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There is substantial evidence that women experience unwanted sex under nonviolent duress from partners. This study examined the relationship between coercive control and sexual coercion in heterosexual couples. Among a sample of 136 men arrested for domestic violence, extent of coercive control was used to predict the likelihood of using eight specific sexual coercion tactics. Findings indicated that coercive control predicted significantly greater likelihood of using covert tactics, but not physically violent or overtly aggressive tactics. The tactics that demonstrated the strongest relationship with coercive control seem indicative of a toxic relational environment that may subtly erode victim autonomy and sense of self over time. Implications discuss how use of more covert and insidious tactics maintain invisibility, isolation, blame, and perceived complicitness of victims in clinical, legal, and social settings.
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https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801219884127
Violence Against Women
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DOI: 10.1177/1077801219884127
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Research Article
The Impact of Coercive
Control on Use of Specific
Sexual Coercion Tactics
Jenny E. Mitchell1 and Chitra Raghavan1
Abstract
There is substantial evidence that women experience unwanted sex under nonviolent
duress from partners. This study examined the relationship between coercive control
and sexual coercion in heterosexual couples. Among a sample of 136 men arrested
for domestic violence, extent of coercive control was used to predict the likelihood
of using eight specific sexual coercion tactics. Findings indicated that coercive control
predicted significantly greater likelihood of using covert tactics, but not physically
violent or overtly aggressive tactics. The tactics that demonstrated the strongest
relationship with coercive control seem indicative of a toxic relational environment
that may subtly erode victim autonomy and sense of self over time. Implications
discuss how use of more covert and insidious tactics maintain invisibility, isolation,
blame, and perceived complicitness of victims in clinical, legal, and social settings.
Keywords
sexual coercion, coercive control, tactics
Literature Review
Coercive control (Stark, 2006, 2007) refers to an ongoing implementation of abuse
tactics designed to limit a victim’s decision-making ability by denying her liberty,
autonomy, and equality in a context of chronic power imbalance that is created and/or
exploited by an intimate partner (Barbaro & Raghavan, 2018; Johnson, 2006;
Kaplenko, Loveland, & Raghavan, 2018; Kelly & Johnson, 2008; Loveland &
Raghavan, 2017; Stark, 2006, 2007). Increasingly argued to constitute the core of an
abusive relationship (Stark, 2006, 2007), a defining feature of coercive control is that
1John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, New York City, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jenny E. Mitchell, Department of Clinical Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University
of New York, Room 10.67.01, 524 West 59th Street, New York City, NY 10019, USA.
Email: jmitchell@jjay.cuny.edu
884127VAWXXX10.1177/1077801219884127Violence Against WomenMitchell and Raghavan
research-article2019
2 Violence Against Women 00(0)
an intimate partner uses privileged knowledge of the victim’s vulnerabilities to control
him or her; accordingly, each abusive tactic is unique and specialized to the particular
victim. Common strategies include surveillance, microregulation, manipulation/
exploitation, isolation, intimidation, deprivation, and degradation (Beck & Raghavan,
2010; Dutton & Goodman, 2005; Johnson, 1995; Lehmann, Simmons, & Pillai, 2012;
Raghavan et al., personal communication from expert panels, 2016; Stark, 2007).
These coercive tactics yield a harmful impact on victims’ well-being apart from physi-
cal violence. For instance, surveillance and monitoring behaviors negatively affect
individuals’ posttraumatic stress symptoms, worries about personal safety, ongoing
discomfort, perceived vulnerability due to their own characteristics, and perceived risk
of future victimization (Logan & Walker, 2019). Even though these strategies might
seem innocuous, they contribute to deterioration of support networks, inhibition of
new relationships, and interference with care for and protection of children
(Korkodeilou, 2017). These tactics compound victims’ sense of loss of control, pow-
erlessness, self-blame, constant fear, and chronic stress, as well as influencing detri-
mental economic burdens including necessitating career changes, need to relocate
residence, and other forced life alterations (Korkodeilou, 2017; Worsley, Wheatcroft,
Short, & Corcoran, 2017). A central goal of this study is to examine whether sexually
coercive behaviors also constitute a common tactic of coercive control, and, therefore,
might be implicated in a systematic destruction of victim’s emotional, psychological,
and economic resources.
According to the coercive control framework, how abusive partners gain power
can differ across relationships and, accordingly, in some relationships, physical
violence embodies only one component of coercive control (Stark, 2009). Even in
absence of physical violence, intense fear can be a consequence of coercive abuse,
regardless of help-seeking behaviors and dissolution of the relationship (Crossman,
Hardesty, & Raffaelli, 2016). In between threats of and/or use of force, an abusive
partner may seek to maintain power using less overt and arguably more insidious
tactics. With persistent enforcement, seemingly minor and innocuous partner
behaviors aggregate over time resulting in an amplified impact on victims (e.g.,
Estefan, Coulter, & VandeWeerd, 2016; Johnson & Thompson, 2016). Behaviors
normalized in social scripts as acts of care and concern are enacted to the extent that
they incapacitate victims’ ability to reason, and demonstrate the futility of victims’
self-assertions. Because many of these behaviors were once accepted or even wel-
comed as care (e.g., surveillance during courtship, being the center and focus of
attention until isolated from potential social support), victims may appear complicit
in their own abuse, further entrapping them. In addition to chronic daily control,
abusive partners can also bolster their power through deprivation of fundamental
needs, intimidation, or degradation, bracketed by threats of, or actual, force.
Because this type of controlling dynamic is shrouded in normality and apparent
insignificance when taken as single instances as opposed to a pattern of behavior
(e.g., McKeon, McEwan, & Luebbers, 2015), coercive controlling behaviors func-
tion to keep victims invisible and unheard. Institutional and societal factors such as
widespread social biases that justify, minimize, and deny abuse have been
Mitchell and Raghavan 3
empirically shown even within legal and mental health service systems (Kafka,
Moracco, Barrington, & Mortazavi, 2019; Li, Levick, Eichman, & Chang, 2015;
O’Neal, Tellis, & Spohn, 2015). These societal influences may exacerbate victims’
feelings of powerlessness, dismissal, blame, and invisibility (Crowe & Murray,
2015). Thus, even under circumstances in which concrete evidence exists, victims
frequently feel that the downsides of help seeking are too costly to be worth it
(Thomas, Goodman, & Putnins, 2015). Given emphasis of legal terminology on
concrete, tangible definitions and physical abuse rather than more covert behaviors,
it is likely that individuals who experience predominantly nonviolent forms of
abuse or who disclose only nonviolent forms of abuse suffer similar feelings of
hopelessness, powerlessness, and dismissal. Because sexual intercourse is typically
regarded as a private matter, sex may also be used to maintain control over victims
in a way that can be easily hidden from the public and disguised as consensual.
Sexual Coercion
Historically, discussion of sexual coercion has been complicated by societal uncer-
tainty and disagreement about the definition of rape and other types of sexual violence
within consensual intimate relationships (Bagwell-Gray, Messing, & Baldwin-White,
2015; Bennice & Resick, 2003). Sexual coercion refers to the persuasion of an unwill-
ing partner to comply with nonconsensual sex through nonviolent means. Nonconsent
entails the unwilling partner’s absence of consent, resistance to sex, or compliance
under duress from a partner (Raghavan, Cohen, & Tamborra, 2014). Most often, sex-
ual coercion has been grouped together with violent and forcible sexual assault
(Bagwell-Gray et al., 2015).
Typically, sexual coercion involves ostensibly nonaggressive tactics such as verbal
coercion, manipulation of guilt or obligation, continuing to sexually touch or seduce a
partner after she has displayed signs of nonconsent, and incapacitation of a partner via
substances. Moreover, the tactics may not occur immediately before an instance of
unwanted sex, and can affect subsequent sexual compliance. Even if nonconsensual
sex was not obtained at the time a partner uses the tactic, repeated negative relation-
ship experiences that occur after declining requests for sex can affect a victim’s capac-
ity for refusing sex or hopelessness for resisting over time (Raghavan et al., 2014). In
addition, immediate partner pressure is unnecessary for sexual coercion to occur due
to the strength of contextual pressure of societal norms condoning of gendered sexual
obligation (Conroy, Krishnakumar, & Leone, 2015).
