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Chapter 16: Sexual Coercion
• Coercion involves sexual activity that does not occur between consenting adults
• Movement towards seeing crimes involving force in sexual relations as crimes of violence and
victimization, rather than as sex crimes, and away from defining rape as heterosexual intercourse or
assuming the assailant is male or the victim is female
• Prior to 1983, Criminal Code also did not recognize rape could occur within a marriage; this meant
wives could not legally refuse her husband’s demands
• Lastly, the law required corroboration that the crime of rape took place and that conviction could not
occur based on only the complainant’s testimony – and that complaints not made immediately after the
attack were invalidated. This meant it would be extremely difficult to get a conviction without physical
• In 1983, the Criminal Code was amended to include 3 gender-neutral crimes of sexual assault, varying
in terms of the amount of force used to carry out the assault and the degree of injury sustained by the
victim, not the nature of the sexual activity.
• Sexual assault includes any non-consensual sexual activity, ranging from unwanted touching, to
forced oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse, to sexual violence in which the victim is wounded or his/her life
is endangered, or when the victim is incapable of giving consent.
• Consent is the voluntary agreement of the individual to engage in the sexual activity in question. It
must be actively established; silence, inaction, or ambiguous conduct is not consent. There is no consent
if the complainant id drunk or unconscious, of if the complainant consents and then changes their mind.
Children under age 16 are considered incapable of giving consent to adults.
• Violence against Women survey in 1993 surveyed 12,000 women over age 18. 39% report having been
sexually assaulted by a man since age 16, and 5% experienced assault in the past 12 months.
• Sexual assault is an underreported crime. The General Social Survey (2004) was conducted by
telephone, and found that 512,000 Canadians over age 15 reported sexual assault in the last year; 2/100
were affected and of this only 10% was reported. Around 80-85% are “level 1” sexual assault involving
• There is some variability across location, with highest rates in Saskatchewan.
• Reasons for not reporting including wanting to keep the event private (fear public knowledge and
humiliation), feeling ashamed or embarrassed, being afraid of not being believed, fearing the perpetrator,
not wanting to report the perpetrator (e.g. fear of loss of resources, housing), and not believing the police
could do anything.
• Men are also victims of sexual aggression, though much less frequently than women are – about 1%. It
is more common for a man to have been forced to have sex with another man, than by a woman
• This is also underreported, often because they fear no one will believe them, informed by cultural
norms of masculinity.
• Women with disabilities are 4x as likely to experience sexual assault
Sexual Assault of Women by Acquaintances
• Sexual assault by someone who is known to the victim is much more frequent than by a stranger –
about 55% vs 35% of reported incidents Module 4: 467-470, Module 5: 453-477 Page 2 of12
• Sexual assault is underreported, especially compared to research examining sexual coercion in
university or community samples, which involve not only physical coercion but verbal coercion
• 48% of university women report having experienced coerced sexual activity involving pressure or force.
Many do not recognize this as sexual assault because it occurred in a dating situation, often after the
couple has engaged in consensual sexual activity at a lower level, e.g. kissing.
• This is correlated with higher depression, lower self-esteem, and more negative sexual self-
• Men tend to misperceive women’s warmth and friendliness as indicating sexual interest. Sexually
aggressive men are also likely to have a suspicious schema, believing that women do not
communicate honestly, particularly that when she asserts clearly that she is rejecting an advance.
• Cognitive restructuring therapy is thus essential for prevention and treatment for sexual aggressors
• Drug-facilitated sexual assault with date-rape drugs including Rohypnol (“roofie”), GHB gamma
hydroxyl butyrate, and ketamine (“vitamin K”, “special K”) where men slip the drug into an
unsuspecting woman’s drink, she experiences disinhibition and drowsiness, and then sexually assault
• Rohypnol causes drowsiness or sleep, as well as amnesia. GHB causes CNS depression like alcohol,
and in alrge doses can lead to loss of consciousness. In high doses, GHB and ketamine can lead to
Partner & Spousal Sexual Assault of Women
• Spousal Sexual Assault: The sexual assault of a person by his or her current or former marital or
common-law spouse. Surveys estimate 8% of respondents have experienced this, with 3% in the past 12
• There is an association between non-sexual and sexual violence in a long-term relationship
• A man may sexually assault his female partner due to anger, power and domination, sadism, or a
desire for sex regardless of whether she is willing (belief that she “owes” him sex).
