Many young people feel being pressured into having sex or participating in a sexual act before one feels entirely ready is a normal part of growing up; this is especially true if they have received little to no healthy relationship and sex education. However, we know this is a form of sexual violence and advocates working with youth have a unique opportunity to debunk this myth. Every person has complete control over their body and choice with whom and when they decide to hug, kiss, have sex, or engage in any sexual or intimate activity. When sexual coercion takes place, one person continues to pressure or persuade another person who has expressed uncertainty or no desire to engage in the sexual activity. Sexual coercion occurs on a continuum, ranging from verbal to physical pressure.
Depending on the level of trust built with an advocate, teens and tweens may not be direct when discussing issues of sexual coercion. They most likely will not identify with the term. It may be helpful to provide examples of how sexual coercion can look, rather than defining the term. Focus on how the actions of the coercive person made the young person feel. You can discuss the importance of consent and how to respect a partner's decision if they are unsure or not ready to engage in sexual activity. Talk about setting healthy boundaries and help empower the young person to feel confident in saying "no".
Don't Ask, Just Tell!
You do not need to wait until the young person you are working with discloses sexual coercion. Identify what it looks like and how your agency can help. Include options for the young person to remain safer, such as offering emergency contraception or stealth birth control options.
It's Not Too Early
Youth are talking about relationships and dating as early as elementary school. It is important to engage in ongoing age appropriate conversations. Sexual coercion occurs on a continuum and can progress quickly.
It Can Happen To Anyone
Do not assume to know the gender or sexual orientation of the person you are working with. Every young person on the gender spectrum is at risk, and LGBTQ young people experience higher rates of sexual coercion than their peers that do not identify in the LGBTQ spectrum.