Consent and Coercion

 

Section 265 of the Canadian Criminal Code describes assault as “A person who commits an assault when: (a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that person, directly or indirectly.” We can apply this definition to physical and sexual assault; however, only 21% of sexual assault cases proceeded to court and were completed compared to physical assault sitting at 39%. In this research paper, I will be talking about sexual violence in regards to consent and coercion, the myths that are believed among society, as well as both of them as a whole, and how they relate. I will be focusing mainly on sexual consent and coercion in relation to female victims and male perpetrators. 

 

The Criminal Code of Canada defines consent under section 273.1(1) as “…the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question,” and it focuses on the person’s thoughts and feelings during the time of the sexual activity. The Women’s Health Office in the United States says that sexual coercion is “unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened or forced in a nonphysical way.” When comparing sexual coercion to the definition of assault described in the Canadian Criminal Code, they seem very similar when in reality they are not. Assault is using physical aggression to force someone to follow through on an act, for example, holding someone down in order to continue penetrative sex, whereas sexual coercion is the use of verbal threats in order to gain something from it. Do men know that they are pressuring a woman to engage or continue in a sexual act? Twenty-seven percent of the college men interviewed by Dr. Charlene Senn in 2000 admitted to taking some part in some sexually coercive tactics or sexual assault (Senn, 2000; Gavey & Senn, 2014). However, Gavey and Senn both agree with “Ellis (1899/1948) and Van de Velde (1930) [who] took care to emphasize that the man must be attentive to his female partner’s arousal and feelings more generally…” (Gavey & Senn, 343). I agree with the prior statement because I feel like if women have to subject themselves to understanding what a man wants when it comes to sexual activity, then a man should have the same responsibilities and respect for his partner. Coercion and consent are very important terms when it comes to sexual relationships, and choosing to use one or the other can change the whole dynamic of the relationship. 

With society’s interpretation of the terms, it is difficult for people to know the true definition and examples of both consent and coercion and how they relate. In Gavey and Senn’s Sexuality and Sexual Violence article, they quote a New Zealand judge saying: “The world would be a much less exciting place to live…if every man stopped the first time a woman said ‘No’” (Gavey and Senn, 344). This quote can relate to how when a woman refuses to give her consent; the man goes on to coerce her by saying things like: “Let’s just have sex, it’s all the same”, “Why did you bring me home with you?” or even just her giving in to avoid having a fight (Rich, 2016). I feel that since men have a choice in the sexual activities they want to engage in, women should have a choice as well. There is also the idea that by asking for consent, it only needs to be asked once and if it is in fact asked it might “ruin the moment.” Bussel (2008) writes about a scenario where a young woman does not feel like engaging in sexual activities with her boyfriend but feels the need to because it’s what’s expected. This is a stereotype because up until 1983, rape was considered a criminal offence that occurred outside of marriage (Alphonso and Farahbaksh, 2009). With the prior statement being made, I think that we continue to have this idea of misogyny because it seems to be very recent that this law was changed, and it will take decades to change the mindset of the larger population. Women also need to be aware of their partner’s desires, as men typically fall victim to the social norm that “Men are the subjects of the male sexual drive discourse…” (Gavey & Senn, 350). As a woman writing this research paper, I ask myself frequently if there was ever a time where I gave in to sex because that was what was expected of me. The answer to that question is yes, I have, and it took me until this article to understand that it was not by my own free choice that I chose to engage in an activity that is supposed to be empowering. When it comes to a woman’s consent and being coerced, it seems that there is still gender inequality since society believes that women should not be interested in sex and simply give men what they want. 

Consent and coercion can be seen as trivial events when it comes to sexual activities, but these are two of the most important events during this time in order to establish boundaries while ensuring enjoyment. Coercion is a tactic that men use in order to manipulate women to get what they want, not considering what she might want or ask her consent. When a man uses coercion to gain consent, people think that it is a consensual relationship, however, this is false. In order to gain consent, each person involved in the sexual activity must be enthusiastic about this engagement. In my research, the standard for consent is ongoing and continues throughout the experience of sexual activities, but it is also something that can be revoked at any time. She also explains how sometimes we might not use explicit verbal cues such as “Yes,” when it comes to giving our consent, but we should be aware of the other person’s body language and ask questions throughout the experience. Questions such as, “This feels good for me, what about you?” or “How do you feel about trying this?” are considered to be forms of consent rather than coercion. Coercion seems to be more of a disregard for the female’s preferences and more about what the male is interested in doing. 

As expressed throughout this article, consent and coercion seem to be minuscule events when they are probably the most important. The definitions follow legal terms, and both fall under the broad category of sexual relationships and violence. Sexual coercion is talked about very little, but is present in many relationships, as men use certain sayings over and over to achieve the result that they want. Finally, consent and coercion may be asked in a variety of ways that do not have to explicitly ask, “Can I have your consent?” Sexual education covers things like sexual intercourse and masturbation, so I think we should add consent and coercion into this education so we can teach students about the problems with it. Consent is seen as such a taboo topic that we do not discuss it with our youth, so they are not aware of the effects and harms. I believe that once we start talking about these terms as something that is a social norm, we might be able to prevent other women from falling victim to sexual coercion (or a lack of consent) as previous generations have.