Sexual Coercion

Learning the Facts About Sexual Coercion + Sexual Assault

By definition, sexual coercion is “the act of using pressure, alcohol or drugs, or force to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will.” Alarmingly, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in ten teens said they had coerced another person into some form of sexual activity  Additionally, among teens who have had sex before age 15, over 40% of girls reported being forced to have sex and over 5% of boys reported being forced to have sex.

What is sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion is when anyone persuades or coerces someone under the age of 18 into taking part in any kind of unwanted sexual activity.

  • The person may be threatened with physical force or be manipulated emotionally. The person may feel pressured or belittled.
  • The person may feel it is easier to say yes to sexual activity than to say no. There is often an imbalance of power in the relationship.
  • The person being coerced may be a lot younger or more inexperienced.
  • The person using coercion may threaten, humiliate, or use anger to get their way. This person may “talk them into” having sex.

Who is most likely to be abused this way?

  • Teens that have a history of sexual abuse are 5 times more likely to be coerced into sex than those who have not been abused in the past.
  • Among students who had sex before age 15, 4 out of 10 girls and 1 out of 20 boys said they were forced to have sex.
  • Teens who first had sex before age 15 were seven times more likely to state they were forced to have sex as teens who first had sex after that age.

What are warning signs that a partner may be abusive?

  • When there is a big age gap or other power differences, there is a greater chance of unwanted sex and unhealthy relationships.
  • When a person constantly puts down the other person, judges people based on their gender, uses bad language about people’s sexuality, or views violent pornography – this person is at higher risk of being abusive.

As adults, we can help teens have happy, healthy relationships. We can help them recognize abuse and make good choices about friendships. Children begin observing the relationships around them as babies, so be sure to role model healthy relationships in your own life. Your kids can learn from you about love, safety, and how to trust others.

Talking about Coercion

Everyone has the right to be free of coercion when it comes to sex. No one should be pressured, forced, or manipulated into taking part in any kind of sexual activity that they don’t really want.

Adults should help teens recognize what it means to be coerced or pressured and how they can prevent that. Teens should be able to get the help they need if they find themselves in a relationship that includes sexual coercion or other forms of abuse.

Additional information for parents on sexual coercion + assault

Alcohol, drugs + sexual assault

A recent study reported that 22% of high school students who had sexual intercourse in the past three months drank alcohol or used drugs before having sex.  Using alcohol or drugs puts teens at a higher risk for having sex when they hadn’t planned to, having unsafe sex, and being involved in a sexually violent act either as a perpetrator or a victim. It’s important to discuss the dangers of mixing substances with sex and how teens can avoid these risky situations. Here are some resources to support you in starting this conversation:

Sexting, digital abuse + coercion

Sexting is the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images, messages or video, via a cellphone or the Internet. Sexting is becoming more common among teens. According to research, nearly thirty percent of teens in the U.S. are sexting and half of teens have been asked to send a naked picture of themselves to someone.

The consequences of sexting can be catastrophic. Teens need to know that anything shared via text or online is never truly private and can be shared publicly. This can lead to humiliation, depression, and can even damage their public image when they are older and pursuing higher education and career opportunities later in life.

Here are some resources for you and your teen about the dangers related to sexting: