*Content warning: discussion of sexual coercion

Common Tactics of Sexual Coercion in Business

Sexual coercion in the workplace is unacceptable. If you feel uneasy about workplace dynamics, here’s how you can identify common tactics of sexual coercion in business.

Sexual coercion occurs when one party pressures, manipulates, threatens, or forces another to engage in sexual activity. All parties must consent before participating in any sexual activity.

Legal Background on Sexual Coercion

In the workplace, sexual coercion falls under the category of sexual harassment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 classified sexual harassment as discrimination based on sex; thus, the law punishes unwanted advances.

Workplace sexual harassment can happen in many ways:

  • The victim and harasser can be of any gender
  • The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, or non-employee
  • Victims can be anyone directly or indirectly affected by the offensive conduct
  • Sexual harassment is unlawful even if it does not result in economic damage or termination of the victim’s job
  • The harasser’s advances are unwelcome

Related: Is Sexual Coercion a Crime?

Tactics of Sexual Coercion

Just as sexual harassment encompasses a broad range of unwelcome advances, workplace sexual coercion tactics come in many forms. Here are some common tactics.

Constant Pressure

After you refuse to engage in sexual activity, the other party continuously begs you and wears you down. Even if you technically agree and give in to requests, coerced agreements are not valid forms of consent.

Bargaining

When negotiating a business deal or promotion, the other party may offer more favorable conditions in exchange for sex acts. Explicit and implicit mentions of trading sex for professional gain constitute sexual coercion.

Emotional Manipulation

A supervisor or co-worker may shower you with compliments for your work. When you refuse sexual advances, the harasser suggests you owe sex acts for good treatment. If you have engaged in sexual activity before, the harasser may pretend past consent is always valid.

Normalizing Behaviors

A harasser may normalize harmful workplace dynamics to justify their behavior. For example, a superior may suggest that other employees had no problem with their advances or minimize their role by attributing requests for sex to the forces of nature.

Misusing Power

If a superior coerces you into sexual activity, they may pretend sex is a work obligation. A superior’s other powers (assigning tasks, firing employees, etc.) implicitly affect your unburdened choice to agree to sexual activity.

Threats

A harasser may use their position or knowledge against you, threatening to destroy a business deal or your career if you do not comply. Indirect threats, such as leveraging another person’s career, also constitute sexual coercion.

Related: Sexual Coercion in Relationships: Common Tactics

How to Report Sexual Coercion

If you have experienced sexual coercion in business, you have a right to justice and compensation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles reports of sexual harassment. After filing a complaint to the EEOC, consult an attorney if you want to sue under civil rights law.

FAQs About Sexual Coercion Tactics in Business

Can someone who is not my superior abuse their power?

Various types of workplace power dynamics may occur outside of the position hierarchy. Social factors also play a role. A well-liked employee may suggest others will not believe your testimony. Male employees may feel forceful domination is socially acceptable. If a coerced sexual encounter occurs, anyone can be the harasser.

When should I report workplace sexual coercion?

The EEOC requires you to file your complaint within 180 days of the most recent incident. In some cases, the statute of limitations can be 300 days. Report instances of sexual coercion as soon as possible to avoid missing the deadlines.

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