The incidence of sexual coercion (Basile, 2002) may be informed by pervasive
societal norms that perpetuate an imbalance of power and sexual expectations
between individuals in male and female roles. According to sexual scripting theory
(Wiederman, 2015), culture constructs gendered norms as to what behavior and atti-
tudes are acceptable within sexual and romantic relationships. For male-assigned
individuals, what is accepted generally includes objectification of females, asserting
intense sexual needs, insistent focus on sexual pleasure, and relentless pursuit of
partners. Acceptance of sexual scripting norms has been shown to be related to
4 Violence Against Women 00(0)
perpetration of emotional abuse (Willie, Khondkaryan, Callands, & Kershaw, 2018)
as well as males’ intentions to use sexual coercion (Hust, Rodgers, Ebreo, & Stefani,
2019). Some studies suggest that, in the context of societal scripts, male sexual abus-
ers demonstrate cognitive distortions that justify their actions and are formed as long-
term attitudes, motivated cognitions proximal to an incident, and dissonance resolving
strategies after an incident. Research shows that female-centric sexual scripting
(related to sexual passivity and subordination of own needs vs. males’ needs) also
contributes to females’ continued victimization by unwanted sex (Bay-Cheng &
Eliseo-Arras, 2008). These scripts influence cultural denial of the existence of and
invalidation of the severity of nonviolent rape/sexual coercion within an intimate
partnership (Lynch, Jewell, Golding, & Kembel, 2017), making it extremely difficult
for females to identify their own experience or access resources to change their ongo-
ing experiences. It is also important to note that studies support the centrality of
females’ sense of autonomy to satisfying sexual scenarios, as well as the weighty
impact of societally ingrained barriers that prevent females from experiencing actu-
alization of autonomy (Fahs, Swank, & McClelland, 2018). Dutcher and McClelland
(2019) conceptualize a vigilance surrounding “good” and “careful” sexual behavior
common among females, which requires energy and effort but may be so normative
that it is beneath conscious awareness. In addition, studies support the existence of
cognitive methods that females use to cope with widespread sexual disparities includ-
ing justification of the unimportance of sexual equality, attributing disparities to biol-
ogy, and procrastination of actualizing needs (Bell & McClelland, 2018). It is very
common to feign pleasure to end or escape from unwanted sex (Thomas, Stelzl, &
LaFrance, 2016). These coping mechanisms are hypothesized to normalize or dis-
tance from distressing feelings (Bell & McClelland, 2018).
Because sexual coercion occurs in the most private realm of one’s life and does not
leave a tangible mark, this type of abuse can serve to silence, isolate, or make invisible
the victim similarly to other forms of coercive abuse. The successful use of sexual
coercion may lead to a very particular type of entrapment for women. Women may be
less likely to report or identify coercion because lower levels of force are associated
with decreased acknowledgment of sexual violation (Donde, Ragsdale, Koss, &
Zucker, 2017). Furthermore, women experiencing unwanted sex in a relationship con-
text are already less likely to label themselves as victims despite the harmful effects of
the experience (Jaffe, Steel, Dillo, Messman-Moore, & Gratz, 2017), making this area
critical to study. It may also be that tactics are tailored to fit a specific victim’s particu-
lar vulnerabilities. Rather than simply being used more frequently, they may be used
in a manner targeted for effectiveness with a particular victim.
Linking Coercive Control and Sexual Coercion
Although a relationship between sexual coercion and intimate partner violence
(IPV) is commonly acknowledged (e.g., Basile, 2008; Marshall & Holtzworth-
Munroe, 2002), how these two abusive dynamics interrelate has not been expressly
defined. Raghavan et al. (2014) have proposed that sexual coercion may exist as an
Mitchell and Raghavan 5
extension of a coercive controlling dynamic in an intimate partnership, and some
preliminary support for the relationship between sexual coercion and coercive con-
trol currently exists. Specifically, Marshall and Holtzworth-Munroe’s (2002) find-
ings demonstrate that psychological aggression (this definition overlapped with the
current understanding of coercive control) may be more related to the perpetration
of sexual coercion than physically forced sex, whereas general physical aggression
in relationships relates to perpetration of both sexual coercion and physically forced
sex. In line with the coercive control framework, these results lend some credence to
the idea that those who use more psychologically manipulative abuse commonly use
tactics that act more covertly and receive little acknowledgment. Also consistent
with a coercion framework, DeGue, DiLillo, and Scalora’s (2010) results showed
that partners who used sexual coercion as opposed to sexual assault were more able
to predict others’ emotional responses and manipulate others, while being less likely
to have impulsive traits and a history of childhood emotional abuse. These results
imply that those who used sexual coercion used it in controlling and intentional
ways, as opposed to in the moment without understanding the way their behaviors
influenced others. In addition, two studies demonstrated an association between a
pattern of psychological abuse (many tactics of which would meet the definition of
coercive controlling behaviors) and routine insulting of victims’ worth with the use
of sexual coercion (Katz & Myhr, 2008; Starratt, Goetz, Shackelford, McKibbin, &
Stewart-Williams, 2008). Finally, partners’ sexually coercive behavior predicted
victims’ subsequent compliance with unwanted sex (Katz & Tirone, 2010), suggest-
ing that immediate partner physical or nonphysical pressure is not necessary for
sexual compliance and that a dynamic of control might be implicated from other
aspects of the relationship.
Most studies of sexual coercion have been conducted somewhat separately from
the IPV literature—using college samples, sexual partners who were not in intimate
partnerships, or community samples where partner nonsexual violence history was not
assessed. Two notable exceptions exist, in which the habits of justice system–involved
men were examined. DeGue et al. (2010) distinguished men who used sexual coercion
from men who used sexually violent methods to obtain sex—finding that sexually
coercive strategies were more common among men who had higher emotional intel-
ligence and manipulative tendencies, whereas men with more hostility toward women,
egocentricity, impulsivity, and childhood emotional abuse used physical strategies.
Although this study illuminated important pathways to different types of sexual abuse
and identified many risk factors for each type, the focus was restricted to the context
of intercourse and only trait characteristics were assessed. The question of whether
patterns of nonviolent sexual coercion or violent sexual coercion relate to a broader
relationship dynamic of control remains unanswered. Although Messing, Thaller, and
Bagwell (2014) expanded the focus to relationship characteristics, these characteris-
tics remained mainly at a demographic level (e.g., legal marital status, number of
children, miscarriage) and at an extreme intensity (e.g., presence of severe sexual jeal-
ousy or homicidal threats). The role of more seemingly innocuous and insidious con-
trolling behaviors (e.g., monitoring and deprivation) over victims still has not been
6 Violence Against Women 00(0)
accounted for in terms of how they relate to sexual abuse. Moreover, although Messing
et al. (2014) assessed the victims’ perspective, it remains necessary to understand how
partners who use abusive tactics perceive the relationship dynamic.
Integrating both these literatures, the goal of this study is to develop a deeper under-
standing of sexual coercion as an abusive tactic in a sample of men mandated to bat-
terer treatment. In the following sections, we first provide a brief review of the negative
consequences and prevalence of sexual coercion. Next, we develop coercive control as
a construct, which we believe may present a viable framework for understanding the
role and function of sexual coercion in abusive relationships. Finally, we review
related findings in undergraduate and justice system–involved samples, and expand on
the ways in which the current study adds to existing literature.
The Impact of Sexual Coercion
A growing body of evidence documents the widespread nature of sexual coercion
(e.g., Logan, Cole, & Shannon, 2007) and that victims experience serious negative
consequences (Bergen, 2006; Gilmore et al., 2014; Jeffrey & Barata, 2017; Norwood
& Murphy, 2012; Salwen, Solano, & O’Leary, 2015; Temple, Weston, Rodriguez, &
Marshall, 2007). In the context of a relationship, unwanted sexual contact with a part-
ner has been linked to long-term harm to mental and physical health (Bergen, 2006),
including higher levels of stress and dissociation than reported when abused by a
stranger or acquaintance (Temple et al., 2007). Even in the absence of violence,
unwanted sex with a partner has been shown to be harmful and was related to self-
blame, sadness, and guilt (Jeffrey & Barata, 2017); major depression (Salwen et al.,
2015); sexually transmitted infection risk behavior (Gilmore et al., 2014); and, in one
study, more severe posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology than physi-
cally forced rape (Norwood & Murphy, 2012).
