12.16.16 / Kimberly Truong
While sexual assault can take on many different forms, the one thing that remains the same is that assault is never a survivor's fault — including instances in which assault occurs in a relationship.
Even so, sexual violence isn't always easy to recognize. While most of us understand rape as any instance that involves penetration without consent, what's more ambiguous is what a partner might feel obliged or forced to do in sexual relationships.
Cameka Crawford, chief communications officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, tells Refinery29 that this is called sexual coercion, a term that refers to the tactics used to emotionally or physically manipulate someone into sex. According to Crawford, it's a form of violence that is based on abuse.
"Abuse is centered on power and control in all aspects of an intimate partner relationship," Crawford says. "So sexual coercion really is when one partner is trying to control another partner sexually." She adds: "It can vary from being egged on to perform a sexual act to being forced to actually have contact."
Sexual coercion, she says, can be much more difficult to recognize in relationships because the boundaries become blurred.
"People are often made to feel like, Because I’m in a relationship, I have to have sex, even if they don’t want to," Crawford says. However, she assures, "Just because you give consent one time doesn’t make it a given every time. And just because you consent to one sexual act doesn’t mean you consent to other actions."