Consent? Coercion? Force? How do I know?
What is consent? A partner who is voluntarily, actively, clearly giving his/her consent prior to sexual activity.
Failing to resist a sex act is not understood as consent! “Freezing” – or failing to fight to keep the person from performing an unwanted act is also not consent. “Frozen fear” – where the person is so afraid they cannot move – is very common in sexual assault cases. It should never be thought of as consent.
A person can give consent at first, and then change her or his mind. Consent must be ongoing throughout the act, and if one person decides to withdraw consent, they may do so and the act must end or it will be without consent.
Giving in is also not the same as giving consent! If one is seriously pressured or even threatened and decides to give in to the pressure that is not the same as willingly engaging in sexual contact.
What is Coercion? Using pressure, alcohol, or drugs to have sexual contact with someone against their will.
Pressure can mean physical pressure, verbal pressure or emotional pressure.
Emotional pressure is used much more frequently than physical and verbal pressure and is the most subtle of all the sexual coercion tactics. Using emotional pressure includes the perpetrator convincing the victim that he/she cares more for the victim than he/she actually does, threatening a break-up, wearing the victim down by using the same tactic over and over again, making the victim feel obligated to participate in sexual acts, guilting the victim participating, utilizing peer pressure and even the perpetrator using his/her position of authority over the victim.
Physical pressure can include hitting, kicking and slapping the victim; holding the victim down; continuing with the sexual behavior after the victim has been told to stop; and even continuing to kiss the victim as he/she tries to pull away.
Verbal pressure includes behaviors like threatening to use physical force against the victim, yelling at the victim, name calling, tricking, lying, blackmailing and badgering the victim.
Alcohol and drugs are very commonly involved in sexual coercion. The use of alcohol and or drugs is used to try and “loosen” inhibitions or take advantage of someone’s drunkenness. While perpetrators might view providing alcohol as a way to open a window where the door might be shut, getting someone drunk to have sex or sexual contact is sexual coercion.
What is force? According to Virginia State Law an act of violence, force or threat means an act that involves violence, force, or threat that results in injury to the body or causes you a reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or injury to the body. These acts could include things like forceful detention, stalking, criminal sexual assault, or any criminal offense that causes injury to the body or causes you reasonable fear of death, sexual assault, or injury to the body.
* VA ST § 19.2-152.7:1.