Sexual Coercion Tactics
Not much is known about the specific types of tactics partners use to obtain unwanted
sex, and the existing examination has been predominantly limited to undergraduate
samples. In a university context, research supports that perpetrators manipulate their
victims using guilt to fulfill an implicit social contract, and punish victims with nega-
tive reactions to nonconsent (Conroy et al., 2015; Vannier & O’Sullivan, 2010).
Specific tactics used by undergraduate males to obtain unwanted sex typically include
persistent attempts at arousal, emotional manipulation, and deception (Katz &
Schneider, 2015; Katz & Tirone, 2010; Struckman-Johnson, Struckman-Johnson, &
Anderson, 2003). One study further detailed manipulation of resources and commit-
ment, as well as insulting the victim as defective, as tactics that were used, but did not
indicate the relative frequency of use (Starratt et al., 2008). Verbal tactics, such as
threatening breakups, nagging, and begging, have also been identified as some of the
most common strategies in college populations (French, Tilghman, & Malebranche,
2015; Katz & Myhr, 2008).
Mitchell and Raghavan 7
In postcollege adult and older couples, examination has focused primarily on
couples involved with the legal system. In a sample of incarcerated, mainly unmar-
ried heterosexual males convicted mostly of nonviolent offenses, the majority used
nonviolent sexual coercion tactics that were similar to college samples (i.e., breakup
threats, persistent arguments, lies, persisting despite nonconsent cues, and intoxica-
tion of partners; DeGue et al., 2010). This is consistent with evidence supporting
that, at domestic violence crime scenes, more victims report experiencing sexual
coercion than forced sex (Messing et al., 2014). Unfortunately, it is unclear what
kinds of sexual coercion strategies were used in this sample, because items were
categorically grouped as physically forced or nonphysically forced. In addition, one
of the items classified as physical was worded ambiguously: “Has your partner ever
forced you to have sex when you did not wish to?” More clarification is needed in
this population to comprehend the use of specific tactics, such as those identified by
Raghavan et al. (2014).
Raghavan et al. (2014) specified eight tactics of sexual coercion: threats of/physical
force, exploitation, humiliation/intimidation, pressure, relational threats, hopeless-
ness, helplessness, and bullying. Exploitation intimates that deception or manipulation
of a power imbalance may be used to obtain sex. Humiliation and intimidation employ
shame to coerce the victim into unwanted sex. Pressure encompasses what has previ-
ously been denoted as verbal tactics, such as persistent arguments, nagging, and beg-
ging, whereas relational threats emphasize societal perception of obligation surrounding
sex in a relationship or manipulate fear of the relationship ending as a consequence of
refusing sex. Related to historical instead of immediate pressure, hopelessness tactics
involve the victim feeling that the consequences of denying their partner sex are more
aversive than suffering through unwanted sex, whereas helplessness entails a learned
response in which resistance to sex has been futile and ignored in the past. Lastly, bul-
lying involves blackmailing behaviors or accusations against victims’ character. In a
population of court-referred partner-violent men, more than 40% admitted use of these
specific sexually coercive tactics, with more than 60% of these men admitting frequent
use of such behaviors (Juraschek & Raghavan, in preparation).
There seems to be a consensus in the literature that among college students and
among samples involved with the legal system, use of physical force to obtain sex is
less frequent, or at least less frequently endorsed, than the use of nonviolent psycho-
logical tactics (Conroy et al., 2015; DeGue et al., 2010; Messing et al., 2014;
Struckman-Johnson et al., 2003; Vannier & O’Sullivan, 2010). In the current study, we
aim to expand on the existing knowledge of legally involved domestic violence-
perpetrating populations, by determining the relationship between use of control in
nonsexual spheres of the relationship and use of sexual coercion tactics. We predict
that higher levels of control in the relationship will be linked to higher levels of sexual
coercion, specifically to higher levels of more insidious, manipulative tactics, as
follows:
Hypothesis 1: Higher levels of use of coercive control will predict greater odds of
using sexual coercion.
8 Violence Against Women 00(0)
Hypothesis 2: Higher levels of use of coercive control will predict greater odds of
using the seven specific nonviolent tactics of sexual coercion (pressure, hopeless-
ness, helplessness, relational threats, exploitation, intimidation/humiliation, and
bullying), but not physical force.
Method
Participants
Participants were recruited from a batterers’ treatment program in the northeastern
United States through announcements made by the cofacilitators of weekly group
therapy. Data collection started in 2012 and ended in 2015. To be eligible for the study,
participants had to identify as male, be above the age of 18 years, be mandated to treat-
ment due to a violent incident with an intimate partner, and have had at least two
romantic relationships (defined as a sexual relationship that lasted at least 3 months).
The questionnaires included in this study were administered at the same meeting as
research interviews related to men’s emotions and aggression. Due to the content of
these interviews and the self-reflective nature of questionnaires administered, partici-
pation in this study could be counted toward a court-mandated counseling session.
Elements of self-observation and enhancement of self-awareness were believed to
enhance insight and commitment to change.
The sample included 136 heterosexual-identifying men. The majority were
Caucasian (n = 60, 43.8%), followed by Latino/Hispanic (n = 33, 24.1%), Other (n =
28, 20.4%), and Black/African American (n = 15, 10.9%). Those who identified as
Other identified as Asian (n = 6, 4.4%), Italian (n = 2, 1.5%), Polish (n = 2, 1.5%),
and Puerto Rican (n = 2, 1.5%). Participant age ranged from 19-62 years, M = 38.6
years, SD = 9.8 years. In terms of education, 68.6% (n = 94) had completed college,
24.1% (n = 33) had completed high school, and the rest had completed primary school
or a general educational development (GED); 67.9% were employed full-time and
11.7% were employed part-time. Thirty-eight percent had been convicted of crimes
mainly involving domestic violence, violent, or drug-related crimes.
The majority were married (49.6%), in a serious monogamous relationship (16.5%),
engaged (8.3%), or cohabiting (18.8%). A small portion (2.3%) were in casual rela-
tionships where they were dating others, 3.8% in casual relationships not dating oth-
ers, and 0.8% in open relationships; 96.2% reported only dating their partner/acting
monogamously; 80.5% of the sample had been in their current relationship for two or
more years; 12.1% had been in the relationship for longer than a year, and 7.7% for
less than a year. In 99.2% of the relationships, sex was a component of the
relationship.
The majority of this sample endorsed infrequent or no use of coercive controlling
behaviors in their most recent relationship with 18.3% endorsing no usage, 61.1%
endorsing rare usage. However, 20.6% endorsed regular usage of coercive controlling
behaviors. In terms of violence encompassing pushing, shoving, hitting, punching,
kicking, and biting, 51.1% denied any physical violence perpetration in their most
Mitchell and Raghavan 9
recent relationship, 46.6% endorsed rare use, and 2.3% endorsed regular use. Whereas
no men endorsed frequent or regular usage of escalated physical violence (e.g., weapon
use, inducing injury requiring medical attention, suffocation, and aggression threaten-
ing of lethality), 47.3% endorsed rare use of escalated physical violence and 52.7%
denied use of escalated violence.
Materials
Interpersonal Relationship Rating Scale–Coercive Control Subscale (IRRS; Beck,
Menke, Brewster, & Figueredo, 2009) is an 11-item self-report scale that assesses the
frequency of coercive controlling behaviors performed over the course of the relation-
ship with the participant’s current or most recent intimate partner (see Appendix B).
Responses range on a 6-point Likert-type scale from never (0) to daily (5). In the cur-
rent sample, mean score and standard deviation were M = 6.59, SD = 6.26, and
Cronbach’s alpha was .70. In a study of divorcing couples, the mean score of coercive
control was 2.35 for female victims of IPV (as expected, lower than male batterers),
and Cronbach’s alpha was .80, representing strong reliability (Tehee, Beck, &
Anderson, 2013). For the purposes of this study, scores were categorized by frequency
of use, grouping those who used coercive control in “low,” “moderate,” and “high”
amounts. Over the course of the assessed relationship, “low” encompassed responses
of none to one uses of coercive controlling behaviors, “moderate” represented endorse-
ment of two to three behaviors, and “high” signified three to five behaviors.
