Defining "coercion" and "consent" cross-culturally.

L. Heise, K. Moore, N. Toubia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Excerpts are presented from a book entitled Sexual Coercion and Reproductive Health: A Focus on Research published by the Population Council in 1995. All societies have forms of sexual violence that are socially proscribed and others that are tolerated by social customs. Some argue that there is no such thing as marital rape because of the very meaning of marriage. Most societies condemn sex between adults and children and forced sexual intercourse with an unmarried virgin. However, in many societies forced sex within marriage is accepted. Most cultural definitions of abuse are devoid of the volition, perceptions, and feelings of the woman. Coercive sex can be conceived as a continuum from transgressive to tolerated coercive sex. Some types of coercive sex are in transition, for instance, in the United States acts for which the girl would have been blamed 20 years ago are increasingly being termed date rape. The psychologist Patricia Rozee suggests that female choice should the benchmark for the definition of rape. At a seminar on sexual coercion participants endorsed the idea of a universal standard for identifying coerced sex across cultures. The ultimate goal is to make possible voluntary, safe sexuality for all people. Although male dominance has persisted in sexual matters, no major religion or social code of ethics condones sexual violence. The appropriate definition of rape or coerced sex was also discussed in situations when the word itself was not used by the victim. When interviewed, exiled Iranian women living in the United States revealed that for most of them their wedding nights in Iran had been violent and traumatic; many had been held down by relatives for what they now (but not at the time) described as rape and torture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-14
Number of pages3
JournalSIECUS report
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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