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How to deal with sexual harassment at work?

Sexual coercion is an unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. 

When it happened, you might not have realized you were a victim. Sexual coercion is a more subtle form of sexual assault which can happen in the workplace or during work events. Often unreported in job environments, sexual coercion refers to manipulating or persuading another person to engage in sexual behavior, often against their will. In some instances, sexual coercion is not just illegal sexual harassment — it is also criminal conduct punishable by law. Coercion is a tactic used by perpetrators to intimidate, trick or force an employee into a sexual act. Workplace sexual coercion can occur in complex forms that involve authoritative status, deception, physical power and a range of tools such as showing favoritism, discrimination and denial or provision of rewards.

What is sexual coercion?

By definition, sexual coercion is “the act of using pressure by intimidation, alcohol or drugs, or forced to have sexual contact with someone against his or her will.” Sexual Coercion can be overt or covert which makes it hard to identify. Sexual coercion includes all forms of sexual contact, including intercourse, oral sex, kissing, petting and more. Abusers use a range of pressure tactics to convince the victim to submit to sexual activity when the victim has already refused. Sexual coercion harassment is unwanted or excessive contact or communication with a person of a sexual nature, to the point where that person feels intimidated, traumatized, tired or afraid. Coercion involves physical force or spoken sexual threats that restrict another person’s choice or freedom to perform their work responsibilities.

Workplace coercion could happen at the job site during working hours, or after-hours at company-sponsored events such as holiday parties. The harasser can be your superior or colleague. It could be a one-time occurrence, or the abuse may have taken place over a period of time.

What are some examples of sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion can be any type of nonphysical pressure used to make you participate in sexual activity that you do not agree to. See the chart below for ways someone might use sexual coercion:

Examples of sexual coercion

Ways someone might use sexual coercion

What he or she may say

Wearing you down by asking for sex again and again or making you feel bad, guilty, or obligated

  • “If you really loved me, you’d do it.”
  • “Come on; it’s my birthday.”
  • “You don’t know what you do to me.”

Making you feel like it’s too late to say no

  • “But you’ve already gotten me all worked up.”
  • “You can’t just make someone stop.”

Telling you that not having sex will hurt your relationship

  • “Everything’s perfect. Why do you have to ruin it?”
  • “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me.”

Lying or threatening to spread rumors about you

  • “Everyone thinks we already have, so you might as well.”
  • “I’ll just tell everyone you did it anyway.”

Making promises to reward you for sex

  • “I’ll make it worth your while.”
  • “You know I have a lot of connections.”

Threatening your children or other family members

  • “I’ll do this to your child if you don’t do it with me.”

Threatening your job, home, or school career

  • “I really respect your work here. I’d hate for something to change that.”
  • “I haven’t decided yet who’s getting bonuses this year.”
  • “Don’t worry about the rent. There are other things you can do.”
  • “You work so hard; it’d be a shame for you not to get an A.”

Threatening to reveal your sexual orientation publicly or to family or friends

  • “If you don’t do this, I will tell everyone you’re gay.”


In some instances, sexual coercion could constitute rape or another form of sexual assault. Forced sexual contact is subject to punishment in both civil and criminal court. 

Sexual coercion is not your fault.

If you are feeling pressured to do something you don’t want to do, speak up or leave the situation. It is better to risk a relationship ending or hurting someone’s feelings than to do something you aren’t willing to do.

If the person trying to coerce you is in a position of power over you (such as a boss, landlord, or teacher), it’s best to leave the situation as quickly and safely as possible. It might be difficult, but if you can report the person to someone in authority, you are taking steps to stop it from happening again. Some possible verbal responses include:

  • “If you really care for me, you’ll respect that I don’t want to have sex.”
  • “I don’t owe you an explanation or anything at all.”
  • “You must be mistaken. I don’t want to have sex with you.”

Be clear and direct with the person trying to coerce you. Tell the person how you feel and what you do not want to do. If the person is not listening to you, leave the situation. If you or your family is in physical danger, try to get away from the person as quickly as possible. 

Call the Police if you are in immediate danger.

Harassment in any form should not be tolerated in the workplace. If you have been teased, taunted and subjected to sexual coercion in your place of work, contact one of the sexual harassment attorneys at wirestork for expert legal help.

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