Multidimensional Sexual Coercion Questionnaire (MSCQ; Raghavan et al., 2014)
is a 42-item self-report assessing the frequency of use of specific sexually coercive
tactics with a current or most recent intimate partner (see Appendix A). Responses
range from never to more than 20 times on a categorized 7-point Likert-type scale. The
MSCQ has eight subscales: Helplessness, Hopelessness, Humiliating and Intimidating,
Physical Violence, Exploitation, Pressure, Relational Threats, and Bullying. In a study
of divorcing couples, Cronbach’s alpha ranged between .71 and .86 representing
strong internal reliability for each of the subscales (Raghavan et al., 2014). For the
purposes of this study, each subscale of the MSCQ was coded as a dichotomous vari-
able reflecting use or nonuse of that sexual coercion tactic.
Procedure
Self-report measures were administered as part of a larger battery to participants at the
treatment facility. Participation in the study could count as a court-mandated treatment
session.
Analyses
Nine logistic regression analyses were conducted with the Coercive Control sub-
scale of the IRRS as a predictor, and the overall MSCQ and the eight sexual coercion
subtypes as dependent variables to assess whether extent of general coercive control
10 Violence Against Women 00(0)
predicted greater odds of use of specific sexual coercion tactics. Because of the large
number of analyses conducted, the significance level was set at .01. The IRRS
Coercive Control subscale was categorized by frequency of use, grouping those who
used coercive control in “low,” “moderate,” and “high” levels as discussed in the
“Measures” section. The overall MSCQ and each subscale of the MSCQ
(Helplessness, Hopelessness, Humiliating and Intimidating, Physical Violence,
Exploitation, Pressure, Relational Threats, Bullying) were coded as dichotomous
variables representing use or nonuse of that sexual coercion tactic. Between one and
three participants were excluded for each analysis due to missing responses on that
subscale. Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS), Version 24.
Results
Logistic regressions were used to examine the effect of various demographic variables
on coercive control and sexual coercion use, to determine need to control for these
variables. Age did not demonstrate any significant influence on use of coercive con-
trol, overall sexual coercion use, or specific sexual tactic use except for relational
threats. Increases in age by year significantly predicted 5.04% lower likelihood of
using relational threats (α < .05); thus, in analyses examining relational threats, we
controlled for age. Identifying as Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, White/
Caucasian, or Other race did not indicate any significant relationship with overall use
of sexual coercion or any specific tactics. The Other race category was not parsed out
into further groups, as no potential groupings were identified that could represent more
than six participants.
As hypothesized, analyses indicated that higher levels of general coercive control
increased the likelihood of overall use of sexual coercion. Further as hypothesized,
higher levels of coercive control predicted increased likelihood of use of six subtypes
of sexual coercion, but not humiliation/intimidation or physical violence. As shown in
Table 1, for each progressive category of coercive control use, the odds of using any
form of sexual coercion increased 2.79 times (α < .01). Each progressive increase in
category also predicted 3.20 times more likely use of helplessness tactics (α < .01),
3.85 times more likely use of hopelessness tactics (α < .01), 4.53 times more likely
use of exploitation (α < .01), 3.28 times more likely use of pressure (α < .01), 2.77
times more likely use of relational threats (α < .01) controlling for age, and 6.17 times
more likely use of bullying (α < .01). Higher levels of coercive control use did not
predict significantly greater use of humiliation/intimidation or physical force/threats
(see Tables 1 and 2).
Discussion
Although previous literature has noted links between the use of psychological aggres-
sion and sexual coercion (Katz & Myhr, 2008; Marshall, Holtzworth-Munroe, 2002;
Starratt et al., 2008), as well as a relationship between emotionally manipulative
Mitchell and Raghavan 11
abilities and sexual coercion (DeGue et al., 2010), no study has explicitly examined
the relationship between coercive control and sexual coercion. In the current study, we
found that men who had been identified as perpetrators of aggression and used coer-
cive controlling behaviors with their intimate partners were 3-6 times more likely to
use sexually coercive tactics to obtain unwanted sex from a partner. The kinds of tac-
tics that men used ranged from threatening to find another partner or to spread rumors
about a partner’s sexuality if refused sex, to ignoring or arguing to change verbal
requests to stop sexual activity. Interestingly, and as predicted, use of coercive
Table 1. Odds Ratios of Using Named Sexual Coercion Tactic for Each Categorical Increase
in Coercive Control Use.
Sexual coercion tactic Exp(B) Significance level (p)
Overall use 2.79 .001
Helplessness 3.20 .001
Hopelessness 3.85 .002
Exploitation 4.53 .004
Pressure 3.28 .003
Relational threats 2.77 .006
Bullying 6.17 <.001
Humiliation/intimidation — >.01
Physical force/threats >.01
Note. Sexual coercion tactics were measured with the MSCQ. Coercive control use was measured with
the IRRS’ Coercive Control subscale and categorized as low, moderate, and high use before conducting
logistic regressions. MSCQ = Multidimensional Sexual Coercion Questionnaire; IRRS = Interpersonal
Relationship Rating Scale.
Table 2. Correlations Among Coercive Control, Overall Sexual Coercion, and Specific
Sexual Coercion Tactics.
SC Helpless Hopeless H/I Physical Exploit Pressure Relationship Bullying
CC .36** .34** .23** .24** .07 .30** .23** .33** .37**
Overall SC .92** .90** .50** .30** .69** .81** .85** .70**
Helpless .77** .49** .30** .65** .71** .67** .57**
Hopeless .32** .20* .58** .74** .74** .64**
H/I — .15 .51** .19* .46** .32**
Physical — .21* .25** .15 .20*
Exploit — .33** .64** .23**
Pressure .56** .62**
Relationship — .55**
Bullying —
Note. CC = coercive control; SC = sexual coercion; Helpless = helplessness; Hopeless = hopelessness;
H/I = humiliation/intimidation; Exploit = exploitation; Relationship = relationship threats.
*p < .05 (two tailed). **p < .01 (two tailed).
12 Violence Against Women 00(0)
controlling behaviors in the relationship did not significantly predict greater odds of
use of physical force or humiliating/intimidating tactics to obtain unwanted sex.
In a relationship, individuals gain intimate knowledge of their partner’s history and
continuously learn the ways in which different stressors, including their own actions,
influence their partner’s behaviors and reactions. When a relationship involves coer-
cive control, this understanding of a partner’s vulnerabilities is misused to amplify
doubt and insecurity and shape victims’ decisions to align with a partner’s wishes
through repetition of punishing and rewarding consequences. The current findings
indicate that sexually coercive tactics may be used in conjunction with other coercive
relationship behaviors to establish pervasive patterns of compliance.
When men acted controllingly with their partner in general, they also were likely to
shape their partners’ sexual behavior via punishing and rewarding techniques other
than force. Prime examples of this are tactics, such as hopelessness and helplessness,
which maintain the idea that a partner must give in to having sex, despite her wishes,
to avoid negative consequences. Specifically, negative consequences to refusals of sex
that men endorsed included arguing or threatening to break up with the victim, leaving
or insulting the victim, or implying the defectiveness of the victim. It is unsurprising
that victims might feel that it is easier or less painful to comply with sex rather than go
through the process of resisting when met with distressing negative consequences,
particularly because responses extend to the point at which nothing the victim does
(including saying no and verbal requests to stop sex) prevents her partner from persis-
tently pursuing sex. The finding that helplessness and hopelessness are linked to a
generally controlling relationship dynamic is crucial because it supports that immedi-
ate partner pressure is not necessary to induce compliance with unwanted sex (Katz &
Tirone, 2010). This is similar to how women may comply with restrictions set by and
demands of their partner when they are bracketed by threats of harm or injury or his-
torical violence, even if they are not directly linked to the immediate incident or actual
violence is absent at the current moment.
