Sexual coercion

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone. It might be from someone who has power over you, like a teacher, landlord, or a boss. No person is ever required to have sex with someone else.

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What is sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens after being pressured in nonphysical ways that include:1

  • Being worn down by someone who repeatedly asks for sex
  • Being lied to or being promised things that weren’t true to trick you into having sex
  • Having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors about you if you don’t have sex with them
  • Having an authority figure, like a boss, property manager, loan officer, or professor, use their influence or authority to pressure you into having sex

In a healthy relationship, you never have to have sexual contact when you don’t want to. Sexual contact without your consent is assault. Sexual coercion means feeling forced to have sexual contact with someone.

Who commits sexual coercion?

Anyone, including friends, co-workers, bosses, landlords, dates, partners, family members, and strangers, can use coercion. Sexual coercion is most likely to happen with someone you already have some type of relationship with. Sexual activity should always happen with your consent. If you are being pressured or coerced into sexual activity, that may be a type of sexual assault and it may be against the law.

What are some examples of sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion can be any type of nonphysical pressure used to make you participate in sexual activity that you do not agree to. See the chart below for ways someone might use sexual coercion:

Examples of sexual coercion

Ways someone might use sexual coercion

What he or she may say

Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated

  • “If you really loved me, you’d do it.”
  • “Come on; it’s my birthday.”
  • “You don’t know what you do to me.”

Making you feel like it’s too late to say no

  • “But you’ve already gotten me all worked up.”
  • “You can’t just make someone stop.”

Telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship

  • “Everything’s perfect. Why do you have to ruin it?”
  • “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.”

Lying or threatening to spread rumors about you

  • “Everyone thinks we already have, so you might as well.”
  • “I’ll just tell everyone you did it anyway.”

Making promises to reward you for sex

  • “I’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “You know I have a lot of connections.”

Threatening your children or other family members

  • “I’ll do this to your child if you don’t do it with me.”

Threatening your job, home, or school career

  • “I really respect your work here. I’d hate for something to change that.”
  • “I haven’t decided yet who’s getting bonuses this year.”
  • “Don’t worry about the rent. There are other things you can do.”
  • “You work so hard; it’d be a shame for you not to get an A.”

Threatening to reveal your sexual orientation publicly or to family or friends

  • “If you don’t do this, I will tell everyone you’re gay.”

How can I respond in the moment to sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion is not your fault. If you are feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to do, speak up or leave the situation. It is better to risk a relationship ending or hurting someone’s feelings than to do something you aren’t willing to do.

If the person trying to coerce you is in a position of power over you (such as a boss, landlord, or teacher), it’s best to leave the situation as quickly and safely as possible. It might be difficult, but if you can report the person to someone in authority, you are taking steps to stop it from happening again. Some possible verbal responses include:

  • “If you really care for me, you’ll respect that I don’t want to have sex.”
  • “I don’t owe you an explanation or anything at all.”
  • “You must be mistaken. I don’t want to have sex with you.”

Be clear and direct with the person trying to coerce you. Tell the person how you feel and what you do not want to do. If the person is not listening to you, leave the situation. If you or your family is in physical danger, try to get away from the person as quickly as possible. Call 911 if you are in immediate danger.

How can I get help after being sexually coerced?

Sexual coercion can be a type of sexual violence. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you are in a safe place, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online with a trained hotline worker on the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at any time to get help.

Some sexual coercion is against the law or violates school, rental, or workplace policies. Sexual coercion from someone at school, work, or a rental company or loan office is usually called sexual harassment. If you are younger than 18, tell a trusted adult about what happened. If you are an adult, consider talking to someone about getting help and reporting the person to the local authorities. You could talk to a counselor, the human resources department, or the local police.

You can also file a sexual harassment complaint with a federal agency. For workplace sexual harassment complaints, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). For school sexual harassment complaints, contact the U.S. Department of Education. For housing sexual harassment complaints, contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Department of Justice at 1-844-380-6178 or fairhousing@usdoj.gov.

Did we answer your question about sexual coercion?

For more information about sexual coercion, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sources

  1. Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.