At the University of Georgia, the Equal Opportunity Office has a clear definition of consent. The EOO defines it as:
“Words or actions that show a knowing and voluntary willingness to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.”
The EOO also emphasizes consent may not be gained by “force, intimidation, or coercion, by ignoring or acting in spite of objections of another, or by taking advantage of the incapacitation.”
Though the EOO specifies that coercion or force invalidates consent, there is still a lack of this understanding within our college campuses. Many common place behaviors and statements may seem innocent, but actually coerce people into sex.
According to the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, one in five women and one in 20 male students were sexually victimized in 2015. While forced sex is commonly understood as physically forcing sex or taking advantage of an incapacitated person, the definition of sex misses two crucial gray areas: manipulation and coercion.
Experienced partners may push inexperienced or impressionable partners to engage in sexual activity. A partner can continually beg someone for sex, making the begged person feel they must give in to stop their partner’s begging.
While this can happen to anyone of all genders, women are especially vulnerable to begging since women are socialized to be agreeable, particularly with male partners.
Coercion, according to the Office on Women’s Health, can make a person feel as though they “owe sex to someone.” Begging is a form of coercion because one partner gains control of the situation. The partner’s begging manipulates the victim into believing they need to complete this sexual act to please their partner, whether or not the begged partner actually wants to have sex. Essentially, it’s an excusable way to coerce someone into sex.
Other examples of sexual coercion include making someone feel like it’s too late to say no, like saying “You got me worked up, we can’t stop now,” or making sex feel like an obligation by saying “You have to, it’s my birthday,” or even threatening your family, job or home for sexual acts, according to the Office on Women’s Health.
Sexual coercion feels commonplace such as in phrases like “I’ll make it worth your while” or “don’t be a tease,” but sexual manipulation is still a part of rape culture.Victims may not be violently forced into sex in the typical way we view rape, but people can still be taken advantage of without knowing it.
I don’t propose we create laws to protect victims of rape by coercion because they already exist. However, we need to rethink the role coercion and manipulation plays in sexual conduct. On a college campus like UGA, it is important to have conversations with young adults in situations where coercion could be prominent.
More open conversations about the blurry parts of rape culture must be held on colleges for students to understand what fully consensual sexual activity looks like.