The strength of the relationship among coercive control use and separate sexually
coercive tactic use is also interesting to explore. Although six nonviolent types of tac-
tics were associated with the use of coercive control, bullying, exploitation, and hope-
lessness were much more likely to be used, compared with relational threats. In effect,
the differences between these sets of tactics would contribute to a very different type
of relational environment. The use of relational threats encompasses threats that the
relationship will end, that the partner will find another partner, or that the victim is not
fulfilling her duties as a romantic partner and, therefore, deserves the coercive out-
come. Whereby relational tactics may serve to remind victims of the possibility for
resolution of relational dysfunction, in contrast, bullying, exploitation, and hopeless-
ness tactics attack victims’ sense of their own worth and diminish their competency to
choose a different experience. This second group of tactics includes sexual violation
of the victim while she is powerless due to intoxication or drugging, or influenced by
blackmail and blame on the insufficiency of her trait characteristics or identity (e.g.,
asserting that the victim is frigid, cold, prudish, nonfeminine, a bad lover, or homo-
sexual). Abusers themselves endorse using these tactics to compel victims’ feelings of
Mitchell and Raghavan 13
“owing” it to the partner, feeling like they have “too much to lose by saying no,” that
they are not enough for their partner, and perceptions of the futility of resistance.
Whereas a partner may be justified in ending a relationship if he is dissatisfied with
how it fulfills his needs, the second group of tactics speaks to a theme of more drastic
and calculated techniques that may gradually and subtly erode the victim’s autonomy
and sense of self. Although this effect may not match the immediate level of danger-
ousness of severe physical violence, the insidious and harmful impact of these tactics
may be greater than that of nagging. The stronger relationship between a broader
dynamic of coercive control and these sexually coercive tactics is consistent with a
pattern of subtly injurious and malicious tactics that emphasize the idea that the victim
is damaged in some way or cannot escape the partner’s demands.
These findings have several practical implications in clinical and forensic spheres.
First, and perhaps most urgent, the significance of relationships between coercive con-
trol and nonforceful tactics suggests that tactics used in these types of partnerships
may not be as evident or obviously detrimental when explained to others outside of the
relationship. These results are consistent with and expand upon those of DeGue et al.
(2010), which demonstrated that justice system–involved men with more manipula-
tive tendencies tended to use less overtly violent force with preference to more covert
tactics to obtain unwanted sex. The use of nonforceful tactics may contribute to a
partner’s control over a victim in many more successful ways than openly using force.
Specifically, because the unused tactics (humiliation/intimidation and physical force)
may be more openly acknowledged by outsiders as toxic, use of more subtle and non-
forceful tactics may be more effective in creation of a so-called “willing” victim—one
who minimizes and justifies her partner’s use of sexual coercion, directing the blame
toward herself—a behavior commonly demonstrated in victims (e.g., Jeffrey & Barata,
2017). When victims describe how helpless or hopeless they felt to stop sexual coer-
cion due to the abuser’s persistence, outsiders may attribute this as passivity, as the
victim not “doing enough” to protest, or otherwise cast doubt on the harmfulness or
dangerousness of abusive actions. Often victims are asked to describe the most recent
or most intense incident of abuse; however, as such incidents are recurrent in a rela-
tionship context, this may not reflect the environment in which the victim existed over
time, in which compliance behaviors were repeatedly reinforced.
Moreover, because sex is expected between intimate partners, the victim may not
classify her experience as a sexual violation, may not have the language to identify it,
or fear stigma if she reports unwanted sex. Because physical restraint is a fundamental
component in the widespread social understanding of rape and sexual abuse, it puts the
burden of proof on the victim to demonstrate how she communicated that sex was
unwanted, or further to explain an ongoing pattern of manipulation that may be invis-
ible to others. Perhaps related to these factors, acceptance of rape myths (e.g., for it to
be rape, women must have fought back) is negatively related to victims’ labeling of
their experience as rape (Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2004). It follows then, if a victim
is blaming herself for the events and defending the perpetrator, the coercive nature of
the experience is easier to hide and social network/formal support is more difficult to
rally. This finding has important implications for the ways that coercive control
14 Violence Against Women 00(0)
prevents victims from help seeking, augments victims’ own or others’ doubts in their
credibility, and adds to victims’ feelings of complicity and self-blame. A definition of
rape that excludes and minimizes sexual coercion is problematic in terms of sustained
justice for victims.
An additional barrier to detection of coercion is that pressure for compliance does
not always occur immediately before an incidence of sexual coercion. As legal stan-
dards focus on imminent danger and concrete proof, the distal nature of pressure for
sexual compliance and compliance with other partner demands makes it tempting to
attribute responsibility to the victims for their own actions. In the absence of sufficient
weight given to the context of chronic attacks to victims’ autonomy that exists in many
abusive relationships, victims are habitually blamed for their actions, both in clinical
treatment and the criminal justice system. A justice system that often drops cases in the
absence of victim testimony, when a core function of abuse is to make victims doubt
their perception and invite doubt from others, allows for frequent miscarriages of jus-
tice. It is important to give appropriate weight to the presence of sexual coercion, as it
may be indicative of the presence of a coercive controlling dynamic in the broader
relationship. Educating legal and service personnel about specific tactics can help
identify the pattern when victims themselves struggle with emotional and cognitive
consequences of the abuse and blame themselves. It may be necessary to incorporate
expert testimony to clarify and discuss the impact of context.
These findings can also inform treatment and societal intervention for men who use
sexual coercion. As societal avoidance and stigma surrounding discussion of sex fre-
quently extend to the therapeutic relationship, these findings suggest that it is impor-
tant to discuss sex openly with clients who demonstrate other coercive controlling
behaviors in their relationships. Men who use sexually coercive behaviors are unlikely
to encounter alternative examples of attitudes toward affirmative consent and interpre-
tations of their behaviors used to obtain sex in their social network, the members of
which are likely influenced by similar social scripts. In the context of a therapeutic
alliance, specific examples of affirmative consent, communication surrounding sex,
and interpretations of declining sex may be modeled and practiced. It is possible that
men who use coercive strategies to obtain unwanted sex do not know alternative ways,
feel incapable of coping with feelings of rejection or emasculation, or that they do not
understand the impact on their partner. If the partner is motivated to improve their
relational quality, psychoeducation and empathy-building activities may improve
understanding of the destructive impact of these seemingly normative behaviors on
one’s partner over time. Education and societal awareness of how these behaviors
harm relationship quality and intimate partners can help individuals monitor, identify,
and distinguish which behaviors are permissible or not. Strategies to improve distress
tolerance abilities when sex is declined, as well as improving knowledge of alternative
ways to communicate about sex, and cognitive restructuring surrounding societally
influenced assumptions about behaviors related to sex may be helpful with men who
use sexual coercion. Finally, if therapists encounter resistance to their sexually coer-
cive behavior, motivational interviewing strategies might be helpful in identifying
what barriers stand in the way of change.
Mitchell and Raghavan 15
The study contributes to our understanding of sexual coercion in several crucial
ways. First, it is the first direct examination of the putative links between coercive
control and sexual coercion. Second, unlike many studies of sexual coercion, the cur-
rent study utilized measures that distinguished between specific, detailed tactics of
sexual coercion. Due to this measure, we were able to distinguish particular tactics
(i.e., helplessness, hopelessness, pressure, exploitation, relational threats, bullying)
that may be significantly related to an overall coercive control relationship dynamic
while delineating tactics that may not be as indicative (i.e., physical force, humiliation/
intimidation). This enhances our understanding of the covert way in which controlling
abuse isolates, implicates, and casts doubt on victims. Third, because our sample was
largely monogamous, heterosexual males in long-term relationships who were court
referred for a violent offense against a partner, these findings are applicable to the
population who are at highest risk of violence perpetration; however, further research
may examine whether the relationship between coercive control and covert sexual
coercion holds true in other populations, such as undergraduates; incarcerated popula-
tions; sex traffickers; or among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer intimate
partners; as well as in rural or international cultural contexts.