The Impact of Sexual Assault on Women
• Immediate emotional reactions cause a high level of distress reaching a peak 3 weeks after the assault,
followed by gradual improvement 2-3 months after the assault.
• Effects of more fear, anxiety, self-esteem problems and sexual problems can last for 18 months or
• Some women experience self-blame, agonizing over what she might have done to bring on the sexual
assault or to prevent it. Even if she knows she is not to blame, she may still feel guilty (emotional but not
cognitive self-blame). This results from society’s tendency to blame the victim, particularly when the
victim used drugs/alcohol
• Damage to physical health from injuries, such as cuts and bruises, vaginal pain and bleeding, damage
to the throat from forced oral sex, rectal bleeding and pain from forced anal sex
• She may contract an STI such as HIV/AIDS or herpes. In 5% of cases, pregnancy results.
• Some experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), long-term psychological distress involving
symptoms such as persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event (flashbacks, nightmares), avoiding
stimuli associated with it (avoiding certain locations), and hyperarousal (sleep difficulties, irritability).
• This may be because a memory schema involving information and response to the situation is
constantly triggered by many cues, invoking the feelings of terror that occurred during that event. This
also affects interpretation of new events.
• Development of PTSD correlated with lack of support from others, and avoidance coping where one
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• Most women routinely do things that stem from fears of sexual assault, even if they have never
experienced it. For example, they avoid walking alone at night, or check their backseat after getting in the
• Some display Post-Traumatic Growth after the assault, with positive life changes and psychological
development. For example, a greater sense of purpose in life, and increased ability to take care of
Causes of Sexual Assault against Women
• Four major theoretical views of the nature of sexual assault:
o 1) Victim-Precipitated Sexual Assault: This view holds that a sexual assault is always caused
by a woman “asking for it” and considered to be their fault. This view blames the victim.
o 2) Psychopathology of Sex Offenders: This view holds that sexual assault is an act
committed by a psychologically-disturbed man, and that his deviance is responsible for the crime.
o 3) Feminist: These theorists view sexual assault as a product of gender-role socialization in our
culture, which reinforces and legitimizes male aggression and sexual coercion; there is an
eroticization of violence. In some assaults, men use sex to demonstrate their power over women,
and in others they use this power to get sex. Gender inequality is both the cause and result of
o 4) Social Disorganization: Sociologists believe crime rates, including sexual assault rates,
increase after disruption to the social organization of a community, and recommends enforcing
norms against crime.
• Cultural Values: Can serve to support sexual assault, such as valuing aggression and hostility in men.
• Sexual Scripts: Adolescents learn society’s expectations about dating and sex through culturally-
transmitted sexual scripts, which convey the message that the man is supposed to be over-sex and the
• Early Family Influences: Sexual aggressors more likely to have been sexually abused in childhood
• Peer-Group influences: Men who have abusive friends are more likely to use sexual aggression
themselves. This may be because aggressive friends encourage one to be aggressive, or because
aggressive men choose friends with similar attitudes.
• Situational Context: Sexual assault is more likely to occur in secluded places, or at parties with
excessive alcohol. Social disorganization, an extreme example being war, increases incidence of sexual
• Miscommunication: Many find it difficult to discuss sex, and often do not ask partners for explicit
sexual consent instead trying to infer it from subtle non-verbal cues, which is highly prone to error.
• Power Motives: Sexual violence as an expression of power and dominance by men over women. Sex
offenders show similar arousal to consenting and non-consenting sexual scenarios, while men convicted
of non-sexual crimes and non-criminal controls are more aroused by consensual sex only.
• Masculinity Norms & Attitudes: Men with hyper-masculine attitudes more likely to use sexual
• Research has not found that women cause their own sexual assault, or that most men who commit
sexual assault have psychological disorders. Hyper-masculinity is a far more common cause.
Evolutionary Theories of Rape
• Competitive Disadvantage Hypothesis: Since not everyone may be successful at securing mates
through the typical method of courtship, some males attempt to secure mates through coercion. In male
scorpion flies, they may offer a nuptial gift of an insect before copulation, or they may simply force
copulation – this depends on the availability of resources Module 4: 467-470, Module 5: 453-477 Page 4 of 12
• There does not appear to be support for this hypothesis for human rapists, and lack specific
psychological mechanisms that would constitute this rape adaptation.
