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.
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
Making you feel like it’s too late to say no
Telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship
Lying or threatening to spread rumors about you
Making promises to reward you for sex
Threatening your children or other family members
Threatening your job, home, or school career
Threatening to reveal your sexual orientation publicly or to family or friends
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
- Facts About Sexual Harassment — Fact sheet from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Know Your Rights: Workplace Sexual Harassment — Information from the American Association of University Women.
- Not Alone — Information from the Center for Changing Our Campus Culture.
- Reporting to Law Enforcement — Information from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).
- Understanding Sexual Violence (PDF, 382 KB) — Fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Victims Connect Resource Center — Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
- What is Sexual Coercion? — Information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Break the Cycle.
- 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.