The limitations of this study include its cross-sectional nature, because longitudinal
assessment might yield a more accurate picture of the frequency, variance, precedents,
and antecedents of these behaviors as well as less interference of memory issues and
reporting bias. For example, in practice, use of coercive control may beget sexual
coercion, which if successfully used, may increase or alter which nonsexual tech-
niques are used. Qualitative journaling methods could be employed to examine trajec-
tories of power to better understand how sexual and nonsexual tactics interweave to
entrap women. There was also low variance in reporting of both coercive controlling
behaviors and sexual coercion. Because the sample was mandated to treatment, it is
possible that they underreported their behaviors for fear of correctional system reper-
cussions or social desirability. Here, the data’s validity may have been improved by
obtaining victim reports for corroboration.
The findings of this study beget a series of important questions, particularly as to
the dual nature of using coercive control and sexual coercion. Future studies should
consider routinely including a more in-depth examination of sexual coercion than is
typically done. Future studies should also examine the dual impact of use of sexual
covert tactics in conjunction with coercive control on other aspects of victims’ lives
longitudinally in terms of limiting victim resources, isolating victims, and inducing
self-blame or other psychological consequences. It is crucial to build upon the under-
standing of how chronic coercive actions, even when outwardly seeming innocuous,
can be harmful over time. Other important outcomes to examine may include the
impact on social network, social services, and legal representatives’ perceptions of
victims who experience coercive forms of abuse compared with those who experience
physical abuse. Moreover, it is important to empirically test effective ways to mitigate
the bias against victims in forensic settings. Perhaps patterns could be identified and
linguistic tools could be developed to recognize victims of abuse even when self-
blame and feelings of complicity prevent them from being able to advocate on their
16 Violence Against Women 00(0)
own behalf or assert their experience to receive needed services. Finally, it is important
to continue to make these findings known in the public sphere to work toward a culture
of affirmative consent.
Appendix A
Multidimensional Sexual Coercion Questionnaire (MSCQ) sample items:
“My partner had sexual intercourse even though she did not want to because . . .”
Helplessness: “saying ‘no’ has never worked”; “I ignored her verbal requests to stop.”
Hopelessness: “it did not seem worthwhile to resist”; “I made her feel like she owed it to
me.”
Exploitation: “I made her false promises (I loved her, will be together forever, she was the
only one)”;
“I left the last time she said no”; “she was too drunk to physically resist.”
Pressure: “she was overwhelmed by my never-ending arguments.”
Relational threats: “I threatened to end the relationship”; “I threatened to find someone
else.”
Bullying: “I accused her of being a prude or not feminine enough.”
Humiliation/intimidation: “I threatened to embarrass her in front of her friends.”
Physical force/threats: “I used force (like hitting, holding down, or using a weapon).”
Appendix B
Interpersonal Relationship Rating Scale (IRRS) Coercive Control subscale items:
Please indicate how many times you did each of these things to your current or most
recent romantic partner:
1. I did not want my partner to have female friends.
2. I did not want my partner to have male friends.
3. I became very upset with my partner if her chores were not done when I
thought they should be.
4. I demanded that my partner obey me.
5. I became angry if my partner said I was drinking too much or using drugs.
6. I told my partner that she could not manage or take care of herself without me.
7. I became very angry with my partner if she disagreed with my point of view.
8. I controlled how much money my partner could have or how she spent it.
9. I controlled my partner’s coming and going.
10. I felt that my partner should not work or go to school.
11. I acted like a bully toward my partner.
Authors’ Note
This work was conducted at a batterers’ intervention program, which is part of a county depart-
ment of human services in the Northeastern United States.
Mitchell and Raghavan 17
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
ORCID iD
Jenny E. Mitchell https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5560-0404
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Author Biographies
Jenny E. Mitchell, MA, is a doctoral candidate at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City
University of New York. Her research interests revolve around therapeutic domestic violence
intervention, program evaluation, and accessibility of third wave treatments.
Chitra Raghavan, PhD, is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City
University of New York. Her research interests include sex trafficking, coercive control, sexual
coercion, and trauma.
... 72). Some quantitative research (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2019;Wandera et al., 2015) has attempted to examine co-occurring IPSV and psychological abuse, yet, this work does not give us an in-depth understanding of how these intersecting forms of violence might be experienced by women. Qualitative studies on this topicwhich have the potential provide this insight are rare. ...
... This study explored the interactions between IPSVand psychological abuse as described by women victim/survivors in Australia. It is one of the few studies to explicitly examine the relationship between these two forms of violence in a qualitative way, although previous qualitative research has certainly explored elements of these intersections (Bergen, 1996;Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985;Logan et al., 2015) and some quantitative studies have attempted to address it directly (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2019;Wandera et al., 2015). Our findings suggest that there is a strong and complex relationship between psychological abuse and IPSV within women's abusive heterosexual relationships. ...
... The findings of this study have important implications for research and policy. Previous research on IPSV and psychological abuse has largely explored types of sexual coercion in relationships (Basile, 1999;DeGue et al., 2010;Logan et al., 2007;Mitchell & Raghavan, 2019;Starratt et al., 2008) and tactics that are used by perpetrators to obtain sex. This body of research sees psychological abuse as a tool for the sexually-motivated perpetrator. ...
Article
Intimate partner sexual violence (IPSV) is a common yet hidden form of violence. It is primarily perpetrated against women by their male partners and is associated with a range of serious mental and physical health outcomes. Despite these harms, it is chronically under-researched. In particular, the overlaps between IPSV and psychological abuse in relationships are poorly understood. Extant literature has focused primarily on the relationship between IPSV and physical violence, neglecting the fact that IPSV often involves verbal or emotional coercion, threats or blackmail rather than the use of 'force'. In this paper, we draw on reflexive thematic analysis of qualitative interviews with n = 38 victim/survivors of IPSV to explore how they understood the relationship between sexual and psychological abuse in their heterosexual relationships. Four themes were developed from this analysis: 1. I felt like I couldn't say Nno'; 2. I felt degraded and worthless; 3. Letting me know who's boss; and 4. Making me feel crazy. These themes broadly correspond to four distinct patterns or interactions between IPSV and psychological abuse. Our findings strongly suggest that the relationship between sexual and psychological abuse in relationships is far more complex than previous research would indicate. Psychological abuse is not simply a tool to obtain sex and sexual violence is not only used as a mechanism of psychological control. Instead, the two forms of abuse interact in ways that can be unidirectional, bi-directional or simultaneous to develop and maintain an environment of fear and control and erode women's self-worth.
... Although the form of coercive violence varies based on relationships and settings, the general aim of such control is to limit a partners' ability to make decisions, which pressures them to remain in the relationship and engage in behavior they would not otherwise do. This type of control manifests when a power imbalance allows one partner (typically a man) to implement tactics designed to restrict their partner's liberty, autonomy, and equality (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2021). Such control need not involve violence, but violence is one among many tactics used to ensure control in a relationship (Stark, 2009). ...
... Such control need not involve violence, but violence is one among many tactics used to ensure control in a relationship (Stark, 2009). Other common tactics include micro-regulation, surveillance, isolation, intimidation, manipulation, exploitation, degradation, and deprivation (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2021). Experiencing coercive control can erode a person's autonomy and sense of self (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2021). ...
... Other common tactics include micro-regulation, surveillance, isolation, intimidation, manipulation, exploitation, degradation, and deprivation (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2021). Experiencing coercive control can erode a person's autonomy and sense of self (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2021). ...
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While many of the motives people provide for using drugs transcend gender, there are also notable gendered differences. These differences in motive talk aid in stigma management, shape gender performances, and can encourage or constrain behavior. Using data from a photoethnography with 52 people who use methamphetamine in rural Alabama, we find that men and women articulate their motives for drug use in distinctly gendered ways. Most notably, men emphasized the benefits of sex on meth while most of the women did not. Men's stories of meth as a sex drug shaped how they interacted with women often leading them to use violence and coercion to control when, where, and with whom women used meth. Women were less likely to say that increased sexual feelings was their primary motive for using meth. They drew on gendered themes of femininity (e.g., motherhood, home keeper) when explaining their drug use. They also sought ways to resist coercive control that were intertwined with their gendered narratives of drug use. The findings point to the importance of gendered narratives in shaping interactions, and significantly, how narratives can contribute to harm and reinforce gender inequality in drug markets.