• Rape may be an evolutionary byproduct, such as the male preference for multiple reproductively-
competent partners and casual sex. Supported by fact that rapists have high mating effort
• What about partner or spousal sexual coercion? The above two hypotheses are focused on males
increasing reproductive success by securing multiple partners.
• Cuckoldry Risk Hypothesis: This may be due to cuckoldry risk, where a cuckold is a man whose
sexual partner has been sexually unfaithful. There are three tactics to reduce this risk:
o Mate Guarding: Preventing partner’s access to other mates to prevent infidelity
o Intra-Vaginal Tactics: Sperm competition
o Assessing paternity after birth, such as by comparing facial features
• Sperm competition involves competition between the sperm of two or more men to fertilize an ovum,
common in non-monogamous species as well as monogamous species with hidden fertilization (no
obvious cue with fertilization event). This necessitates sexual activity with the partner whom he suspects
• Human extra-pair copulations are relatively frequent according to survey results; estimations of
offspring born from extra-pair copulations range from 1 to 30%. The resource costs of cuckoldry are quite
• Camilleri & Quinsey (2009): If hypothesis is true, should find sex-specificity with the male partner more
coercive due to more costs associated with cuckoldry risk, temporal sensitivity to cuckoldry risk, and
variability in severity of coercive action depending on evaluation of cuckoldry risk – should only be a last
resort when cuckoldry is known and end of relationship is imminent. Also evaluated cuckoldry risk among
files of partner rapists
o Evaluated community sample of participants, calculating indirect cuckoldry risk based on time
since last seeing partner as well as direct cuckoldry risk based on actual cues (e.g. avoid talking
about a certain male friend in your presence)
o Evaluated participant likelihood of using coaxing vs coercive tactics. Coaxing involves subtle
tactics to encourage partner to engage in sexual activity, e.g. massage, while coercive are more
salient tactics like physical restraint
o Indirect cuckoldry risk predict interest in use of coaxing tactics in men, but no effect in women
o Direct cuckoldry risks predict interest in use of coercing tactics, especially if risks were recent
o Then evaluated forensic sample of 25 partner rapists, and 30 partner assaulters (violent non-
sexual). Coded for suspected, known, or threatened infidelity, experience of jealousy and sexual
refusal, separation or threatened separation, and other related events.
o For rapists, all 7 categories of cuckoldry risk were represented before their offense, significantly
more than the non-sexual partner assaulters
• However, remember the naturalistic fallacy: what is does not equal what ought to be. We are attempting
to hypothesize to explain why sexual assault happens, not that it should occur – there is no value
Characteristics of Perpetrators
• There is no “typical” sexually aggressive men, vary widely in occupation, education, previous criminal
record, and motivation for committing sexual assault
• Antisocial Tendencies: Interests and rights of one person is disregarded for the benefit of another
• Mating Effort: Effort one puts into finding sexual partners and engaging in sexual activity, vs. parental
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• Aroused by Coercive Stimuli: Show different arousal
pattern relative to non-sexually coercive men (violent but non-
sexual offenders, and community controls). Presented a variety
of stimuli in form of audio stories, depicting consensual sex,
non-consensual sex, and non-sexual violence.
• Measured phallometric response, and found community and
violent offenders showed similar genital responses (maximum
arousal to consensual stories and little to no arousal to other
stories), but rapists showed similar arousal to consensual and
• The non-consensual stories in the experiment above
combined elements of sex, violence, and non-consent.
o Perhaps the violence was most salient, and the rapists had sadism with intense sexual
pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, or humiliation on sexual partners.
