Sexual coercion of men often unreported, misunderstood

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Over the last few decades, awareness of the problem of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual coercion of women has been steadily increasing.

Society has become increasingly aware of the fact that these acts are crimes, and that the need to prosecute the perpetrators and educate young men and women about these issues is key to combating this issue. Recent studies have shown that women are not the only victims, and that sexual coercion of men in particular is more prevalent than has previously been believed.

The American Psychological Association recently published a report in the journal “Psychology of Men and Masculinity” that explores the topic of male sexual coercion.

One legal definition of sexual coercion is “A person who, under circumstances other than those referred to in the description of rape, induces another person by unlawful coercion to undertake or endure a sexual act, shall be guilty of sexual coercion.”

One of the authors of the study, Bryana H. French Ph.., who is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, further explains “Sexual coercion can include verbal pressure, manipulation, use/abuse of substances, bribery, force, threat of force, abuse of authority, and men in my study identify unwanted seduction as a form of coercion as well.” Another common type of sexual coercion is that of statutory rape, wherein the younger man is coerced into sex by an older partner.

In an earlier column, we explored the topic of male victims of domestic violence, and why these crimes are so underreported. In the case of sexual coercion underreporting of the issue is also common, and many of the reasons are the same. Many of these victims feel that they “can’t” be a victim since they are physically stronger, or find it to embarrassing to admit what happened.

In the case of sexual coercion, many men may not even realize that what has been done to them is wrong. Medical professionals may tend not to ask about sexual coercion in men, and many young men are brought up to believe that their masculinity should always lead them to want sexual contact. It can also be harder for them to make the distinction between rape, sexual coercion, and sexual regret. All of these factors can leave many men conflicted about what happened and doubting their own feelings about the encounter.

The study also reported some interesting statistics regarding the race of the victim. Asian-American males reported fewer coercive experiences, but greater pressure not to use protection when they were coerced. Hispanic and non-Hispanic black men reported slightly higher rates of coercion than non-Hispanic whites. These disparities can probably be contributed to cultural and/or regional differences, but can also help educators to identify more likely victims of sexual coercion. Other risk factors include those with low self-esteem, those with body issues, who abuse drugs or alcohol, or who were victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Although both men and women can be the perpetrators of sexual coercion against men, this report found that of the 43% of the 284 high school boys and young college men surveyed who reported an unwanted sexual experience, 95% of those reported the aggressor to be a female. Although the study does not specifically address why this may be the case, it may again have to do with the ingrained notion that men should always pursue sexual opportunities with women, so when women are the aggressor it may be psychologically more difficult for them to say no. 

Men who are victims of sexual coercion suffer many of the same repercussions as women. They may experience psychological distress, higher rates of substance abuse, and increased instances of sexual risk-taking. It is important that victims of sexual coercion of either gender understand that what happened to them is not their fault, and it is no more acceptable when it happens to a man then when it happens to a woman. No one should ever be bullied, coerced, manipulated or in any way forced into sexual contact of any kind against their will. 

Some signs of sexual coercion are more overt than others, but if you have encountered a situation where you feel you were manipulated or bullied into sexual acts it is important to trust your instincts. Feeling angry, guilty or frightened after an encounter, or feeling pressured or manipulated can be signs of coercion. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into a situation where you can be manipulated, and remember that you never owe anyone sexual favors, for any reason; if it feels wrong, don’t do it. You should talk to your health professional if you feel you may have been victimized. You can also contact counselors at the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

NOTE: Tim Bates is the Captain of the Detective Division of the Rome, New York Police Department. For questions or comments, he can be reached at (315) 339-7715 or via email at batest@romepd.com. You can also listen to him discussing more public safety issues live every Sunday from 10 a.m. until 11 a.m. on WKAL AM radio 1450.

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