... Legal frameworks purport that coercion need not involve physical force, and that force can be both physical and psychological. 'Forced unwanted sexting' may occur in the context of threatening harm to a victim or their family, or denying an individual autonomy or equality in a context of chronic power imbalance that is exploited by a perpetrator [23]. Due to the online nature of the behavior, forced unwanted sexting, involving physical force, is a possible, but potentially less frequent behavior. ...
... However, the categories of coerced unwanted sexting and willing unwanted sexting are critical distinctions. Research findings suggest women may consent to unwanted sex as a form of compliance due to gender socialization [23,24]; however, limited research explores why or if the same willingness despite not wanting to occurs in sexting behaviors. While coerced unwanted sexting represents respondents feeling pressured or coerced to send a sext message, willing unwanted sexting represents consenting to sending a sext but not wanting to. ...
... While coerced unwanted sexting represents respondents feeling pressured or coerced to send a sext message, willing unwanted sexting represents consenting to sending a sext but not wanting to. Coerced unwanted sexting may involve the use of coercive control, where abuse tactics are designed to limit a victim's decision-making, using privileged knowledge of a victim's vulnerabilities to control them, including tactics such as micro-regulation, manipulation, and isolation [23]. Considering the conceptual overlap of sexting coercion with sexual coercion and the substantial evidence that women frequently experience unwanted sex under nonviolent duress from partners [25], the willing unwanted sexting subtype represents a sexting behavior which is not characterized by force, coercion or threat, but perhaps the more insidious societal external and internal pressures which motivate individuals to comply with requests despite not wanting to, to attain approval, avoid rejection, or to maintain societal norms or relationship status [26,27]. ...
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Pressure to send sexually explicit messages, or ‘sexting coercion’ is associated with adverse mental health outcomes and sexual risk behaviors. This study explores Differentiation of Self (DoS) as a potential protective factor to reduce susceptibility to sexting coercion. A convenience sample of 399 Australian participants, aged 18 to 21 years (Mage = 19.63; SD = 1.14, 68.2% women) completed an online survey measuring sexting behaviors and DoS. Women were four times more likely to send willing unwanted sexts, and seven times more likely to engage in coerced unwanted sexting than men. Participants with low DoS were four times more likely to engage in coerced unwanted sexting. DoS significantly mediated the relationship between gender and coerced unwanted sexting. Results support the proposal of a sexting coercion typology encompassing discrete sub-types of sexting coercion. Results also indicate DoS may operate as a protective factor for young people in Australia, reducing compliance with sexting when coerced.
... R etrospective studies of long-term abusive relationships suggest a conditioning of the victim to exhibit compliance even in the absence of overt threat or violence by the abuser. This phenomenon was observed in intimate partner violence (Barbaro and Raghavan 2018;Beck and Raghavan 2010), sexually coercive encounters in the context of dating (Mitchell and Raghavan 2021;Raghavan and Cohen 2014), as in sex trafficking contexts (Dalla et al. 2003;Mitchell and Raghavan 2021;Morselli and Savoie-Gargiso 2014). These studies suggest that the use of nonphysical and implied threats is effective in maintaining high levels of control long after the more overtly aggressive ''conditioning period'' whereby the victim was punished for their actual or attempted disobedience. ...
... R etrospective studies of long-term abusive relationships suggest a conditioning of the victim to exhibit compliance even in the absence of overt threat or violence by the abuser. This phenomenon was observed in intimate partner violence (Barbaro and Raghavan 2018;Beck and Raghavan 2010), sexually coercive encounters in the context of dating (Mitchell and Raghavan 2021;Raghavan and Cohen 2014), as in sex trafficking contexts (Dalla et al. 2003;Mitchell and Raghavan 2021;Morselli and Savoie-Gargiso 2014). These studies suggest that the use of nonphysical and implied threats is effective in maintaining high levels of control long after the more overtly aggressive ''conditioning period'' whereby the victim was punished for their actual or attempted disobedience. ...
... The victims then exert self-control and selfregulation when they recognize early signs or correlates of the threat (e.g., a raised voice). Some support for this hypothesis comes from the sexual coercion studies that showed that women gave in to demands of unwanted sex even when the partner did not explicitly threaten them, because past attempts to protest had ended poorly for them (Mitchell and Raghavan 2021;Raghavan and Cohen 2014). ...
... The research finding also supports this. Social isolation, which is one of the urgent measures of the pandemic, not only removes the social support structures, but also increases the stress of the victim and provides control by the offender (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2019;Stylianou et al., 2018). Socially-isolated individuals are at higher risk in terms of all types of domestic violence (Capaldi et al., 2012;Farris & Fenaughty, 2002;Lanier & Maume, 2009). ...
Article
In this study, researchers aimed to assess the situation of domestic violence against women during the pandemic. 332 women participated in the study. It was found that emotional, verbal and total violence scores of the literate ones were higher. The emotional violence scores of the women who do not work and whose partners do not work due to the pandemic are higher (p < 0.05). The researchers reached the conclusion that emotional violence is higher during the pandemic process, and that failing to work in an income-generating job triggers this situation.
... In a study by Farris and Fenaughty (2002), male perpetrators were more likely to tell women they did not need to have friends, male or female, did not need to work, and to always stay home. Forced isolation, as well as behavior monitoring, not only removes social support structures but adds stress to the victim and gives control to the perpetrator (Mitchell & Raghavan, 2019). These efforts separate victims from these social support structures that may be able to help them out of the situation (Stylianou, Counselman-Carpenter, & Redcay, 2018). ...
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Stay home, save lives" has been shown to reduce the impacts of COVID-19; however, it is crucial to recognize that efforts not to stress healthcare systems may have unintended social consequences for domestic violence. This commentary addresses domestic violence as an important social and public health implication of COVID-19. As a pandemic with a high contagion level, necessary social distancing measures have been put in place across the world to slow transmission and protect medical services. We first present literature that shows that among the effects of social distancing are social and functional isolation and economic stress, which are known to increase domestic violence. We then present preliminary observations from a content analysis conducted on over 300 news articles from the first six weeks of COVID-19 "lockdown" in the United States: articles predict an increase in domestic violence, report an increase in domestic violence, and inform victims on how to access services. Assessing the intersection of the early news media messaging on the effect of COVID-19 on DV and the literature on social isolation and crisis situations, we conclude the commentary with implications for current policy related to (1) increased media attention, (2) increased attention in healthcare systems, (3) promoting social and economic security, and (4) long-term efforts to fund prevention and response, as well as research implications to consider. The research is presented as ongoing, but the policy and procedure recommendations are presented with urgency.
Chapter
Most of the sexual abuse of adults is perpetrated by someone known to the victim. However, the majority of research studying the modus operandi of adult sexual abuse has focused on the behaviors and tactics of stranger rapists. There has been reference in the media to adult sexual grooming, but as of yet this phenomenon has yet to be explored empirically. There are several constructs that have been explored in the perpetration of adult sexual abuse that may have some bearing on adult sexual grooming including sexual harassment, sexual coercion, coercive control, and “cat-fishing.” As such, this largely exploratory chapter examines what is known about adult sexual abuse, provides a description of Sinnamon’s Seven Stage Model of Adult Sexual Grooming, and reviews the literature on related constructs to understand how these behaviors may be indicative of adult sexual grooming. The chapter concludes with proposals for future research to better understand whether the tactics and strategies used to perpetrate sexually abusive behaviors against adults in fact constitute sexual grooming.
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Public attitudes are considered influential in terms of determining criminal justice responses to offending behaviour, however, research into sexual coercion and specifically Birth Control Sabotage (BCS) has received little attention. The aim of this study was to explore the influence of dark triad traits, gender, and motive on perceptions of BCS. Participants (N = 273) were recruited from a general population sample. All participants completed the Short Dark Triad (SD3) and read four vignettes relating to BCS, where perpetrator gender and function of sabotage (motive) were manipulated. Participants responded to these vignettes on a scale examining victim blame, criminality and victim impact. The results are discussed with reference to previous research exploring victim blame in other aspects of non-consensual sexual behaviour. As one of the first studies in this area, possible real-world implications and future directions are discussed in terms of jury decision making and victim support.