o Perhaps the non-consent was most salient, in biastophilia with sexual pleasure from having
sex with non-consenting individuals (“biasto” = to seize)
• Lalumiere and colleagues created stimuli which separated the three variables, in 7 stimuli categories:
consenting sex, consenting violent sex (BDSM), consenting non-sexual violence (kink), rape, sadistic
rape, non-sexual violence, and neutral consensual interactions
o Assessed phallometric responses of sadists (equal or greater arousal to sadistic activities,
chosen based on a scale to measure interest), men with some sadistic interests, and non-sadists
o For 2 & 3 group, greatest genital response to consensual non-violent sex, while for sadistic
men they were most aroused by the consensual violent sex – but not to non-consensual violent
sex. So sexual sadism alone probably does not explain interest in rape stimuli
o In actual rapists, less discrimination between consenting and non-consenting sex. It appears
that non-consent is the major factor in rapist arousal
• Sexually aggressive men tend to be repeat offenders, averaging at 6 sexual assaults each. Compared
with other men, men who commit sexual assault tend to have certain characteristics:
o Hold various social cognitions, or “implicit theories” that support sexual assault. For example,
they believe women are sexual objects, that women are dangerous and deceptive, that certain
behaviours are uncontrollable in the face of strong urges, and have a sense of entitlement involving
o More likely to have had brain injuries as a child, but still only 4% of this group
o Characterized by poor inhibition and self-regulation, particularly inhibition of aggressive
o They lack empathy, failing to understand the suffering a sexual assault victim experiences
o May have experienced environmental triggers, such as being in a war
• Therapy must include empathy training and challenge cognitive distortions and denial
Ethnicity & Sexual Assault against Women
• Cultural heritages of various ethnocultural groups in Canada provide different contexts for people in
• 37% of women and 19% of men in English-speaking Caribbean communities have experienced
sexual coercion, much higher than Latin American and South Asian communities.
• In Asian cultures, saving face is important, so the potential for loss of face by committing sexual assault
may be a deterrent to such activity for Asian men
• Historical factors may affect the meaning of sexual assault, such as experiences with systematic
military campaigns of sexual violence in Bosnia Module 4: 467-470, Module 5: 453-477 Page 6 of12
• In some cultures, it is considered a wife’s duty to have sex with her husband whenever he demands it
Sexual Assault against Men
• Only 1.5% of adults convicted of sexual assault are women, but this may be because men are much
more likely to under-report sexual assault due to cultural gender role socialization and norms
• Community reports show that sexual coercion of men by women is not infrequent – 19%
experienced unwilling sexual activity within the previous year
• Gay men also experience sexual coercion from male sexual partners, as high as 20%
• It is physiologically possible for a woman to force a man to engage in intercourse, as men may get an
erection in emotional states such as anger and terror.
• Similar factors contribute to sexual aggression by women, such as verbal forms of pressure in
heterosexual dating situations. Many women believe the stereotype that men are always interested in
• Male victims tend to be blamed more harshly for their victimization, and female perpetrators blamed
more leniently than males. This can deter men from reporting sexual assault experiences
• Great majority of male victims of forced intercourse are sexually assaulted by men
Sexual Assault in Prison
• High percentages of men and women prisoners have been objects of sexual coercion, mostly by fellow
prisoners but also by prison staff in 18% of cases
• Among the male victims, 53% had been forced to have receptive anal sex
• A frequent suggestion for ending prison sexual violence is to segregate the most vulnerable: those who
are young, non-violent, new in prison, and white. Many also favour allowing conjugal visits.
• Sexual assault in prison is clearly an expression of power and aggression, using it to establish a
dominance hierarchy (most aggressors would identify as heterosexual)
Preventing Sexual Assault
• Important to develop programs for both men and women to avoid victimization, and to prevent sexual
assault by radically changing the way society socializes males. Boys should not be pressed to be
aggressive and tough, instead should be encouraged to express feelings and to be nurturant to others.
• Stress importance of obtaining verbal consent in both new and ongoing relationships
• Foster climate in which sexually coercive behaviour is seen as unacceptable, but prevent “male
bashing” to decrease defensive backlash
• For now, we must teach women to be vigilant and empower them to be more assertive in
communicating their non-consent:
o Includes avoiding high-risk situations and, if that fails, knowing self-defence techniques
o Avoiding high-risk situations can include setting sexual limits, deciding earl if you would like to
have intercourse and communicating it clearly, prevent from giving mixed messages, be forceful
and firm, do not do anything you don’t want to do just to avoid a scene or be “polite”, trust your gut
feelings if you feel pressured or uncomfortable, be careful when you are invited to someone’s
house, and be aware that alcohol and drugs are often related to sexual assault
o Fighting back by fighting, yelling, and fleeing increase a woman’s likelihood of thwarting a
sexual assault attempt. Women need to feel more comfortable using self-defence.
• Combat stereotypes about masculinity, such as that men are always interested in sex.
• Everyone should become more comfortable talking openly and clearly about sex
• Sadly, evaluations of past sexual assault prevention programs show only small changes in attitudes,