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The Type of Sexual Assault That's Sometimes Harder to Identify

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

We need to talk about sexual abuse and violence across its wider spectrum. One form that isn’t discussed much but leaves survivors struggling with the aftermath — often without the ability to put language to their experience — is coercive rape.

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Coercive rape is just that — rape. It isn’t sex because the consent is fabricated. If you manipulate someone this isn’t seduction. It’s exploiting them for your own gain. It’s getting them to change their behavior and actions.

If saying “no” isn’t respected, a “yes” cannot be valid. If that “yes” is worn down, if that “yes” is given out of fear of the consequences, or if that “yes” is achieved under emotional duress with constant pressure before or after refusal, it’s not really a yes. This is coercion. It is not enough for us to discuss the fact that no means no, we must also see how the yes is obtained and when the yes is invalid.

We need to start looking at freely obtained consent, and even more than that, a freely-obtained enthusiastic yes. We cannot arrogantly assume consent or put the responsibility on someone to tell us to stop or say no. If someone respects you, if they are attuned to you and your body language as they should be, then they can see if you are uncomfortable and stop to ask or stop altogether to be safe. Looking away, crying, saying “not now,” or looking distant and vacant are all things that indicate no, and should be taken as signs to stop.

Abusers use this tactic because we don’t talk about it as much, because it gets ignored, and because it’s not given the severity it deserves. They know they can get away with it. There is no law as of yet to tackle this. But the truth is, sexual coercion is abusive and it can still cause sexual trauma.

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 can be someone trying to get you tipsy or drunk so it’s harder for you to refuse them; it can be someone pressuring you when you don’t feel ready; it can be someone convincing you to have unprotected sex. It can be verbally egging someone on or using social pressure like: “Everyone is doing it,” “It has to happen sometime,” You can’t be a virgin all your life,” “You’re old enough,” “What’s wrong with you?” “You’ll enjoy it once we get started,” “It’s not like we haven’t had sex before.” It can also sound like threats (“I’ll leave you if you don’t,” “I’ll tell everyone about it.”) or can be achieved through guilt (“If you loved me you would,” “Come on, it’s been so long,” “You’ve led me on, I’m aroused now you can’t just stop…”).

Like emotional abuse, it can be hard to identify or to pinpoint because it’s not always blatant. As mentioned, it can be persistent attempts or using a relationship to make you feel obligated. It’s important to remember that no matter how it takes place, the bottom line is if you didn’t want to have sex, and even if you technically said yes after feeling pressured, there’s a reason you feel violated. Abuse is abuse, no matter how it is done.

It can happen to anyone, and it’s also important to note that adults can be groomed, too (another subject we don’t talk about enough that can make adults feel alone or shamed). We are all vulnerable no matter who we are or how old we are.

Sexual coercion is sexual abuse, you should never feel forced into anything you’re not comfortable with or don’t feel like doing. Rape and sexual abuse don’t have to be achieved through physical means and physical force — and it’s time that the world understood this. We shouldn’t accept anything that lacks respect or violates our boundaries. It’s time we talked about this, fight to make the changes, change our own behaviors and address this head on.

Photo by ABDULLA M on Unsplash

Originally published: October 20, 2021
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