Sullivan, approximately 70% of college students report they have been sexually coerced and 33% of the surveyed population reported to having used sexually coercive behaviors against their partners. Of the group who reported being sexually coerced, around 70% stated they knew their perpetrators (a boyfriend/girlfriend, a friend or an acquaintance). The tactics perpetrators reported utiliz¬ing most often were alcohol and drugs, emotional manipulation and lying. They also claimed their main reason for committing sexual coercion was their sexual arousal. These first-hand reports indicate that sexual coercion, unlike most rape, is not about power, but about sex.
Who is at risk? While anyone could be the victim of sexual coercion, some may be more at risk. For example individuals who have low self-esteem, crave attention from the opposite sex, are insecure about their body image, were victims of child sexual abuse and/or are abusing substances are at higher risk of being exploited.
Who is likely to use coercion to gain sex? Someone who doesn’t feel confident in his/her ability to attract and maintain a relationship, men who have rigid stereotyped views of masculinity and may see the ‘conquest’ as an affirmation of their masculinity, and someone who has control issues may use coercion.
So what can you do?
Know your lines! It’s your body–set your limits.
· “I really like you. I’m just not ready to have sex.”
· “If you really care about me, you’ll respect my decision.”
· “I said no. I don’t owe you an explanation.”
· “No means No!”
Don’t let a party go to your head! Drugs and alcohol:
· Harm your judgment and communication skills.
· May lead you into behavior/situations you may later regret.
· Make it harder to resist a sexual situation.
· Make your partner more aggressive.
If you would like more information or need to talk to someone please contact your base’s SAPR office available 24 hours a day.