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Definitions of “safe sex” often focus on the use of condoms and contraception, but largely ignore other dimensions of safety, such as efforts to feel emotionally or physically safe. These gaps in the definition of the term safety demand greater attention to how being safe and feeling safe are interpreted by individuals who live and engage in sexual lives marked by social and political inequality. In the current study, we draw on interviews with 17 young women ages 18–28 from a U.S. urban university to examine efforts they used to protect themselves in sexual relationships. When having sex with men, we found young women relied on a range of efforts to keep themselves safe, such as controlling their own sexual desire, developing strict contraceptive regimens, and building relational contexts characterized by physical and emotional safety. We argue that sexual safety labor (i.e., “good” contraceptive behavior, “waiting” to have sex, and “careful” decision-making) offers evidence of what safe sex requires of young women. We examine this range of cognitions and behaviors as forms of labor directed at making sex feel and be safe; however, young women did not describe these efforts in terms of their own time or energy. In our analysis, we suggest that vigilance in sexual relationships has become part of young women’s required repertoire of safe sex behaviors, but largely goes unnoticed by them. We connect these findings with public health campaigns that teach young people about safety and offer alternatives for researchers looking to understand and study what is imagined as “safe sex.”
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Coercive control, a key element of intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as an abuse dynamic that intends to strip the target of autonomy and liberty. While coercive control is gaining popularity in the research world, little is known about its correlates and causes. This study sought to examine how shame and men’s need for dominance, measured by two trait indexes of dominance, restrictiveness and the need for authority, influence coercive control. The present study used a diverse sample of men ( n = 134) who were mandated to attend a domestic violence offenders program. Findings suggest that shame plays a role in the commission of coercively controlling behavior both directly and partially through its influence on authority but not through restrictiveness. Implications for understanding IPV in a domestic violence offenders program are discussed.
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Article
Coercive control, a key element of intimate partner violence (IPV), is defined as an abuse dynamic that intends to strip the target of autonomy and liberty. While coercive control is gaining popularity in the research world, little is known about its correlates and causes. This study sought to examine how shame and men's need for dominance, measured by two trait indexes of dominance, restrictiveness and the need for authority, influence coercive control. The present study used a diverse sample of men (n = 134) who were mandated to attend a domestic violence offenders program. Findings suggest that shame plays a role in the commission of coercively controlling behavior both directly and partially through its influence on authority but not through restrictiveness. Implications for understanding IPV in a domestic violence offenders program are discussed.
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Chapter
In this chapter, we illustrate the paradox of pleasure and danger by examining points of tension, contradiction, and conflict about women’s sexuality, power, and empowerment. We have divided this chapter into two parts. In Part 1, we begin by reiterating Fahs and McClelland’s (2016) argument for critical sexuality studies and argue for how such a lens can revise the concepts, practices, and ways of seeing used by feminist psychologists studying sexuality. We follow this with a critical examination of the typical ways in which sex researchers construct sexual satisfaction, embodiment, sexual activity and virginity, and agency. Last, we briefly explore the implications of traditional sex research for conceptualizing women’s sexuality and understanding the social policies that affect women (e.g., the development of flibanserin or “female Viagra”). In Part 2, we revisit the feminist paradox of pleasure and danger (Vance, 1983) by pairing it with recent theories and empirical studies that have examined the contradictions of women’s sexuality. We follow this by examining neoliberal discourses on sexuality (i.e., the notion of individualistic consumers, informed by capitalism, claiming “sexual empowerment”) and how these discourses have influenced modern sex research as well as feminist responses, critiques, and revisions to traditional sex research.
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The purpose of the study was to (a) explore the relationship between sexual cultural scripting and traditional masculine norms on changes in intimate partner violence (IPV) perpetration, and (b) examine traditional masculine norms as an effect modifier among young heterosexual men. This study is a secondary data analysis of a prospective cohort study of 119 young heterosexual men who were followed for 6 months. The adjusted logistic regression results revealed that sexual cultural scripting norms were associated with an increased odds of emotional IPV perpetration and traditional masculine norms were associated with an increased odds of physical IPV perpetration in the past 6 months. There were no significant interaction effects between sexual cultural scripting and traditional masculine norms on IPV perpetration. These findings suggest that socially constructed norms and beliefs surrounding masculinity, femininity, and how women and men interact in sexual relationships are important constructs for understanding the etiology of young men's use of violence against a female partner. While primary IPV interventions targeting young men do address masculinity, sexual cultural scripting is an additional concept that should also be addressed.
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Psychology and Women's Studies, University of Michigan While cultural ideas about "healthy" and "fulfilling" sexuality often include orgasm, many young women do not experience orgasm during partnered sex. The current study examined how women described this absence of orgasm in their sexual experiences with male partners. We examined interviews (N = 17) with women ages 18 to 28 and focused on their ideas about orgasm and their explanations concerning when and why they do not orgasm. We explored three themes that illustrate the strategies young women use to contend with orgasmic absence: (1) What's the big deal?; (2) It's just biology; and (3) Not now, but someday. We found that young women's explanations allowed them to reduce feelings of abnormality and enabled them to distance themselves from sexual expectations regarding the perceived value of orgasm. In analyzing the complicated gender and sexual dynamics surrounding orgasm, we turned to Fahs' (2014) work on sexual freedom and the importance of articulating freedom from sexual obligations as a key intervention in critical sexuality research. In our discussion, we examine the implications of our findings for critical researchers looking to better understand the role of sexual norms in how young women imagine and discuss the role of pleasure in their own sexual lives.
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Research has consistently found that more women worry about their personal safety and feel vulnerable to most every crime compared with men suggesting there is a gender fear gap. Environmental risk and prior victimization history impact concerns about personal safety. However, few studies include stalking as part of the victimization history. Two reasons studies may not include stalking are that adding more questions to a research assessment increases participant burden and measurement of stalking has not always been clear. The current study used a community sample of 2,719 men and women and a five-item stalking assessment to examine the prevalence and impact of stalking and stalking-related fear on concern about personal safety, perceived vulnerability to an attack, perceptions that risk of victimization is higher due to personal characteristics, discomfort when thinking about safety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms controlling for victimization history, age, and environment risk by gender. Overall, 30% of women and 12% of men experienced stalking using the extreme fear standard which is double the national rates. Stalking-related fear, for both women and men, was associated with all of the outcome measures. Furthermore, there were significant main effects of gender after controlling for stalking-related fear on three of the outcomes consistent with the gender fear gap. Based on these results, research studies should consider including stalking as part of the victimization history as it is likely to impact health and mental health outcomes as well as personal safety concerns and responses for both men and women.
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Interview participants sometimes share anecdotes (stories about past events), to illustrate a point or discuss their perspectives. When sharing these stories, participants may imbue the events with their own personal meaning-making, selective memory, and biases. We conducted a narrative analysis of anecdotes shared by judges (n = 20) who preside over Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) hearings to examine how biases and misperceptions shape decisions in DVPO cases. We found that judges rely on biases to sort cases as “true domestic violence” compared with “frivolous cases." In the anecdotes they shared, judges often used gendered stereotypes to depict litigants, and many judges felt that DVPOs had limited efficacy in preventing violence. We argue that important cognitive insights are revealed by interview participants during the spontaneous act of storytelling. In the case of judges, their biases could lead to DVPOs being denied in situations when they are warranted.
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The current study sought to explore if perpetrators of intimate partner violence use coercive control behaviors in their first romantic relationship and subsequent treatment relationship, how behaviors are recalled, if there is a pattern in the behaviors used, and the denial and minimization techniques to explain coercive control behaviors. In their first relationship narratives, 48.15% recalled a fight with 14.8% reporting coercive control behaviors. In narratives from the treatment relationships, 61.73% reported coercive control behaviors. Denial and minimization tactics were present as participants described fights where coercive control tactics were used. Results and their implications for treatment programs will be discussed.
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The present study investigated (a) comparisons in rates of rape and sexual assault acknowledgment and (b) a comprehensive multivariate multinomial logistic model predicting rape and sexual assault acknowledgment in a sample of 174 college women who had experienced rape. Significantly more women acknowledged having experienced sexual assault than rape. Greater perceived perpetrator force was associated with increased likelihood of rape and sexual assault acknowledgment. Increased age and greater perceived emotional impact were associated with increased odds of rape acknowledgment. Implications for policy, education, and practice within university settings are discussed.