Starting the conversation on sexual coercion

By Natalie Hackmann, Class of 2021 Organizer

Coercion:   Attempting to initiate unwanted sexual contact without the direct unmitigated consent of the pursued individual by using methods of intimidation, trickery, pressure, or non-physical force. Didn’t know that was a thing?  You’re not alone.

We’re back in the ‘burg and spring semester is in full swing, so it’s time we talk about a form of sexual harassment most people don’t know much about, despite its prevalence on our campus.  We recently proposed a definition addition to the student handbook about sexual coercion. I struggle in calling it “coerced consent” because pairing those two words together creates an oxymoron (stark contradiction).  You can’t consent- “consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal or desires of another”- when it is coerced- “to achieve by force or threat”. It would be ‘pretty ugly’ to use those two words in one phrase-- see what I mean?

When asking a variety of involved JMU students what they believed sexual coercion was, here’s what they had to say:

From a women’s health advocate:  “Consent after being asked in a repetitive manner.”

From a student athlete: “Someone making you feel guilty or pressured so you give them consent.”

From a member of Greek life (female):  “When you give consent after being asked multiple times.”

From a member of Greek life (male):  Trying to make a girl think that them saying no is not okay; consent is the only option.  

What do you see in all of these?  That’s right- “consent” is ultimately “given”.  We’re here to tell you that coercion does not lead to justifiable consent.  Sexual coercion in itself is a form of sexual harassment that frequently plays a role on the path to sexual assault- and it’s our duty as proud members of this community to no longer tolerate it.  Look out for yourselves, look out for your friends, and hold your intimate partners accountable. Know your right and ability to say “no”, and use it when you want to. Below are some examples of sexual coercion.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Pressuring someone who has already refused sexual activity to consume drugs or alcohol to the point where their consent is no longer valid.

  • Repeated pleas or attempts for sexual contact within an unreasonable time frame.

  • Direct efforts to make pursued individual feel guilty, ashamed, and/or obligated for saying, “no”.

  • Suggesting a time limit for saying, “no”, and/or suggesting a time limit for withdrawing consent.

  • Threatening emotional harm to pursued individual or other sensitive parties for lack of consent.

  • Threatening physical harm to pursued individual or other sensitive parties for lack of consent.   

  • Suggesting any type of reward for consent.

There’s no such thing as “coerced consent”, simply consent and sexual coercion.  Know that there’s a difference.